Samantha Edwards had what some would call the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to travel the globe as a teenage model. But that would have made another goal that she and her parents had much more difficult – earning her high school degree.
Enter BAVEL, the Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning, Kentucky’s first fully accredited, diploma-granting high school with no walls but plenty of classrooms, demanding course expectations but with flexibility, and the opportunity for Samantha to learn by seeing the world … while sitting at a computer.
“I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical when the subject of online schooling came up as an option for Samantha,” said her father, Rick Edwards. “However, my attitude quickly adjusted after reviewing the course offerings and the challenging materials contained in them.”
Senior Grayson Certain, who is in his third year at the Barren Academy
of Virtual and Expanded Learning, uses his laptop to attend school.
Already accepted with scholarship opportunities by three universities, Samantha, a Lyon County student, is one of the success stories that led judges to select the Barren County Schools’ BAVEL program for the KSBA PEAK (Public Education Achieves in Kentucky) Award.
“Barren County has hit on a program that meets the needs of students who cannot attend the regular classroom,” said Durward Narramore, a PEAK judge and Jenkins Independent school board member who sits on the KSBA Board of Directors.
“Anyone who has ever taken an online class knows that it is a very rigorous environment and the student must devote a lot of time and attention to achieve success,” he said.
Steve Wilson, a KSBA policy consultant who also served as a judge, said, “This program has the capacity to change lives, and that’s what a good education should do.”
Alternative with quality
BAVEL was created five years ago with three goals: to provide an alternative environment for students unable to regularly attend traditional school; to challenge its students through its content; and to provide an interactive learning option for students who want to accelerate their education.
“It’s the missing link we thought that could help us reach out to the kids we were losing,” said Barren County Board of Education Chairman Robbie Toms. “It’s another concept of how to get an education. And it helps with our homebound program as well.”
In fact, after starting with 10 local students, the 2009-10 BAVEL enrollment has 82 students from 16 districts. To date, students who live in 32 Kentucky districts have studied through BAVEL, with their expenses primarily funded through nonresident student agreements between their home districts and the Barren County system. The district funds the single position of BAVEL director Amanda Wright, who works directly with the students as admissions manager, counselor and mentor. The remaining average daily attendance funding Barren County receives covers the daily operational costs, including course fees to the Kentucky Virtual High School.
That’s how KVHS instructor Dr. Lucinda Sanders came in contact with BAVEL.
“Although BAVEL began by connecting the power of online learning to homebound students, over the years they have expanded their vision to include at-risk students from all around the state,” Sanders wrote in support of the BAVEL nomination for the PEAK Award.
“My BAVEL students are an interesting and diverse lot (including) a gifted musician from Louisville who simply could not manage the routines at his high school and a rider on the moto-cross circuit who didn’t have time for the traditional high school approach,” she said. “All were highly motivated and hard working. However, most BAVEL students fall into the category of future dropouts. BAVEL is truly the last resort for most of them.”
PEAK Award judges were impressed with BAVEL’s results. In its first five years, more than 300 students have either completed their studies through BAVEL or successfully transitioned back to their home high schools. Fifty-two have earned a Barren County degree through BAVEL, with 27 of them going on to college.
“This innovative program provides opportunities within a giant educational system that sometimes finds flexibility to be out of reach,” said Grant County Superintendent Michael Hibbett, another judge.
Jeff Eaton, a PEAK judge from the neighboring Allen County Board of Education, can see why other school systems have taken advantage of BAVEL as an option for potential dropouts.
“With the availability of broadband Internet services, it’s a program more districts should utilize,” Eaton said.
Eaton’s sentiments were echoed by Sanders.
“BAVEL has harnessed the power of online instruction and found that it engages students with learning styles who were not easily engaged in a classical classroom situation,” she said. “Their program has literally redefined the learning environment in such a way that the individual learner is the central concern and learning is facilitated.”
This is the second time the Barren County Schools have won a PEAK Award, earning recognition in 1998 for its middle school Junior Guard collaboration with the Kentucky National Guard. A different program within a winning school district may be considered for the PEAK Award after 10 years. This is only the second time a district has won multiple PEAK Award honors.
The PEAK Award was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts aimed specifically at enhancing student learning skills and, in doing so, to promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in this Commonwealth.