Mary Beth Sallee
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
When the pandemic began in March of 2020, schools across the state and nation found themselves turning to virtual learning. But for one particular school, the way of virtual learning was nothing new.
Since 2004, the Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning (BAVEL) has helped many students achieve educational goals while also fitting their lifestyle needs.
Originally established as a dropout prevention program in the Barren County School District, it wasn’t long before BAVEL became much more.
“Around that time was the grassroots effort across the state to start providing online options for students,” said Phillip Napier, BAVEL Co-Director. “To be very honest, just because of connections between Barren County Schools, the Kentucky Department of Education, and those grassroots efforts, really BAVEL was established to kind of set forward on a trek to bring us to where we are today.”
Since its beginning, BAVEL has served its students in various capacities.
“Initially, we started by just serving students here in Barren County,” Napier said. “There was at one time, Kentucky Virtual High School…Kentucky Virtual High School was an initiative by the Kentucky Department of Education where they actually designed online courses for students across the state, and so BAVEL had partnered with Kentucky Virtual High School at one point to be able to serve students across the state to gain access to those online courses.”
In 2012, Kentucky Virtual High School closed its doors. At that point, BAVEL was identified as one of three online learning providers across the Commonwealth. BAVEL helped to fill in the gap where Kentucky Virtual High School went away but still provided online curriculum options not only to students in Barren County but for students across the state.
As BAVEL is part of the Barren County School District, one of the academy’s main priorities is serving the students of its district. However, BAVEL also serves students from across the state, sharing an agreement with 66 other school districts throughout Kentucky.
“There are some logistics about that that are changing, but if a student resides in a district of which we share an agreement with, then that student is able to enroll with us (BAVEL),” Napier explained.
BAVEL currently enrolls students in grades K-12. During the 2021-2022 school year, a total of 332 students were enrolled in the virtual learning academy.
According to Jeanelle McGuire, Director of Admissions for BAVEL, the academy tries to keep its numbers lower in an elementary class than in a high school class. McGuire further explained that BAVEL offers three different levels for students: full-time, part-time, and the plus model.
Full-time BAVEL students are those who actively want to pursue their educational career with BAVEL to earn a high school diploma.
“Now that doesn’t mean that they stay with us the whole time,” McGuire said. “They might transition back to a traditional school or transition to us from a traditional school.”
Part-time BAVEL students may be students who are in a traditional homeschool but perhaps a family member does not feel comfortable teaching Algebra II. Then, that student will take the Algebra II class through BAVEL.
Plus model students are those who are enrolled in a traditional Kentucky school but need to supplement their education with a class that their school may not be offering.
“Let’s say it’s AP Biology,” McGuire said. “That student can take that class through us, and we would work with their district to put it on their transcript and earn credit for that class.”
As for the typical day in the life of a full-time BAVEL student, the elementary model consists of a morning group meeting followed by independent work time. Teachers also schedule times throughout the day to meet either one-on-one with students online or as a group. After additional independent work, a noon meeting is held. After additional independent work in the afternoon, elementary students end the day by 3 p.m. and must have all work submitted that is due for that day.
“They have different times that they’re together as a group, but also independent time, and that’s where the parental involvement comes in,” McGuire said. “Obviously with elementary, we expect someone to be there with the student to be able to help guide them. We do involve our parents also.”
“One of the things I want to add about the clubs, with our elementary model, we are trying something on Fridays to get students involved,” McGuire added. “We have an Art Club where the students are working with…one of our teachers who teaches different aspects of drawing and lets them draw something with her, and then they can obviously make their piece their own. We have two Cooking Clubs, a lower elementary and an upper elementary, where they’re learning just basic cooking skills, and they get to create something for their family. It’s all online. It’s fun.”
Middle and high school models of BAVEL are much more independent. Discussion-based assessments are held to see if students are comprehending and understanding the course content. If a student is not, teachers will work with the student to go back through the content. Although middle and high school students may not have as many individual meetings throughout the day, they do have an instructor willing to help.
Middle and high school students may also schedule tutoring sessions or even parent-teacher conferences where families can talk about ways that may be more effective for their child.
