Avoyelles School District offers two virtual school programs

By Raymond l. Daye

{Editor’s Note: “Virtual education” is becoming more common in the nation, the state and this parish. We have previously featured two virtual  state charter schools which serve about 50 parish students. Following is an article of a third school, Avoyelles Parish’s version of “virtual school” and how it is used to meet students’ needs in this parish.}
If a student bombs a required course, or would like to graduate early or would just like to take a class for his own enjoyment, the Avoyelles Parish Virtual School Program will let him do that.
Judd Dupuy is the program director, and also its social studies teacher. Luke Welch, the parish school system’s Student Information Systems coordinator, is the overall supervisor for the virtual school program.
“It definitely helps the kids to have this as an alternative for their classes,” Dupuy said. “I can’t say they ‘learn at their own pace,’ because they have to get the work done for mid-term and final tests, but it is more flexible and students like that.”
Dupuy, of Marksville, is a 1989 graduate of Marksville High and 1994 graduate of LSU, when he received a Criminal Justice degree. He started teaching because there was a federal hiring freeze and he wanted to apply to the FBI and DEA.
“I liked teaching and decided to stay with it,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 21 years now.”
Most of those years have been at Marksville Middle and Marksville High schools.
Since 2011
The parish has had some sort of virtual program in place since 2011.
The parish’s program is not like the virtual charter schools that are trying to make inroads into local school districts. There are no flesh-and-blood teachers presenting the lessons online while students either attend the class from their own computer desk or access it later.
Avoyelles uses the Plato software program to present the lessons. Four teachers -- Dupuy in social studies, Michael Rachal in math, Jeremy Bonnette in science and Angela Franks in English. At this time, the program is only for middle and high school students. However, it is not open just for Avoyelles Parish School District students. 
“Students from other parishes have signed up to take courses with us,” Dupuy said. “Avoyelles Public Charter School students and non-public school students also take the classes.” 
There are two types of virtual program, Dupuy said.
The most popular is called the “adjunct” program, also called the “credit recovery and enrichment” program. These courses must be taken outside of school hours and are offered at an additional cost to the student -- $25 registration fee and $150 per course, with a two-course maximum. There are three semesters per year -- fall, spring and summer -- which could allow a student to take up to six courses in the virtual school program. Summer school is the most popular time to take advantage of the program.
Plato at school
The other virtual program is called “Plato At School” and is provided free of charge to students needing it.
“This program is used if there is a scheduling error -- such as, the student really needed to take a required course and the office messed up and the class wasn’t offered at a time that he could take it. If that happens, he can take the class online through Plato at no cost.”
The program is also available to students who are expelled from the parish’s alternative school -- which has a different virtual school program for those attending the school in Hessmer. Again, there is no charge to the student for the Plato at School class.
“It would also be available for a homebound student, if they wanted to take advantage of it,” Dupuy said.
Another group of students that can utilize the free Plato at School program are those wanting help to prepare for an “End of Course” test, required for graduation.
At this time, Dupuy is gearing up for the summer school session. Any student wishing to take one of the adjunct virtual school summer classes must attend an orientation meeting at the APSB Central Office at 4:30 p.m. June 3 with at least one parent or guardian.
“They only come before us three times in the semester,” Dupuy said. “First, at registration when they have orientation and pay their fees. The next is the mid-term, when they have to take the test in front of the teacher. The last time is the final, which also has to be taken in front of the teacher.”
Mid-term is June 25 and the final will be July 14.
Students cannot take the mid-term or final early, even if they finish the course work early.
Dupuy said the four teachers are paid out of the course fees paid by the students. The teachers will be at three high schools for three hours, four days a week during the summer session. Two will be at Marksville High, one at Avoyelles High and one at LaSAS, which will also serve the Bunkie students in the program.
“The teachers will be at the schools in case a student has a computer problem or has a question about what part of the program to do next,” Dupuy said. “They are not there to tutor the students -- although that happens somewhat with math, because the teacher may have to explain the process in how to solve a problem. I can say that from past experience, not many students go to the school during the teachers’ hours there, and most of them that do show up are there for math.”
Instructional support
Students don’t just sign up for the class and then be set on their own.
Dupuy said each student is given an email account so teachers can communicate with them. The students are given frequent progress updates on how they are doing. 
If a student is “off to a slow start,” the teacher calls the parents and tells them the student needs to get rolling. If a student lags too far behind, the teacher will also call to see if there is a problem.
Students can check out a laptop at their school if they do not have a computer at home, Dupuy said.
“We can’t help them with providing internet, but we can make the school available to them while we are here,” he said. “Many use the library or places that have free wi-fi. There are some churches that make themselves available for students to use their wi-fi.”
Dupuy is carrying on a family tradition at Marksville, where his father Randal Dupuy taught and retired. His brother, Chris Dupuy, is the head basketball coach and adaptive P.E. teacher.
“My father was definitely my mentor,” he said. “I learned about teaching from him.
“I’m one of Chris’ assistant coaches,” Dupuy continued. “This room used to be his. It still has ‘C. Dupuy’ on the door,” he added with a laugh.
Dupuy said he believes his future is teaching at Marksville High. 
He would like to see the virtual school program expanded to an “11th school” in the district.
“I see no reason why it cannot happen and I think it should happen,” he said. “It has been successful in other places and in other parishes.”
Noting the statewide virtual charter schools that have attracted some students in the parish, Dupuy said, “why not have one for us.”
He said a virtual school could give parish students “the ability to excel.”  


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