Deborah Blackmon ECHS

Daniel Dye / The Herald

Elmore County High School distance learning instructor Deborah Blackmon displays a student mode of ACCESS.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories highlighting Elmore County teachers.

Elmore County High School’s Deborah Blackmon has seen the world of distance and online learning change for the better during her career.

“Today, ACCESS allows the school to offer more classes to our students,” Blackmon said. “We do not have a foreign language teacher (at ECHS). ACCESS lets our students take those classes.”

ACCESS is a virtual learning environment that operates 100% online.

Blackmon does not teach the courses. She is the facilitator between the students and the teachers — 119 students, 23 different subjects and 23 different teachers, to be exact.

When she was hired by the high school in 1995, distance learning consisted of three classes delivered via video conferencing.

By 2006, courses moved to an online format.

ACCESS offers a wide range of classes including AP-level courses, foreign languages and a wide range of electives.

“Just like a regular teacher, I’m writing progress reports, talking to parents and coordinating between teachers and students all day long,” Blackmon said.

University of Alabama is the school’s support center. The university enrolls students, hires the teachers and keeps Blackmon trained on how to run the system in her classroom which is quieter than a library.

The teachers are certified by the state of Alabama.

The delivery of course materials is straightforward based on a demonstration by Blackmon.

Students login to their ACCESS account and see their class newsfeed that includes assignments listed by date. 

Communications between student and teacher are captured in the ACCESS environment.

According to Blackmon, taking online courses poses different challenges than what traditional classrooms offer. 

“Think about sitting here and working on a computer for 50 minutes,” she said. “You don’t get a break. The student next to you is taking a different course. That’s pretty tough.”

She said most students get used to the different way of learning and take online courses the following school year.

“The students have to be prepared,” Blackmon said. “The students have to be responsible for turning in the work on time. Most enjoy the quietness.”

ECHS junior Kaylee Selfridge echoed Blackmon’s thoughts.

“The classes are independent so you get to go at your own pace,” Selfridge said. “You’re not distracted by other things going on in the classroom.”

Blackmon said without support from teachers at the school and county administration this program would not be a success.

“It’s really the people who back me that makes this work,” Blackmon said. “When we’re giving tests, I have to pull teachers to help proctor tests. It takes a village to do this. We have teachers who run the science labs. It takes a whole group of people to run this.”

ACCESS also allows students who attend school at home take extracurricular activities at ECHS.

“Homeschool students have to take a class here to be able to play sports or play in the band,” Blackmon said.