Gaining ACCESS to education

The number of students taking German with teacher Judy Pierce at Pelham High School has doubled over the last four years.

It’s not because more students at PHS want to enroll in the class, but because students at other school districts want to learn the language but their schools haven’t had the resources to offer it. Those students can take German and many other classes through ACCESS, a distance-learning program now available around the state.

Shelby County Technology Coordinator Susan Poling said it broadens horizons for students in all schools.

“Some schools don’t have as many classes as others because they have smaller student populations, but now their students can have more choices,” Poling said. “It’s going to provide a great boost, especially now that we are out of space in most of our high schools.”

Five of Shelby County’s high schools have been awarded $50,000 grants, from an $11 million education bond issue, to expand their programs. In return, each school promised to teach at least one distance learning class. Poling said teachers like Dana Bone at Calera High will offer advanced classes in subjects like computer graphics or AP government. In the past, Shelby County schools have also offered AP physics and psychology.

“ACCESS distance learning gives students all across the state learning opportunities they otherwise would never have,” Gov. Riley said in a press release. “Alabama is blessed with some of the best teachers in the country. Our students deserve the benefit of being able to learn from these teachers whether they are in a larger, metropolitan school system or a small, rural school system.”

Poling said the equipment involved provides more than extra classes.

“Our mobile laptop carts are a great asset for students who need to do research or use high-tech programs for projects,” she said. “Our students can even use the video conferencing cameras to take virtual field trips to places like Alaska, where they can actually interact with wildlife experts there.”

Education officials also hope getting these labs set up will allow the State Board of education to successfully implement its new First Choice graduation proposal. This new graduation plan requires students to take two foreign language classes and at least one distance learning class.

Implementation of the program began in 2006, with Gov. Riley setting a goal to place it in all schools by the 2010-2011 school year.