July 9, 2008

Every High School in State to Offer Distance Learning By August 2009

By Brittany Whitley, Opelika-Auburn News, Ala.

Jul. 9--Distance-learning ACCESS labs will be in every high school by August 2009, a year ahead of schedule, according to Todd Stacy, deputy press secretary for Gov. Bob Riley.

The Governor made the lab announcement Tuesday morning in the press conference in Montgomery.

ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide) is an education initiative already used by many high schools in the state that connects students with unavailable courses via on-line and interactive video conferencing.

"It's amazing how high-tech it is," Stacy said. "The teachers can see the whole class."

Students also use laptops and SMART Boards to interact with a teacher who may be hundreds of miles away.

Beginning immediately, schools that have already began building labs will be given $50,000 to bring the facilities up to ACCESS standards.

Schools without labs will be given $85,000 to build the facilities, Stacy said.

Some local schools including Loachapoka High School and Opelika High School have already began to utilize ACCESS or similar programs.

"If you have a very small school, it's hard to have one teacher for just that (particular class)," Dr. Stephen Nowlin, superintendent of Lee County Schools, said. "(It) makes sure they (students) have a wider variety of courses."

Loachapoka High School, the smallest school in the school system, piloted the program for Lee County starting last year.

"Our other three attendance areas are planning on picking it up this year for at least one course," said Lee Lindsay, director of career technical education for Lee County Schools.

One of the bonuses of the program is that it gives students who do not have access to advanced courses, including AP, the opportunity to take them.

"We may have a class we offer through it (to other schools)," said Dr. Mark Neighbors, superintendent of Opelika City Schools. Neighbors said his school tested the program during the summer as an independent study program.

Auburn High School principal Dr. Cathy Long said Auburn High School would use the new technology.

"You can't ever offer enough," she said. "Maybe there will be a foreign language our kids are interested in."

Many Auburn students have expressed interest in Latin, she said, but it is hard to find a Latin teacher.

"We offer 16 AP classes," she said. "There are a lot more than 16 (in total)."


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