Public statewide virtual school launches through Limestone County Schools

LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. - Parents, this fall you have a new, tuition-free option for educating your little ones. Nationally-accredited Connections Academy is launching in Alabama and it's an option for everyone.

It works the same as a brick-and-mortar school curriculum, but it can be accessed on a more flexible schedule, wherever your student can access the internet. Plus, it's tailored to your student's individual needs and abilities.

Alabama Connections Academy partners with Limestone County Schools, but is available to any student statewide.

"We just want to educate Alabama," explained Tommy Hunter,  human resources and operations executive director for the district. "We want to offer educational opportunities to students who maybe don't have them available to them."

The Alabama Connections Academy website includes a questionnaire for parents to fill out to help determine if virtual education is a good fit for your student.

Alabama Connections Academy Principal Jodie Dean says they also belong to the NCAA clearinghouse so your student-athlete will still be eligible for scholarships.

"A lot of our families come to us from home school environment. Oftentimes it's a lot easier to have the curriculum delivered and monitored, because the parents are still highly involved," said Dean.

She goes on to say it's also a great option for students with medical conditions, those working to support family, dealing with depression, bullying, anxiety, or even a lifestyle that requires continuous traveling that makes it hard to attend school everyday.

But in the virtual world, they still have the same attendance requirements.

"Their courses are populated on their screen, and they're able to access the curriculum for each one of the courses they have been assigned," Dean explained.

Enrollment in Alabama Connections Academy also has built-in interactions.

"Students log in and attend a live lesson where they interact with a live teacher and other peers within those courses," said Dean.

There is also Club Orange, a virtual parent-teacher organization and a socialization and connection program that organizes curriculum-based field trips and other activities where parents and students can network and get to know each other.

Hunter says that the district already has blended and online learning, but spent more than a year looking into a fully virtual option. He says they felt confident in Connections Academy because they're nationally accredited, and wanted to know it was an experienced firm offering education before Limestone County Schools put their stamp on it.

"It was important to us that we found something that was rigorous and provided a quality education," he said.

The offices for Dean and other administrative personnel will be housed at the now-closed Owens Elementary.

"One of the commitments we made to [the Owens Elementary] area was we would not let this school go down we would move something in there," Hunter said.

There are crews working on the now-vacant, longstanding elementary to make it more suitable for the virtual school's needs. Hunter says Connections is just the first of multiple district departments that will eventually occupy the former elementary school.