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Competitive athletes consider alternative schooling


It’s no secret that all students learn differently. Some students are better with hands-on assignments, while others prefer to read the textbook.

However, some students find that they are more successful by changing their education environment all together. Home schooling provides an alternative for many to complete their education in a way that suits them best.

Home schooling can appear in many different forms. For some students, it means taking online classes; for others, it means enrolling in private schools where classes are one-on-one with a teacher either at a school or in their home.

Students decided to start home schooling for many different reasons.  In some families, it is the parents’ choice; in others, students are the first to bring it up. Overall, homeschooling allows more time to focus on high level sports or an activity that requires a more flexible schedule. 

[divider]Coby Shpilberg[/divider]

From a young age, sophomore Coby Shpilberg recalls lying on his skateboard and rolling down hills in his neighborhood. This enjoyable childhood pastime would eventually lead him to discover his passion for luge, a winter sport where up to two athletes slide down tracks on sleds at speeds up to 90 mph.

“My dad happened to be on a flight with the US National Luge Team, who at the time were making their way to Sochi for the 2014 [Winter] Olympics. He thought I might be interested, so he asked how I could try out. After going through a series of tryouts, they decided that I was good enough to start training.”

Coby Shpilberg

Though luge is a winter sport, success in the competition season is  a reflection of the rigorous training throughout the year, according to Shpilberg. Those who do luge are expected to maintain an especially strong upper body, as well as overall fitness and flexibility. Strengths in these areas are particularly helpful at the start of the race. When athletes are able to control their acceleration. If the start is well-executed, the athlete can gain an advantage and is likely to achieve a faster overall time, according to Shpilberg.

Along with committing to intense year-round training, athletes who race must travel frequently for both training and competitions. The constant need to be away from school eventually caused Shpilberg, now a member of the U.S. National Junior Team, to transfer from Paly to an online school.

“In eighth grade, I moved up a team and was away for about 12 weeks of the year,” Shpilberg said. “I was still able to go to Jordan Middle School because I was able to keep up with my work while I was away. In ninth grade, I was invited to go away for about 20 weeks, which were mostly all during second semester. I was able to go to Paly for the first semester […] but for the second semester I would’ve been away longer than I would have been at school. This forced me to transfer to online school.”

Although Shpilberg said he knew he would miss his friends and Paly, he decided to proceed with alternate schooling in order to focus on his sport.

The inflexible demands of training can be met more easily now that Shpilberg takes online classes. When in Palo Alto, he can wake up late, do schoolwork at his own pace and spend time with friends he is normally unable to see due to constant travelling. While away, Shpilerg’s schedule is tighter and does not allow for much more than the long hours of training.

“My normal day when I was travelling usually consists of waking up around 6 a.m. then training until 1 p.m. when we get a lunch break,” Shpilberg said. “Then we would train some more. Our days usually end late and we are left with little time to complete homework.”

Shpilberg said online school has been beneficial because it allows him to pursue his goals as a competitive athlete while completing the learning that is required at this age.

“Now as I am away a little more than half the year,” Shpilberg said.

He said online school makes it a lot easier to get all his school work done.

“The pros of online school are that it can be done anywhere and anytime and that it allows for significantly more sleep. The cons are that you are pretty much learning out of a textbook and the lack of social contact with other kids during school time,” Shpilberg said.

Despite the few cons, Shpilberg said he finds online school to be a good option for athletes who travel often in order to compete at higher levels in their sport.

Shpilberg said, “I would not recommended online school to the normal student. However, if you are a competitive athlete that is away for much of the year, it is a great alternative to regular high school.”

[divider]Chesnie Cheung[/divider]

While online schooling has allowed Shpilberg to achieve his goals as a competitive athlete, when presented with a somewhat similar opportunity, junior Chesnie Cheung chose a different path.

As a child, Cheung enrolled in swimming classes she quickly excelled.

At the age of 6, she learned how to swim in just two months.

Her ability to quickly catch on made it clear that she would come to succeed in similar sports in the future.

At this point Cheung wanted to do more than simply swimming across the pool.

Cheung became bored with the concept of swimming back and forth and decided to search for another option.

Looking for more, Cheung began to participate in synchronized swimming.

She enrolled at the Santa Clara Aquamaids club, a Bay Area club for competitive synchronized swimming.

