Washington County Public Schools will open its first online-only school this fall.
The Academy of Blended Learning Education (ABLE) will be based at the former Funkstown Elementary School and is open to all students kindergarten through 12th grade who thrived, enjoyed and did well with online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, school system officials said.
Applications from interested families are being accepted through Thursday, June 17.
“Students will get their education online with live teachers,” said Robert Stike, the principal of the ABLE school. “It will be a mix of live and assigned work. It’s a real benefit for those students who thrived through distance learning, and really enjoyed learning in this manner.
“It’s for those students not ready to go back to live learning in the classroom,” said Stike, the former assistant principal at Smithsburg High School. “More independent students that are maybe more comfortable learning in a home setting. They might have health issues and they feel more comfortable staying home.”
The program is open to not just WCPS students, but home-schooled students and those currently attending private schools and who live in Washington County.
“They just have to enroll in Washington County Public Schools,” Stike said.
As for sports, proms and other school activities, students at ABLE can still participate at their home school, since those activities will not be provided at the academy, he said.
The school system has plans to hire 18 full-time teachers and one part-time for the academy.
“These are new positions,” Stike said. “It’s for teachers that enjoyed teaching online, and really enjoyed teaching virtually.”
Erin Anderson, the school system’s communication officer said there are no additional costs for students to attend the ABLE program. The cost to run the program is covered by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal funds.
The Washington County Board of Education did not need to approve the ABLE program, she said.
The application process involves school system officials working with the child’s home school. They will be talking with teachers and administrators to determine how the student did during distance learning during the pandemic.
“This is includes anybody that has knowledge of the students,” Stike said.
The academy will follow the same expectations and same curriculum as what is being taught in the classroom.
Anderson said having an online-only school is actually an idea WCPS officials were considering before COVID-19 hit.
“We were looking at it because we see segments of education heading in that direction,” she said. We want to provide that to the community. They have it in college. It’s a new world.”
“I think education is going through a revolution, and part of it has to do with COVID,” he said. “It has kind of given teachers a whole new way to teach. It does very well for a certain population of students.”
For more information go to https://www.wcpsmd.com/able.
Sherry Greenfield is the Education Reporter, covering Washington County Public Schools and the Washington County Board of Education. Follow Sherry on Twitter at Sheina2018 or Instagram at beckmangreenfield.