FOLEY — The Baldwin County Virtual Elementary/Middle School will experience changes in the 2022/2023 school year.
What is virtual school like?
From welcoming a new principal to expanding the virtual elementary/middle school's offerings, parents and students looking for an alternative style of education can find it right here in Baldwin County.
"It's really different than traditional homeschool. It's more school at home with our certified teachers, but families still have the flexibility they may need," new Principal Sarah Sadlis said.
Sadlis is entering into her seventh year in virtual education. She began as a secondary/middle school ELA teacher before to department lead then master lead teacher before landing a job as an assistant administrator. From there she worked her way to principal.
"This is the way of the future, and I'm excited to be part of it," she said. "I'm from Baldwin County, though, before I was working through a different school system. I'm happy to be back home and to be able to be a benefit to my community."
Baldwin County Virtual School students may be doing schoolwork from their homes, but they have a virtual classroom where they log in to participate in lessons with a live teacher. This live interaction with an instructor is what sets Baldwin County Virtual Schools apart, says BCVE/MS lead teacher Janice Simon.
"As lead teacher I look a lot at our curriculum," she said. "What we offer that parents really love is a very personalized experience. We can differentiate very, very well, and we've proven with our benchmarking scores, with STAR, which is what the county uses, and with the ACAP summary assessment that our children are performing very well and very competitively. This is a valid, real school choice for kids."
To keep the virtual classrooms personalized and give students the ability to form a bond with their teacher, classes are kept small. Most classes currently average 18 – 20 students.
"So far we've been able to keep things personalized," Simon said. "I think we have some very happy families out there where we're able to meet the needs of their students with learning disabilities, autism or advance placement students."
The BCVE/MS follows the same pacing as all schools in the district. Though they may be taking lessons within their home or on the road, students are learning the same lessons as their peers attending Baldwin County schools in-person.
"We are directing the standard of levels that Alabama requires from us, and we're also doing what those children need," Simon said. "We have intervention, just like brick-and-mortar. We have compacting where they can go above grade level in certain subjects, just like brick-and-mortar. Music, art, PE, we have it all."
Virtual students participating in sports or band go to their base campus to participate in their extracurricular activities, giving them the opportunity to join teams.
The virtual school also provides Chromebooks to students.
Who is virtual school for?
"We're here to support the students who might be struggling in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, but we also have options for our more advanced students who maybe need some more rigor, some more challenge than what they're getting where they are," Sadlis said. "Our students have live classes with our teachers, it's not just completely on their own with curriculum, they do have face-to-face time as well."
Students who find themselves struggling on a subject or need a little more guidance can schedule a meeting at one of the Baldwin County Virtual Schools' offices for in-person learning with their teachers.
Virtual school program expansions
Students in the virtual elementary/middle school will see program expansions coming this school year. More activities and electives will be provided for students.
"We're actually partnering with the Baldwin County Virtual Secondary School for some of our electives," Sadlis said. "We are happy to provide creative writing, theater, the first part of career prep for our eighth graders and foreign languages. We're also looking to implement field trips this year so our students get some socialization as well."
What if virtual school isn't the right fit?
It's only after beginning virtual school that some students realize it isn't for them. That is why students are given the option to go back to brick-and-mortar schools in January, at the beginning of the new semester. This also works in reverse, and students attending brick-and-mortar through the first semester can transfer to virtual learning come January.
"We are aligned with campuses on instruction, so it isn't hardly detrimental to students to move," Simon said. "Sometimes, families need those opportunities, something's happening in their life that they need that online piece and it's only going to be short term, and that's okay too. We're here to serve all the families of Baldwin County on what they need, the choices that they need."
"I really feel that we're the best of both worlds for public education, but also being at home," Sadlis said.
The Baldwin County Virtual School office locations are Pelican Cottage, located behind the Baldwin County Virtual Secondary School (605 Highway 98, Daphne) and 19812 Underwood Rd., Foley. To find more information or to register your student, visit bit.ly/3xp5pq8.