WINDERMERE, Fla. (BP) -- Churches, homeschoolers and Christian schools have a new opportunity for biblically sound online courses at a discounted rate through a Virtual Academy launched by the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.
"Today's economic and cultural environment represents a sifting process for Christian schools," said Ed Gamble, SBACS executive director of SBACS. "Schools that refocus their mission, think creatively, embrace innovation and employ new technologies to create new markets for their services will survive and thrive."
About 750 schools are affiliated with Southern Baptist churches in the United States, and about 100 of them are members of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools. Of those, 10 are elementary schools, 11 are kindergarten through eighth grade and 61 are kindergarten through 12th grade. This does not include start-ups and preschools.
In partnership with Sevenstar Academy, the SBACS Virtual Academy is offering core courses as well as foreign languages, Bible classes and other electives online. The academy also offers Advanced Placement courses and dual credit opportunities, also online.
"SBACS' partnership with Sevenstar Academy opens a door for schools, regardless of size or location, to access the incredible power of the Internet to expand offerings to current students and reach new student populations with top-notch academic content integrated with biblical truth," Gamble said.
SBACS, which was organized in 1979 and was officially incorporated in 1994, is offering classes on a course-by-course basis. Jenna Roebke, director of Virtual Academy, said this is a benefit to schools and churches that partner with SBACS because they don't have to pay Sevenstar partnership fees.
"They can go directly to us, and they can take it one course at a time," Roebke told Baptist Press. "If they need one student to take a course, they can come to us and do that."
For students interested in full-time online classes, package discounts also are available through SBACS, and if a SBACS member school prefers to form its own partnership with Sevenstar, they are eligible for discounts. Sevenstar offers more than 90 courses for grades 6-12 as well as more than 130 dual credit courses from Christian colleges and universities.
Dual credit courses are for students in high school who want to earn college credit, and credit rescue courses are available when students either don't pass a course or don't earn as good a grade as they wanted. Through Virtual Academy, they can take that course again.
Virtual Academy classes are available to Christian schools, homeschools and churches that want to offer Bible classes. All courses come through an accredited organization and allow students to earn credit toward a high school diploma.
"It's something that we're really excited about because it's one more thing that we can offer our members," Roebke said. "We feel that online is the direction schools are going. They need to be at least in that realm because by the time students get to college it's important for them to have those skills with Internet tools and capabilities."
Virtual Academy allows Christian schools also to stay on top of current trends in technology, she said.
Virtual Academy course offerings would be an asset to homeschool groups, meanwhile, as a way to fill in gaps in curriculum or to offer additional electives, Roebke said.
"Homeschool parents could sign up their students for a class -- math, history, Bible, science, etc. -- directly through us ... to enhance their current homeschool curriculum," Roebke said.
Virtual Academy could be useful to churches, she added, because adult Sunday School classes, small groups or youth groups could enroll in courses.
"It may be something where they could either do it individually online and meet back together in their Sunday School class or small group and discuss it, or they could offer it in-house where the church actually has computers and they can come together and work on the course," Roebke said.
"It's something the church could offer new members, new Christians or people who are starving for more information about the Bible and understanding it. They can offer this as something to help people learn more."
For more information, visit sbacs.org.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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