“…Our guidance counselors monitor our students closely and that allows them to set up meetings to talk with the students, to set up a plan if they’re behind, how they can get caught back up, what are some tips or things they can use to get caught up,” McGuire said. “Our teachers will also set up those appointments with our students to talk to them about ways they can be more productive.”
BAVEL also collaborates very closely with the Director of Special Programs for the school district to work with students who have Individualized Education Plan (IEPS) or 504 Plans or who are gifted/talented (GT).
“Some schools actually access our curriculum to serve those GT students, and so we just kind of work closely with our GT coordinator for the school district to determine if those options are something that we can serve the students through BAVEL,” Napier said. “…We try to look at every situation as its own, unique situation to determine if BAVEL will be the best fit and the best option for them (the student).”
BAVEL students are expected to complete the same state assessments that a student in a traditional building would complete.
“Students in our local area will come into our offices here on Western’s campus in Glasgow to take those state tests,” McGuire said. “And for our students outside of our district across the state, we travel to them and set up places where we can do state testing in a quiet environment. So just like a traditional school, we have many of the exact same expectations for our students as they do in a traditional school.”
BAVEL provides 100% accreditation just as anyone attending a public school. The academy also holds a ceremony for graduating students.
“We do have our own graduation ceremony so students who are seeking to pursue a public high school diploma with us can still have the opportunity to participate in that graduation ceremony that’s a very special celebration for them,” Napier said. “Our students still wear a cap and gown, and it’s just a great day for us to celebrate those accomplishments and reaching that milestone with those students.”
For those interested in attending BAVEL, there is an enrollment process and costs do apply.
“Part of our enrollment process is one-on-one conversations that students and their parents will have with our Director of Admissions (Jeanelle McGuire) …And she will be able to emphasize during that meeting the importance of students being involved in their community,” Napier said. “While it may not be something specifically BAVEL sponsored, we do try to make sure that we emphasize and encourage students to be active in their community so that they are not isolated, per se, by completing their courses online from their home.”
If a student resides in a district with which BAVEL has an agreement and that student is choosing full-time enrollment, the cost is a $50 deposit per class. For a kindergarten student, for example, attending BAVEL would cost $200 (four classes at $50 each).
“When we look at the actual courses, obviously we focus on the course, so math, language arts, science, and social studies,” Napier said. “Those are the actual courses the student would be taking, but I don’t want people to get confused by thinking, ‘Oh, a typical kid in elementary school does P.E., and art, music. Why is BAVEL only doing four classes?’ Our teachers also embed within those courses and throughout the day those other subject areas. So, while it may not be a specific course that they’re enrolled in, they are being exposed to and participating in those enrichment activities just like any other elementary student would.”
“But when we’re just talking about how much a student would pay and what specific courses they would be enrolled in, that kindergarten student would just pay for four classes, so that would be $200,” Napier added. “Again, I want to emphasize that while they’re getting content from four classes, they’re still getting enrichment activities as well.”
However, it is important to note that the $200 cost can be refunded if that student successfully completes those classes for the school year, or the $200 can be rolled over from year to year until the student either graduates or leaves the BAVEL program.
As for full-time high school students enrolled in BAVEL, those students are completing five to six full-credit courses each year. Therefore, it will cost a full-time high school student approximately $250-$300 in a deposit at the beginning of a school year.
“Remember, it is a refundable deposit, so it’s not like you’re going to be out that every year,” McGuire said. “It rolls over or it’s refunded if you leave the program.”
According to both Napier and McGuire, there are multiple ways in which BAVEL has met the needs of many students through the years.
“I think BAVEL helps benefit students by making them more independent, giving them some life skills that they need for their future that they can use during their time in school,” McGuire said.
“Number one, it’s just being able to offer a public education outside the walls of a traditional school for whatever reason that may be,” Napier added. “Whether the student is looking for a challenge, whether that student physically cannot set in a classroom all day long for a specific reason, or maybe they’re pursuing a professional career. Maybe they are pursuing some type of professional interest. They might be a teen parent. There’s a wide variety of situations that really make BAVEL fit in for students who still want that public school education but for whatever reason cannot be in the traditional classroom.”
For additional information about BAVEL, visit the academy’s website at www.BAVEL.org.