Scads of high-performing young athletes complete their academics online, many through private and public programs such as California’s Capistrano Connections Academy of Kaplan’s college-prep program. It’s the only way they can fit academics into their grueling training schedules.
Figure skater Mirai Nagasu is a four-time national medalist and 2011 Capistrano graduate. Online school “allowed me to follow my extensive training schedule without the stress of missing so many school days,” she says. “The online learning system let me take ‘school’ with me all over the world.”
National figure skating champ Gracie Gold represents the United States at Sochi this year and plans to graduate afterward from the University of Missouri High School’s online program. Seventeen-year-old Alicia Tong, who is ranked number two in the nation in women’s youth snowboarding, attends public school online through Minnesota Connections Academy. Skier and Olympian Torin Yater-Wallace plans to graduate from Advanced Academics High School, an online school, in 2015.
Online college is also popular with Olympic athletes. Speed skater Allison Baver transferred online classes from Northern Michigan University to Penn State as she trained for the 2002 Olympics. She later earned an MBA online from the New York Institute of Technology. Online education allowed her to train for her present and future careers simultaneously, she told Bloomberg-Businessweek.
Fifteen current U.S. Olympic team members attend DeVry University, according to the team’s media guide. DeVry blends online classes with those taught at more than 90 locations.
This kind of education is not just for Olympic hopefuls. It’s a great opportunity for regular kids like blogger and law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ daughter. She took classes online in high school so she could work part-time at a local television station, where she researched and wrote for programs on the Biography Channel, A&E, and more. The program also allowed her to graduate high school a year early, saving money and time on her way to engineering school.
“Is online school for everyone? Absolutely not,” Harlan writes in his new book, The New School. “Some kids don’t have the discipline to sit down at a computer every day and do schoolwork with no one looking over their shoulder. … But for the right kid, the online approach offers benefits that traditional school doesn’t.”
Those benefits include flexibility and efficiency. Taking all or a few classes online gives students more opportunities than they had before. They have more opportunities to work while in school, gaining valuable job experience that economists show increases their ability to move up the ladder later in life. They can chase serious interests like athletics, music, or volunteering, and spend more time in the real world than preparing for it.
Twenty-five states currently offer online public K–12 schools, says the Evergreen Education Group. That means 25 more could offer their kids such opportunities. Other new laws could increase children’ opportunities for online learning, such as removing bans against online charter schools and allowing education funds to follow each child and be split among various classes. Education savings accounts essentially give this power to families by depositing a child’s state education dollars in a bank account his or her parents control and can use for tutoring, textbooks, online classes, tuition, and more.
The Olympics remind us to cherish excellence, diversity, and opportunity. One way to offer that to more kids is to clear the way for online learning.