Synchronized swimming incorporates aspects of gymnastics and dance into swimming.

The sport is very complex containing both an athletic and artistic performance that requires athletes to master technical skills and overcome mental obstacles.

Synchronized swimmers must be flexible and in peak athletic condition  to perform their routines.

Hours are spent in the pool practicing their routines.  However, they are also spent in the gym increasing fitness levels and strength.

Along with this, athletes must have a good sense of tempo, pacing and rhythm so that they are able to synchronize with their teammates throughout their complicated routines.

Cheung spent eight years of her life competing as a synchronized swimmer and in this time, her and her teammates  won several championships on both the national and international level.

After competing with the U.S. national synchronized swimming team, Cheung said she faced a difficult choice that forced her to decide between her academic career and her path as a competitive athlete.

“I was on the national team for three years and was offered a spot to be on the training squad to be an Olympian for the United States. However, this offer was given to me at the young age of 11 years old.”

Chesnie Cheung

Cheung said she realized that if she were to accept the opportunity to begin Olympic training at such a young age, not only would her education be impacted significantly, but she would also be giving up much of her adolescent experiences such as building strong friendships and learning valuable life lessons.

“If I was to become a synchronized swimming Olympian, sure it would be an amazing accomplishment, but the effort put in would not have been worth it for me, and my future would be solely based on this sport,” Cheung said. “I didn’t want my life to be based on this one aspect, and I wanted to pursue an academic career rather than a synchronized swimming career,” Cheung said.

If Cheung had accepted the opportunity to train for the Olympics, she said there is no doubt that she would have had to give up attending traditional school and opt for online courses throughout some of her middle school career and all of high school.

According to Cheung, if she were to do home schooling rather than traditional schooling, she would miss out on making good friends and developing good communication and social skills that would be necessary to succeed in the future.

The thought of having to switch to online school in order to compete at this level was a deal breaker for Cheung, who values her education and school experiences.

“I don’t like the concept of home schooling in general because I feel like a big part of growing up is to have the high school experience of meeting new people and making best friends,” Cheung said. “Although home schooling would have allowed me to focus more on synchro, I would be missing out on so many other experiences.”

Cheung said she moved on from synchronized swimming when entering high school and now competes on Paly’s water polo team which allows her to fulfill her goals as both an athlete and student.

Cheung is now able to balance both aspects of her life. She continues to excel in both athletics and academics.

[divider]Ella Cole[/divider]

Senior Ella Cole, who has been home schooled for two and a half years, signs up for classes online and takes part in the Private School Satellite Program (PSP), which is affiliated with a public high school nearby.

There are many schools in the Bay Area, both public and private, that participate in this program. It’s essentially an extension of the school.

PSP helps Cole keep track of her classes and ensures she completes the California Education Law class requirements.  It also helps keep all her transcripts in line.

Cole has many hobbies that teenagers enjoy such as soccer, horseback riding and cooking.

In order to enjoy as many activities as possible and to dodge the stereotypical high school social norms, she decided to start home schooling during the second semester of freshman year.

According to the website, 1,600 high school students in the U.S. opted to leave regular school and start home schooling last year.

Cole was one of them, and unlike some, she had more than one reason to start a home education. Since one of the reasons was her disappreciation for the high school environment, she opted to enroll in an online school instead of a one-on-one school or taking classes at a community college.

Cole’s sports schedule was another reason that drove her towards online home schooling.

“I decided to get home schooled [because] it opened up my schedule to things I could never have done being in school.”

Ella Cole

She plays soccer competitively, which takes up lots of her time.  She is also interested in horseback riding and her flexible schedule allows her to pursue that as well.

“Normally if I went to school I wouldn’t be able to do so much because it would be too much,” Cole said.

Since the school is online, she can get her education anywhere where there is WiFi.

“It’s basically like a big field trip,” Cole said.

However, as relaxed as it may seem because she gets to stay home more, home schooling comes with some struggles. With no teacher to remind her about assignments and no immediate due dates to meet, losing track of time only gets easier.

“I have to be very self-motivated,” Cole said. “I have to make sure to finish all my assignments on time.”

In fact, unlike students in traditional high schools who try to wake up as late as possible, Cole said she usually wakes up around 6 a.m.

