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Impact Academy growing rapidly

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  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 classrooms.

  “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 themselves.

  “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 father, Jim.

  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 all week.

  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 every class.”

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 well.”

  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 them.”

  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 www.iaweekly.org.

  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.

  For more information, visit www.henry.k12.ga.us and, under the school tab at the top of the home page, find the link to Impact Academy.

 

 

©Henry County Times, Inc.