For the past few years, students at Adair County High School have enjoyed increasingly diverse options when it comes to their class schedule. Every year, more opportunities arise for college courses and more students take advantage of them, either by attending in person or by way of online classes. Students in these online college courses now have an innovative and unusual classroom in which to do their online work: ACHS’ Virtual Learning Center.
Featuring a glass storefront entrance, stylish tables and chairs, stools, and minimalistic sofas, the atmosphere in the virtual learning center is unlike anything one would find in a traditional classroom. It resembles a coffee shop or college lounge more than a public school room.
“It’s a good environment, comfortable and laid back,” Chad Parnell, the school’s director of innovative pathways and the room’s de facto teacher, explains. “We have 64 Chromebooks and 18 computers, tables and chairs everywhere, so students like the options. It’s different for me, coming from a more traditional classroom, because it’s less about instruction and more about management and independent learning, making sure everyone is on task.”
The learning center is not exclusively for students in college classes. There are several options for students in different phases of their academic journey. “We have students taking independent online classes, students in academic recovery working to make up assignments, and students doing transitional reading and English so they can meet their ACT benchmarks,” Parnell explains. “We have software that monitors everyone’s progress, so even though it’s self-paced we can make sure they’re doing what they need to do to move forward.”
Senior Kendra Kulac, who takes an independent physics class in the newly refurbished classroom, says she likes the extra space to spread out and work on her own. “It’s a lot quieter than a regular classroom,” Kulac says. “It’s more open so you can spread out and do your work without being clustered together.”
One of the driving forces behind the virtual learning center was ACHS Vice Principal Travis Gay, who attributes its implementation and early success to the collaboration and cooperation between school staff, administration, and Supt. Alan Reed. “It was a group effort coming up with the idea and it was a group effort to make it happen,” Gay says. “We were seeing more of a need for choices and options in student scheduling, and that led us here. It’s just expanded what we were already doing. It’s also good for students because it’s closer to what they’ll encounter when they go to college—almost everyone will have to take a class online at some point.”
Reed says the virtual learning center is another example of the district’s willingness to embrace change and adapt to the changing educational landscape. “We’re always looking for ways to better serve our students and prepare them for life after high school,” Reed says. “The virtual learning center is one way we’re doing that. This will provide an exciting opportunity for students pursuing online classes to take them in a relaxed coffee-shop type setting. Hopefully it will entice even more students to take advantage of these online learning opportunities.”
Most of the work in renovating the classroom—which was previously used for storage—was done in-house, saving the district thousands of dollars in contract labor. “We did it all for about $21 per square foot,” Reed says. “That’s a lot of bang for your buck and a testament to the great maintenance staff we have here. By using this ‘captured space’ and doing a lot of the work ourselves, we were able to make great strides without great costs.”
Featured photo is of Abby Gunter, a senior welding student who cut the letters for the signage at the entrance of ACHS’ Virtual Learning Center.
By Wes Feese
Media Relations, Adair County Schools