A Parent’s Concern

Personal Experiences from USPA President, Pete SmithPeter Smith

As a school principal, I encountered daily student struggles. Sarah’s was unique. Her struggle came from a success. It was the middle of spring when the initial email arrived about Sarah’s soccer team and their success over the weekend. Sarah’s parents were simply ecstatic, as they should have been. The team had qualified to move up in the big tournament and they were writing to let me know about the upcoming dates for the next stages. The dates they mentioned were mid-week.

I wrote back quickly with congratulations and wanted to make sure that Sarah enjoyed the victory. I reminded her to meet with each of her teachers to outline the future absences and work that would be missed. I knew Sarah was a great student. She was hardworking, responsible and, for a middle school student, fairly organized. However, as the week wore on, it became apparent this wasn’t your typical Friday absence. In fact, it was going to be consecutive days of competition, not including the travel. Initially, I figured this was a great opportunity. I didn’t realize the additional stress that was added onto Sarah from missing school when she should have been focusing on the tournament. It left me wondering why she had to sacrifice one for the other.

The struggle started with science when she missed a quiz.  She’d only have a day or two to make it up upon her return. Sarah had set up meeting times for review, but everyone knew she’d be exhausted upon her return. Was staying after school to ensure success necessary? In English, they were wrapping up a unit project and she needed to reschedule her assessment meeting. Math was a calendar of missed units, chapter quizzes, and a test review at the end of the week she returned.  The make-up work was for her to complete multiple worksheets on each unit and find a friend who could email the notes so she could review and complete the worksheets.  In the rest of her classes, it was a combination of worksheets, journaling, or other “work” designed to make up for the missed time.

Athletically, Sarah did very well.  Academically, everything was a mess. Sarah and her parents wanted to be able to focus on preparing for the big weekend.  They had spent a good deal of money getting to the event between flights, hotel, and on the home front, Sarah’s parents’ emails became less and less ecstatic. In fact, we ended up on the phone, and then eventually sitting down together to try to figure out how this would all work. Her parents were feeling as if some of the teachers were offended that their daughter would be missing their class. Logistically, they readily pointed out that each teacher had made an effort to provide make-up work, but as a whole, it resulted in piles of worksheets, manila folders, and hopefully a wifi connection so Sarah could keep up with class notes. They never criticized her teachers openly, but you could tell they were overwhelmed with trying to manage it all. At the end of one meeting, I remember her dad turning and asking me “Is this really meaningful work? Should we consider this our daughter’s learning experience?  In reality, is this why I pay tuition or taxes?  For you to make our lives more complex when we should all be celebrating?”  I wished Sarah and her parents luck and told them we’d be excited to hear the results.

They didn’t want to push the daily academic catch up early before practice when Sarah was still asleep, nor did they want to when they arrived back from dinner exhausted. The result was a worn out family trying to get on the plane home with a heavy carry-on filled with worksheets, textbooks, and binders full of make-up work. Sarah had all the best intentions to “just get the work done.”  The result was an argument on the plane, tears, frustration, and mixtures of completed worksheets and notes that had fallen off the backseat tray twice. Not only was it tough to finish the work, it was another project to reorganize the papers to hand in to each individual teacher.  Of course, she still had the meetings to attend with teachers upon her return. This added to an already long first day back.

Sarah’s dad’s question was a valid one.  Why do we need to sacrifice academics for athletics?

What Can be Done?

These are the types of situations and complex problems that created the very foundation of what US Performance Academy is today.  A next generation of college preparatory academics designed for today’s high performing student.  At USPA, we’ve designed our program to eliminate the story I just highlighted. There are no absences or missed assignments because our model is performance based. The academic experience is the same whether you are working in your living room, on a plane at 35,000 feet on the way to Europe for a competition, or collaborating with other USPA students on the side of the soccer pitch. It starts with every student’s Learning Coach: the liaison between student/family and USPA.  Learning coaches are only a phone call away and sometimes even attending events to cheer on athletes, like Sarah, during their tournament.  Our Learning Coaches are past athletes and/or educators who understand the challenges of managing the demands of sport and achievement.  They assist each of our students in transitioning to online learning. They become a support, an academic supervisor, and most importantly someone who understands the unique needs of each of our students and their families.

Cases like Sarah’s don’t happen at USPA. For our families, it starts from day one when you are introduced to your Learning Coach. You review goals, integrate the athletic calendar, and all the while beginning to build a relationship.  If there is a problem, whether in sport or academics, mom and dad pick up the phone and call the Learning Coach. It isn’t an 800 number and extensions where you have to describe who your student is, grade, and verify your true identity. The Learning Coach already knows you and, best of all, understands the current situation and can respond accordingly.

The meetings, manila folders, and extra time after school to make up tests simply don’t exist.  Parents can monitor progress online at the click of a button and receive customized updates from the Learning Coach.  Most importantly, parents can focus on being a parent versus trying to play the role of teacher or academic coach.

This is only one of the many ways that USPA has dissected the challenges of being competitive on a global level while never sacrificing great academics in the process. At the core of USPA is the idea that a student’s learning experience shouldn’t be different based on where they are in the world. They should feel supported and challenged, while being a part of a bigger community with common interests and goals.

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