A year in, Picabo Street Academy giving athletes a leg up
Student: ‘I’m so glad this place exists’
August 1, 2017
When Picabo Street was a teenager, she had no shortage of athletic success on her way to becoming an Olympic gold medalist and one of the most recognizable skiers in the world.
Triumphs academically, however, came less easily, as her intense training and competition schedule conflicted with her schoolwork. There wasn't a school designed to help her dominate as much in the classroom as she did on the slopes.
That experience is why she was inspired to co-found Picabo Street Academy, a Park City school that uses a blended-learning approach to provide athletes the flexibility to succeed academically while chasing their athletic dreams. After opening in 2016, the academy now has 16 students, and Street said the vision she had for the school has become a reality.
Street said helping provide teenagers with the kind of education she missed out on has been one of the best experiences of her life.
"To be perfectly blunt, it has brought me to my knees and to tears several times," she said. "It's beyond words. And it's an honor."
For Dan Kemp, head of school, the thing that's made being part of the school special is the frequency with which he can say 'Yes' to students because, while the year-round academy aims to ensure its enrollees receive a rigorous education, it gives students broad leeway in shaping it.
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Athletes, for instance, are free to take several weeks off for competitions, or because of last-minute changes to their training schedules. The school adapts and maps out an educational plan to accommodate their athletic needs.
The end result of that flexibility, Kemp said, means students are able to focus on athletics when they're competing or training and on academics when they're in the classroom.
"Students are like, 'In the middle of school, can I take a two-week break and go to Mount Hood?'" said Kemp, also a co-founder of the school. "And the fact that we get to say 'Yes' is great."
Four months after she enrolled, the model is working perfectly for alpine skier Allison Tardif, who's currently finishing her 10th-grade year at the school. She said she's previously attended both private schools and online schools, but none could accommodate her athletic schedule.
Tardif said it wasn't rare for her to be worried about missing a math or English lecture while waiting in the starting gates atop a ski run. That problem vanished on her first day at Picabo Street Academy. Though she's on the wait list at the Winter Sports School, she said her experience so far at the academy makes her want to finish high school there.
"I am so glad this place exists," she said. "It's absolutely night and day. It's so different. This gives me the freedom to train whenever I need to."
Michelle Demschar, co-founder and the academy's chief operating officer, said parents and students have initially been skeptical of the model. But they quickly find out that the blended-learning approach (which combines online learning with in-person instruction) works.
"That's been our biggest hurdle, getting across how individualized we are and what that means for the students," she said.
Street added that the support of instructors who are personally invested in the students' success is what truly makes the school special.
"Hands down, that's what truly sets us apart from everybody else," she said. "The world is starting to catch up to this model. But what really sets us aside is that personal touch that we have with the students."
The academy is located in a town with two world-class ski resorts, but its students compete in a variety of sports at different skill levels. The thing that unites them is a passion for their athletic endeavors. The mission of Picabo Street Academy, Kemp said, is to harness that enthusiasm into academics, especially for the students who have lost interest in school because of previous negative educational experiences.
"These kids need excitement and some energy and someone that knows how energized and passionate they are about their sport," he said. "For us to support them in pursuing their goals feels almost revolutionary for them, but we're going, 'Yeah, that's what we built this for. That's what we're supposed to be doing.'"
For more information about Picabo Street Academy, visit http://www.picabostreetacademy.com.