Iberville ‘virtual academy’ program a hit with some families

When North Iberville High School was shuttered in 2009, it created an outcry in a community concerned the move would force middle and high school students in the northern portion of the parish to attend public schools as much as an hourlong commute away from home.

In March 2013, School Superintendent Ed Cancienne announced those students would be getting a new option through the creation of the Math, Science and Arts-North Virtual Academy — an innovative, online-driven program that would be based at the old North Iberville High campus.

Linda Glasper’s granddaughter Mikia Batiste was one of the 26 students who eagerly enrolled in the virtual academy program when it was launched at the start of this school year because it was a closer alternative than attending school 36 miles away at Plaquemine High.

And so far, Glasper is pleased with her granddaughter’s progress.

“I really just like it because it’s closer,” Glasper said. “Mikia was a student that needed to be challenged and that’s what she’s getting here, too.”

The school system spent approximately $100,000 to renovate the North Iberville High campus.

Renovations included upgrading the school’s library and computer lab, facilitator stations for the program’s two instructors and an Internet cafe.

The academy, open to all students in the parish in grades seven through 12, features an online curriculum provided through Edgenuity. The students can complete their online coursework at home or daily at the virtual academy campus through full-time or part-time enrollment.

There is also an option for a blended-learning model that allows students to complete coursework through a combination of traditional and virtual instruction.

The learning software gives virtual academy teachers the ability to play “Big Brother” by tracking the students’ day-to-day progress through monitoring software. The on-site teachers also provide any additional tutoring students may need.

Students receive grades after they complete a subject’s online coursework and are required to take all exams, quizzes and state-required standardized testing in-person at the virtual academy site.

And like all students in the parish’s school system, virtual academy students get use of leased Apple laptops to do their work.

Cancienne calls the program a nontraditional alternative option to the traditional brick-and-mortar education model.

“None of us know where public education is going,” Cancienne said. “It looks like we are becoming school systems with no boundaries anymore. Where this school is located, there is a large home-schooled population out there. This provides a perfect setting where students can have a blended-model type of education. I think it’s a little ahead of its time.”

Dianna Outlaw, director of MSA-North Virtual Academy, said half of the program’s inaugural class consists of students from the Grosse Tete and Maringouin areas.

Students enrolled for myriad reasons, she said.

“Some are seniors that only needed two or three credits to graduate or they want to work part-time jobs and didn’t want to spend all day on a school campus,” Outlaw said. “Some have medical conditions or phobias and don’t like being on a crowded campus. And then there are those that have special learning needs that like the one-on-one instruction.”

The program’s intimate learning environment was a big part of the appeal for Courtney Jack’s cousin Kedrick Stewart, an eighth-grader who struggled at Plaquemine High before the virtual program started.

“It’s wonderful here because he’s really getting the one-on-one treatment he needs,” Jack said. “He doesn’t do well in the big school setting. Now we see him at home doing his work and he’s excited about it. Any free time he has now, he’s doing school work at home.”

Cancienne is hopeful the program will expand as student-parent interest grows.

“These type of programs are ideal if you have a kid that doesn’t want to wear a uniform, has school issues like being bullied and wants a safe environment,” he said.