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First-year academy open to K-12 students
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There’s now an online option for Tennessee K-12 students who want an alternative to public schools.
Tennessee Virtual Academy allows students to take all their classes on the Internet as they work toward a regular high school diploma. The program, offered in 28 states, is in its first year in Tennessee.
Two local students are taking advantage of the new opportunity. Seventh-grader River Notestine and sixth-grader Alexander Stills are both enrolled in Tennessee Virtual Academy. The online school is based in Union County, which was awarded a grant to start the academy, so they are both students of the Union County School System.
“For a lot of kids, a brick and mortar school environment doesn’t give them what they need,” said River’s mom, Shannon Notestine. “For whatever reason, it doesn’t work for them. We tossed around the idea of home schooling, but we knew that would be a major life-changing thing. I was concerned I couldn’t come up with a well-balanced curriculum on my own. That’s why this is so great. It plans out your lessons everyday. He has a teacher and a principal.”
Tennessee Virtual Academy appealed to River and Alexander for different reasons.
River was a sixth-grader at Warren County Middle School last year, a situation his mother described as “a nightmare.” She says River has a mild form of autism and kids were constantly picking on him because of his social shortcomings.
“The only thing I liked about school was the bus and breakfast,” said River. “I don’t miss it at all.”
River says he enjoyed attending Bobby Ray Elementary as a fifth-grader, but the bullying and teasing really intensified once he reached middle school.
As for Alexander, he was last a public school student two years ago as a fourth-grader at Hickory Creek. Last year he was a home school student. Alexander said he was bored with his grade-level course work in public schools.
“This gives me all the work I need, and I can work on high school math if I want to,” said Alexander, who is gifted in some subjects.
Because students are given an entry-level test before enrolling in Tennessee Virtual Academy, it allows the school to develop a curriculum that fits their needs. They can take rigorous science classes and basic English courses.
Students are assigned a teacher who provides instruction over video conference and also through written lesson plans. Students can print out worksheets and they take tests online.
At the end of the year, students still have to take the TCAP test and meet certain academic standards to advance to the next grade.
“We have an account where he does his work everyday,” said Notestine. “What I like about this is the convenience. He can do his work at 8 a.m. or 10 p.m. If he’s sick and lying around the house, he can still do some of his work. We can even take it with us and he can do it at the doctor’s office if he needs to.”
Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale says Warren County has only offered a sampling of online courses thus far, but he believes that will expand in the future.
“Last year we talked about allowing Van Buren County students to take some of our courses online,” said Dr. Hale. “I think that’s the way it’s going to go, especially for rural education.”
After having her son enrolled in Tennessee Virtual Academy for a few weeks, Notestine says she’s well pleased with the experience.
“A lot of people think they’re not getting a quality education, but they are,” said Notestine. “He has to do a lot of course work and if he has an academic question, he can just e-mail his teacher.”
As for the aspect of not mixing with kids everyday because they are staying at home, Notestine says River and Alexander met through Tennessee Virtual Academy and have become friends. She also says the academy plans field trips such as a visit today to Nashville Museum to see an Egyptian exhibit.