By Monroe Roark
More than 400 Henry County
public school students have not had a single snow day this year.
They are the ones in the school
system’s Impact Academy, a virtual school for grades 6-12. There are
several such schools operating statewide, but Impact Academy is the
largest in Georgia operated by a specific school district.
About 100 students in grades
8-10 were in the program at the end of last year, and that number
tripled by the start of the new school year.
“The word is getting out,”
said Steve Thompson, who runs the program. “It was slow at first,
and that’s OK, but not now. We’ve had a huge jump.”
Students at all academic
levels are utilizing Impact Academy, but most of them are either
struggling or accelerated. In either case, they are looking for
something more than they are getting in their traditional
“In trying to figure out why
parents want this program, we think it’s because they want something
different. If a student is accelerated the parents may want
something more challenging, or if a student is struggling they may
want something different that will help.”
There are also social
considerations with some students, and a few parents don’t want
their children having to navigate among 1,000 or more others on a
large school campus. The reasons are as varied as the students
“Every kid has a story, and
we love to listen to them,” said Thompson.
Christopher Slaughter is a
junior in his second year at Impact Academy, while also taking
chorus and a GTAE architecture class at Locust Grove High School.
His parents felt the program would work for him because of his
approach to school in general.
“He loves computers and having
the chance to work independently and challenge himself,” said his
After some initial
difficulties adapting to the new style and potential distractions at
home, he is managing his time and his work well, according to his
father, who loves the ability of Impact parents to monitor
everything online from the time a student spends logged on in a
class to future assignments and daily grades.
“There is some accountability
there,” said Jim Slaughter. “I don’t have to stand over him all the
time. We trust him to know what he needs to do and get it done.”
The fact that Christopher is
driving also helps, making it easier for him to work between his
classes at Locust Grove and a dual-enrollment English class with
Clayton State University he takes at the Academy for Advanced
Studies next to Henry County High School.
Ninth-grader Troy Hicks
spends every Tuesday and Thursday at the AAS getting face-to-face
time with teachers that supplements his at-home work. His mother,
Nicole Arroyo, likes the balance that provides in that it also lets
him interact with some classmates without being in a full classroom
Thompson describes the staff
at Impact Academy as “full-time blended teachers,” working two days
a week directly with students and online all the time. Some adjunct
teachers handle electives online, but the core classes are staffed
with full-time teachers dedicated to those subjects and students.
“An online class is not a
teacher-less class,” Thompson stressed. “There are teachers behind
The biggest impact is with
regard to facilities. “We serve about 430 kids with three physical
classrooms,” according to Thompson.
After her son’s grades began
falling in middle school and she couldn’t find satisfactory
solutions, Arroyo made the move to Impact Academy and saw Troy’s
performance improved significantly after the initial adjustment.
Anthony Johnson was in his
first month of eighth grade last fall when a cold caused him to miss
an entire week of school because of his asthma. After more than 20
absences last year for that and chronic migraines, Laura Johnson
decided it was time for her son to try Impact Academy, which had
been recommended by one of his sixth-grade teachers who had moved
over to teach in the program full-time.
Now his course load includes
a ninth-grade science and an accelerated math class, two offerings
that would not be possible on a physical middle school campus. He
continues to be involved at Luella Middle School through the band
and school newspaper as well as Beta Club (he is the president).
“He is more active now than
he was before. He is more social now than he has ever been,” said
Laura Johnson. “He has a lot on his plate but is managing it very
One feature that sets Impact
Academy apart from other virtual schools in Georgia is that each
student is actually enrolled in the Henry County School System and
can participate in any extracurricular activity offered just as
other students do. They can also take specific academic classes at
their respective schools if need be.
“Students can mix and match,”
said Thompson. “It’s a lot like a college. We call it ‘a la carte.’”
Anthony does some support
work at AAS on Mondays and Wednesdays, and when his migraines strike
he can do his online work at whatever time of day he feels up to it.
He has missed only one day at Luella this year because of illness.
The teachers make themselves
available more than you would think to help facilitate this,” said
Laura Johnson. “They truly go above and beyond what is expected of
The program inspired a
creative streak in Anthony, and now he and two other students
produce a weekly webcast that features tutorials on different
aspects of the online school. He came up with the idea and pitched
it to school system officials, and episodes are archived at
Looking ahead to the fall,
Thompson expects 500-550 in the program for 2014-15. That’s almost
the size of an elementary school in Henry County. With that will
come additional staff, as has already been the case over the past
two years, and probably a few tweaks in the program itself.
“We’re always changing to
meet the needs of our students,” said Thompson.
A few open house type events
are on tap for the spring, catering to all prospective students but
particularly fifth-graders making the move to middle school.
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