She was peeking around the corner, almost like a child does around the chimney looking for Santa to come flopping down in a puff of dust. I was head of middle school in the southeast at the time and I asked her why the apparent hesitation to come in and say hello? The mother of one of our students looked around and said, “she made the team in Atlanta.” I had no idea what that meant, but in short, her daughter had made it on a high caliber soccer team in Atlanta, and as such would be missing multiple days in each week for travel, games, and training.
She was terrified to even broach the subject with her daughter’s teachers. She knew the response of a few who had already made their displeasure known about the prior absences. The make-up worksheets, unhappy teachers, missed assignments, and general inconvenience of missing school was too much to handle for their family. Back then, our brick and mortar middle school wasn’t built to support a student who was rapidly advancing in a skill or talent that required them to be on the road so much. Our idea of flexibility was providing those manila folders with worksheets and then inundating the student with make-up assessments when they returned to school. Sound familiar?
Putting the academics aside, what really struck me was later in the month when I caught up with the student for a quick conversation in the hallway. She made a remark to me that has stuck with me to this day. “The real issue is that there isn’t anyone here like me.” At first I was puzzled, but as we talked about it, what she meant was that there was no one that she could relate to at our school. She was it. She was the only one traveling and competing at such a high level. There wasn’t that friend to share in the crack of dawn workouts, or carpool with on the way to speed and quickness training. Instead, many of her friends thought she was a bit crazy, driving all that way to play a game. She was experiencing a whole different set of demands, routines, and goals that she needed to navigate. A world that asked a lot of her as a person and a student. The pressure was real, and not having a community of like-minded students around her certainly impacted the way she “navigated” her social life at our school. What if she could connect with other people throughout the world who were experiencing the same sorts of demands, but set in cultures and areas she hadn’t ever connected with?
It was that conversation that has greatly shaped the way we connect our athletes with peers at US Performance Academy. The community of athletes, their learning coaches, and their teachers, who instead of resenting them for competing, follow them and wish them luck as they leave our “digital campus”. What was viewed as abnormal in the past brick and mortar schools, for us, is simply another day in our hallways. We get it. We recognize the importance of peer support. We have returning students connect with new families, offer our student body the chance to come together for a service learning project, and promote all school meetings and parent coffee meetings. Our community isn’t a green grassy quad with vines growing up old brick buildings. Our community is defined by our students, and they choose the value proposition when it comes to our approaches to supporting their learning. But they all know that they’re not “the only one”. And we never want a parent to peek around a corner because they are scared to admit their child is really good at a sport. They need to share all that success, and feel so proud of all their efforts as a parent, and their child’s hard work.
So bravo parents, keep sharing those stories and know that we are so excited to be part of such a special journey!