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Staff members with ACCESS Distance Learning are Joann Clark, from left, Missy Hall and Laura Honea, Program Managers; Andrea Wilkinson, Instructional Specialist; Lindsey Barrett, Bookkeeper/Secretary; Melissa Lee, Instructional Specialist; and Dr. Maria Kilgore, Coordinator of ACCESS. CONTRIBUTED

ACCESS Distance Learning reaches 396 schools, 18,640 students

MADISON – ACCESS Distance Learning delivers online instruction to students who otherwise could not enroll in certain courses.

ACCESS is the virtual choice for many school districts and local education agencies or LEAs around Alabama. The pandemic underscored the need for online learning.

The acronym ACCESS represents ‘Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide.’

During the 2020-2021 school year, Madison City Schools had 1,200-plus secondary students enrolled in ACCESS courses. “More students are enrolled in summer school courses that are running June 8 – July 22,” Coordinator of ACCESS Dr. Maria Kilgore. “All North Alabama local counties have students in the program.”

Started in 2005, ACCESS is the state-funded, virtual-learning program that provides equal educational opportunities for students throughout Alabama. Students can take regular and advanced-placement courses, along with foreign languages and electives.

“MCS provides technology for all Madison City Support Center courses. We currently have 274 teachers and 507 courses,” Kilgore said. Teachers live across the state but most in North Alabama school systems. Many instructors are retired Alabama teachers.

“ACCESS teachers must have a current Alabama teaching certificate with appropriate certification in their subject area. Our support center covers the top one-third of the state and works with 221 schools,” Kilgore said. ACCESS courses are free to Alabama students in grades 7-12 pursuing a regular or advanced diploma.

“ACCESS levels the playing field for many students in small schools and rural areas with limited course offerings,” Kilgore said. “We’ve added grades 7-8 with limited course choices expected to grow, but grades 9-12 have all core, foreign language and an array of electives, including arts classes.”

Its technical infrastructure relies on Alabama Supercomputer Authority network.

Currently, ACCESS serves more than 396 schools and 18,640 students. In interviews, 75 percent of students and 82 percent of teachers in ACCESS rate virtual school ‘as good as’ or ‘better’ than traditional courses.

As Director of ACCESS, Kilgore is liaison with State Department of Education. She defines policies and procedures for students with special programs and other needs, along with hiring and training staff. Kilgore attends trade shows and conferences.

Staff members are Joann Clark, Missy Hall and Laura Honea, Program Managers; Andrea Wilkinson, Instructional Specialist; Lindsey Barrett, Bookkeeper/Secretary; and Melissa Lee, Instructional Specialist.

To enroll, a student needs a computer, lab materials from the school district and capability to work independently with online guidance. “We want students to have an interest in online learning. They will grow with their technology skills while in ACCESS,” Kilgore said.

The program gives five annual awards (Administrator, Teacher, Counselor, Facilitator and Student of the Year). For two years, MCS has won three of those awards. “We participated in the awards at each winning campus last year and will attend the Alabama Educational Technology Conference in June,” Kilgore said. “This year’s award winners are from Hartselle, Etowah and Anniston.”

“We’re excited to visit and work with personnel in the schools for the 2021-2022 school year,” Kilgore said.

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