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Taking advantage of distance learning
Students from 5 area schools to participate state program

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Some students in Decatur will soon be able to take classes taught by teachers hundreds of miles away.

Decatur High is among five area schools and 100 schools statewide that are joining the state's ACCESS distance-learning program.

The other area schools are Falkville High and Hartselle High in Morgan County, and Clements High and Tanner High in Limestone County.

By joining the Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide program, the schools will have access to teachers from across the state, allowing them by January to offer specialized classes in subjects ranging from Chinese and Latin to advanced calculus.

Also, students will be able to take remedial courses that help them catch up if they need extra help to graduate.

State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton and Gov. Bob Riley announced the latest group of ACCESS schools during an orientation and training session Thursday. Once the schools begin their programs, every county in the state will have at least one distance-learning classroom, Riley said.

ACCESS uses computers, the Internet and video tools to link students in multiple schools across the state with one teacher in a single location who has expertise in the subject they need.

As an example, Morton and Riley linked observers in Montgomery to an ACCESS classroom at Douglass High School in Marshall County. Douglass E-teacher Jennifer Charles also taught students at a Tarrant High School classroom in Birmingham via remote computer hook-up.

The distance-learning tools also work with students at after-hours classrooms, enabling them to receive training they could not get in regular classes at their own school.

Limestone County Schools Superintendent Barry Carroll said he expects students there to use ACCESS for Advanced Placement classes and other specialized courses in subjects like math and languages. Carroll also said ACCESS will work well for students who need remedial classes so they can complete high school graduation requirements.

"My concern is that they will become so popular that it will be a challenge to meet the demand," Carroll said.

Riley said high popularity of classes is a problem the state likes to have.

"It levels the playing field so students throughout the state have more chances to take advanced coursework, regardless of where they go to school," he said of distance learning.

Riley said he believes that when the parents see how their children can receive the classes they need in rural as well as urban schools, they will be more willing to locate and take jobs in less populated parts of the state.

Each distance-learning lab costs about $85,000, or about $8.5 million for the latest group.

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