Cole said for students who need a more rigid schedule, home schooling is not the right option.

Another negative aspect of home schooling is the student’s social life. With no other students around you for the majority of each day, the isolation becomes a bad habit for some.

However, the stereotype of a home schooled student being a very sheltered introvert does not hold true for everyone.

Cole said she is still in touch with all her friends from school. She is also close with soccer teammates. Because of home schooling, she is able to spend more time at her stable and get to know the other riders there.

“I am a very social, extroverted person, so when I first went home schooled, it was rough,” Cole said.

To help with the transition and shock of not being around others as much, she joined youth groups and inviting friends over more often to stay connected with her peers.

“But, yes, it is a bit harder because you have to make an effort. You don’t just wake up every morning and see your friends,” Cole said.

Despite these drawbacks Cole said there is joy in the freedom and diversity of classes she can enroll in.

She now has the opportunity to take classes that appeal to her more such as sewing and CPR.

This year she is taking a cooking class.

“I was sick of the rat race of school,” Cole said.

According to Cole, having a more relaxed school life is beneficial for her. There are also more luxuries that home schooling provides Cole that high school life didn’t always permit.

Cole said, “I get to wear my PJs or whatever I want every day.”

[divider]Ava Ehteshami[/divider]

Her day starts at 7 a.m. sharp. For the next four hours she is vigorously practicing, riding her horse at the stables. Already, regular high school is not an option.

Because of her schedule,  junior Ava Ehteshami opted to get a home education instead of enrolling in regular high school.

After practice, she comes home and does school work through an online home schooling program.  She spends  four to five hours on this daily.

“I ride six days a week in the mornings,” Esteshami said.

And that is just for the weeks that she’s in town.

The biggest reason Esteshami decided to be home schooled is because her sport requires her to travel for competitons.

“I go to five to ten horse shows a year that are one or two weeks long,” Ehteshami said.

Because of her demanding equestrian schedule, the best way for her to stay on top of school while growing in her sport was online school.

According to Ehteshami, many riders at her stable are trying to become professional riders.  Concequently, many of her stablemates are home schooled.

There are a lot of misconceptions around home schooling, Ehteshami said. When most people think of home schooling, they usually imagine kids getting tutored by their parents on their dining room table.

In reality, home schooling can take on many different forms.

“[I’m] not exactly home schooled by my parents […] but it’s the same concept,” Esteshami said.

Some students prefer the traditional way, being taught by their parents or their home schooling tutors. But some students,  especially athletes like Ehteshami, enroll themselves in an online program. There is also the third option for home schooling school in which the classes are one-on-one. These kinds of programs usually have more flexible schedules to accomodate student-athletes or people with challenging schedules.

In addition to the scheduling flexibilities that home schooling provides, the online aspect of the school helps as well.

Online education can be done almost anywhere, which is especially useful for Esteshami when she travels.

“Some [athletes] travel to competitions [which] causes attendance problems at school so home schooling can be a good choice for them.”

Karen Taylor, the director of Cedar Life Academy.

“Those students often select an online program that has the flexibility to be worked on anywhere and at any time,” Taylor said.

Cedar Life Academy participates in PSP and is not a typical school with teachers and students. It is used by families that use home schooling methods to help them get teaching materials. It also helps students by making sure they are meeting all the California Education Law requirements and keeping their transcripts in check.However, the school does not actually teach students.

Ehteshami’s online schooling has many benefits in addition to being able to work on it anywhere.

“I get to learn at my own pace,” Ehteshami said. “If I don’t understand something I can work on it more and if I’m understanding a concept I can go quickly over it.”

This aspect also requires much responsibility because she will have to learn everything independently, without a teacher or classmates to ask for help.

However, like many others, Ehteshami does not find the home schooling situation perfect.

“A [negative aspect] would be [that] I don’t get to hang out with my friends at school all the time,” Ehteshami said. “Of course I hang out with them when I’m not travelling and on weekends but it would be nice to see people at school everyday.”

But for Ehteshami, it’s worth it.

“The horse shows are all over the West Coast,” Ehteshami said. “So overall, home schooling was the best for me so I could still get a good education while being an athlete.”

Estheshami said, “I think if you want to be at a top level of any sport, home schooling is the way to go because of all the travelling.”

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