Because students learn and finish up at their own pace, Foothills graduations aren’t always held in May like most schools. This year’s Foothills commencement was held last month where the school’s local site celebrated the most graduates it has seen since opening in 2015. 

Housed in the college and career academy wing of Baldwin High School since 2015, Baldwin Foothills Charter High School has given students another local option for obtaining their diploma.

This year 14 students, the most the local site has seen thus far, completed the requirements needed to graduate from high school. Camille Murner, one of the site’s co-directors, says the new milestone was reached simply because the public’s wrong perceptions of the school have been corrected. It is not an alternative school for kids with behavioral issues and the diplomas received are the same given at any other accredited school, which Foothills is as well by the Georgia Accrediting Commission. 

“I think there’s been a paradigm shift in this community and the surrounding communities,” said Murner. “People have realized that it is a true public school and it is a real diploma. We have all the same options and opportunities the other schools have. It’s not some homeschool, alternative-track diploma. It’s just like any other public high school.”

Foothills Education Charter High School has 16 sites across the north-middle portion of the state with the closest one to Baldwin County located in Greensboro. The entire Foothills system graduated 331 students throughout the 2018-19 year. 

And just like any other public high school, traditional students face no tuition costs for attending Foothills. There is a Foothills Plus option for adults wanting to get that high school diploma they missed out on, though they must be missing only five or fewer credits to graduate and pay $150 per course.

The Foothills learning environment is sort of a mix between an online experience and a traditional classroom. Students take self-guided courses, but there’s always a certified teacher and tutors on hand ready to help should any questions arise. Foothills maintains a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio, though the local site directors say they usually have two teachers in the room making their ratio significantly lower than most any public school classroom. 

The hours also make Foothills a good bit different from traditional schools. Foothills Baldwin operates from 4 to 9 p.m. in the evenings to allow for greater flexibility for its students. Some may have dropped out of school because they needed to work to help support their families, while others are focused on taking a dual enrollment track while only needing to take a handful of high school courses to finish up their high school diploma requirements. Recent Baldwin Foothills graduate Shelby Wadkins is of the latter group. She started at Foothills in February and finished up the few courses she needed in plenty of time to graduate when the school held commencement in June. 

“I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and at the pace that I wanted,” Wadkins said. “It’s not like a conventional high school where you have to take all the unnecessary classes just to fill time. Here, you do what you need to do and you’re done. The teachers really work with you. Sometimes there are 12 kids in a class and sometimes there are three, but it’s a lot of one-on-one work as well.”

With 40 dual enrollment hours already completed, Wadkins will attend GMC locally in the fall and work toward her associate’s degree. Though she doesn’t yet know what field she’ll enter professionally, she does plan on attending yet another graduation after finishing up at GMC.

“My associate’s degree isn't going to be the end for me,” she said. “I’m definitely going to move on to a four-year school.”

Wadkins touted Foothills’ family atmosphere and said she “100 percent” recommends it to students who aren’t interested in the traditional high school experience. 

Students who do attend regular high schools may have a use for Foothills as well, according to Murner.

“We had a lot of students coming in for that, getting summer school credit,” the co-director said. “That is something that students can come in and get year-round. Sometimes as a student you realize at Christmas that you’ve tanked a class. If you want to go ahead and start to recover that class after Christmas, you can start with us in January to make that credit up if your school will allow it.”

Murner is entering her third year as a director at Foothills Baldwin, and she is joined by Susan Curtis, Oak Hill Middle School science teacher by day and Foothills co-director by night.

“It’s a great place to work,” Curtis said. “This is how schools should be.”

As for the future, Foothills is expanding its career, technical and agricultural education (CTAE) for students maybe wanting to go the technical college route or even straight into the workforce.

Also pertaining to the future, Murner said she hopes to see the community’s involvement in Foothills increase.

“Something we’d like to see here that other Foothills sites have had a lot of success within their communities is a lot of the local clubs and churches have volunteered to come in one night a week and feed the students because we don’t have a meal program,” the co-director said. “That’s helped attendance at those sites and helped those students. If we could ask for anything from the community that’s the one thing we’d love to see.”

Those seeking more information on Baldwin Foothills are encouraged to visit the school during operation hours (Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.) at Baldwin High School or call 478-453-6429 extension 5310.

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