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BAVEL celebrates 20 years

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in print in the Barren County Progress on Nov. 2, 2023.

By Terry Borders, Freelance Writer

Cooking Club is one of several club activities available to BAVEL students. Cooking Club Chef Josh is shown here. (Photo submitted by BAVEL)

A focused commitment to student success has resulted in the ongoing growth and innovation of Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanding Learning (BAVEL) over the past twenty years. What sets them apart from other virtual learning options is their continued commitment to offering a human touch, personal relationships, and often individualized instruction to their students, according to their administrators and the families they serve.

BAVEL was created in 2004 as an attempt by administrators to stem increasing numbers of students dropping out of Barren County High School. It has grown from serving a handful of high school students in Barren County to currently serving 235 students in grades 1-12 throughout Kentucky and beyond.

In speaking with a group of BAVEL administrators, while the primary focus is on student success, several additional prominent themes emerge. One important distinction, that is often misunderstood, is that BAVEL is not homeschool. It is a public school accredited by the Kentucky Department of Education. It is the first comprehensive and diploma-granting, fully online public school in the state.

Other prominent areas of distinction include schedule flexibility, the opportunity for individualization, and increased opportunities for student/teacher interaction.

“Elementary students in grades 1-5 have more structure, while grades 6-12 are more self-paced. However, all courses have specific due dates and stopping points for discussion-based meetings,” according to Jeanelle McGuire, BAVEL Co-Director. “Elementary classes include class meetings twice daily. All class levels include one-on-one meetings between teachers and students. Teachers are able to customize according to the student’s needs when necessary.”

Luke Sallee is in third grade and this is his second year at BAVEL. His mother, Mary Beth Sallee shared, “BAVEL has been a blessing. It has allowed Luke to receive a quality education in an environment where he feels comfortable and safe. For Luke, a typical day consists of four Google Meets, spending time with his teachers and classmates, and completing assignments. The teachers and staff of BAVEL do their best to provide STEAM activities and even clubs for the students. Recently, he and his classmates participated in a Google Meet with a Mammoth Cave park ranger, and Luke was able to dissect an actual owl pellet at home while on the Google Meet. This was made possible because the BAVEL staff created STEAM packets for every student to have at home so that they have the opportunity to participate in hands-on learning activities.”

Each elementary student meets with his/her class members online twice daily. Students also have individual meetings with their teachers. (Photo submitted by BAVEL)

“We offer good quality content that was created for the virtual learning environment and meets all educational requirements. That allows the teachers to focus on students and provide supplemental help if needed,” said School Counselor Pam Carter.

“Families choose BAVEL for their children for a variety of reasons,” BAVEL Principal Olivia Dooley said. “We’re here for students full-time or part-time for whatever needs their families may have,” she added. “Some families need the schedule flexibility to accommodate either a parent’s schedule, where they are required to travel extensively for work,  or for the student’s schedule. Students can work from anywhere and still complete course credit. We have even had missionary families who were Kentucky residents on foreign mission fields but wanted their children to have a Kentucky high school diploma.”

Jennifer Kelly, whose son Jace is enrolled in first grade said, “Virtual learning just suits so much better for us with my job and traveling that is involved. We have some freedom and even though they have a schedule that they stick to, it allows Jace to still learn at his own pace and be able to take a little break if feeling overwhelmed, regroup, and get back to his work. He also has plenty of one-on-one time with his teacher if he is having trouble compressing his material. He is getting an amazing education. He has the same standards as brick-and-mortar schools with teachers, a principal, and a guidance counselor whom he meets with every two weeks. They are all playing a huge part in helping my son learn and be the best version of himself.”

Guest Speaker Mammoth Cave National Park Ranger Rachel visited these Elementary students for a virtual learning lab. This is just one example of enhanced learning opportunities available through BAVEL. (Photo submitted by BAVEL)

McGuire shared that they’ve had several students who were seeking professional sports careers, or traveling with competitive sports teams.

“We’ve had students who travel pursuing training and for competitions in a variety of sports, including hockey, equestrian, volleyball, and rodeo. We have also had students with health issues where the flexibility enables them to work around scheduled surgeries,” McGuire explained.

Scott Harper, Director of Secondary Instruction and Technology added, “BAVEL is accredited by the NCAA  clearinghouse which helps students pursuing college athletic scholarships.”

Ashlee Tomes, whose son Jagger is a senior, shared, “Jagger was on a competitive volleyball team from Nashville that traveled nearly every weekend. Since many of his tournaments were out of state, he was often having to miss school on Fridays or Mondays due to travel. Since Jagger has always been in advanced courses, it was becoming very stressful and difficult for him to make up his coursework and keep up with his day-to-day assignments. His team also practiced two times a week, and Jagger was unable to attend all the practices due to being 2 hours away and being enrolled in a traditional high school. We knew the current situation was not sustainable, so we started looking at alternative options.”

“Since enrolling in BAVEL, Jagger was able to do his work when it fit his schedule and no longer had to worry about absences or being behind due to his volleyball commitment. He has been able to have freedom to pursue interests and hobbies that he wouldn’t have been able to pursue otherwise. He has gained a new level of independence and confidence since enrolling in BAVEL. He has still been able to take advanced level classes and has had very supportive teachers who have helped him be very successful,” she continued.

Jagger Tomes agreed, “I joined BAVEL because of the travel volleyball I was playing. It was causing me to miss a lot of school. BAVEL has a lot of benefits, the biggest being just the sheer amount of free time you have when doing it. You do have to be motivated to get your work done. It has allowed me to have other hobbies and spend more time with my family.”

Melinda Owens, Director of Counseling, said, “The flexibility is also helpful to teens who work and those who are teen parents. Courses are open 24/7, everyday”

According to Owens, some students choose BAVEL because of the challenge and opportunities to pursue advanced and dual credit classes. “We have partnerships with several universities, including Western Kentucky University, SKYCTC, and other colleges across the state,” she explained.

The 2004 beginning of BAVEL was in partnership with Kentucky Virtual High School and the Kentucky Department of Education.

“Despite the name, there really was no virtual in 2004. Initially, all available classes were correspondence classes through the University of Kentucky,” Owens said. “In 2011, our focus changed and our offerings expanded when KVHS closed. Grades 1-5 were added to BAVEL in 2021.”

BAVEL employs 12 full-time staff members, including seven full-time teachers who are based in offices in Glasgow and a satellite office in Owensboro plus 30 part-time teachers across the state.

“All our teachers are Kentucky certified and teach within their area of certification,” according to Owens.

Additionally, Harper added, “While we are required to have certified teachers, we are not required to limit them to their specific area of certification. We choose to do that to aid in the success of our students because they get the most from instructors teaching from their area of certification.”

“We have three primary commitments going forward: innovation and expansion to continue meeting the ever-changing needs of students and families; commitment to qualified staffing to meet those needs; and continuing the human touch and personal relationship aspect of our teacher/student relationships,” Harper added.

“We serve high-performing students as well as students with special needs and those at risk,” Owens said.

BAVEL accepts applications year-round and welcomes opportunities to meet the diverse needs of families and students.

BAVEL has 12 full-time staff for the 2023-24 school year. Their office is in the WKU Glasgow campus building. There are 30 part-time and seven full-time teachers who work from their homes across Kentucky. (Photo submitted by BAVEL)

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