At both the high school and college level, the case for online education is compelling – it’s accessible, reliable, and highly relevant in today’s increasingly digital world. But is engaging students in online learning in high school too late?

Recently, we discussed this subject with Frank Streufert, the principal of Belvoir Christian Academy (BCA) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The school recently announced a new blended learning program for their middle school students, which includes seventh and eighth grade.

For Mr. Streufert, this new program is about acknowledging that computer and internet skills are rapidly becoming more essential in both the academic and professional world. The goal is to create an environment that prepares students for the future as soon as possible. He said, “We’re excited, first and foremost, to be able to prepare students for the future of learning that is more and more online.

Students without basic computer skills and the ability to confidently navigate online with laptops, desktops and iPads will be at a disadvantage academically, and in the future, professionally. We are looking beyond a student’s short-term academic career and working to invest in future leaders and professionals in our community who have the skills that employers will demand.” Students enrolled in the blended program will attend school on the BCA campus each day during school hours, 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a room that has been designated to allow space for students to set up their laptops, which they are required to purchase. Additionally, a BCA mentor teacher will be present and available in the classroom to offer help during these hours.

The standards-aligned curriculum, provided by Fuel Education, enables BCA to replace physical textbooks and can be used on laptops and a variety of tablets. Courses will be taught by Fuel Education’s certified instructors who interact with students via email, video conference, text, and phone. Core subjects, such as math, language arts and science, will remain a priority in the academic program, but students will also have the freedom to make a few course choices based on their interests. This means that the majority of the day will be spent completing online assignments, but students will also take part in physical education, art, and daily Bible instruction from BCA faculty members.

Streufert wants to stress that this blended program will not isolate students who choose the online method, but rather provide an up-to-date option for learning. He said, “We want to emphasize that students who enroll in seventh and eighth grade are part of the BCA student body and will have the daily advantages of social interaction with all students and may take part in the sports and extracurricular activities we offer.”

BCA is excited about this new program. Streufert said, “We feel that now is the right time in the academic career of seventh and eighth graders to begin introducing them to online courses. Many high schools currently offer a combination of online and traditional classroom courses, and colleges certainly are on the online track. It can only be beneficial to this young age group to have familiarity with online curriculum in preparation for higher learning.”