College Park Academy launches, offers traditional and virtual lessons

Imagine a school where you can learn from teachers around the world everyday. It's become a reality for some students in Prince George's County.

The inaugural class at the College Park Academy opened their books and laptops for the first time since school started in August, and on Monday, county leaders celebrated the successful launch of the school with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, pointing to the program as a sign of what's to come.

"Technology is going to be everything in the future, so why not start now?" said 7th grade student Dursha Ragunanthan.

These students are getting that jump start to learning through online courses, and even have a chance to earn college credit.

Maryland State Senator Jim Rosapepe said, "Students who study hard and do well will be able to take up to 25 University of Maryland credits while they're still in high school."

Betsy Barrett is among the 300 students who make up the Academy. She said, "Even though everyone is individual and you can go at your own pace, we're still together."

This unique public charter school offers traditional lessons with virtual ones-- the first of its kind in the country starting at the middle-school level.

Principal Bernadette Ortiz-Brewster said, "[Lessons] can be delivered through a face-to-face teacher, which is our College Park Academy teacher who's actually here, that would be for math, science and language arts...and then we have virtual teachers for all of the rest of our classes."

Students connect with teachers all over the world with the click of a mouse, and with the University of Maryland located less than a mile away.

"We have worked out an internship program with education students at the university," said Ortiz-Brewster.

The academy opened its doors for the first time this school year with 6th and 7th graders. The goal is to add one grade annually, eventually encompassing grades 6-12.

County leaders say the competitive curriculum can help change the attitude toward local schools.

"I think what you'll also see is parents putting their kids back into our public school system, " said Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.

The Academy came together with the help of the University of Maryland and the city of College Park.

Once the two year lease expires in the current school location in Hyattsville, the plan is to relocate to a more spacious building in College Park.