Olympian Picabo Street opens school for athletes
July 19, 2016
Picabo Street knows as well as anybody what it's like to be a serious teenage athlete while juggling the demands of school.
Graduating high school was a challenge for the former ski racer, who won a gold medal at the 1998 Olympics. She began traveling the world for competition when she was 15. Finding the right balance between being a world-class skier and making sure she was ready for her next math test was difficult.
Now, she is doing her best to ensure students no longer have to face similar struggles.
Street is among the founders of the Picabo Street Academy, a new school in Park City for athletes who need the kind of flexible schedules traditional schools can't provide.
The school, at 1762 Prospector Ave., will operate year-round and allow students to tailor their course loads to their needs. If they're busy training and competing during the winter, they can schedule the brunt of their schoolwork during the summer. If they need a break from school in the spring, the school will help them make that work, too.
"We flip it so as opposed to the student becoming part of the school system, the school system adapts to the student," said Dan Kemp, head of school and one of its three founders. "… We want to not only operate around (their needs), we want to maximize them."
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Kemp added that students will benefit from a blended learning approach. The school has partnered with the accredited International Virtual Learning Academy for online courses and curriculum, which will allow them to complete work from any place with internet access. However, students will also be expected to study in-person at the school, where they will receive one-on-one attention from teachers.
It's the perfect model, said Michelle Demschar, chief operating officer and the other founder of the school, to give students the most flexibility while providing the kind of structure that is important for teens.
"It's pretty intense because it is one-on-one," she said. "… You have to talk. You can't hide in the third row back doing (whatever)."
As well as tailored schedules, a student can handcraft their entire education, selecting from a pool of courses to find the best fit. The school offers common core classes, Advanced Placement and honors courses, as well as a large batch of electives.
"You can tell us, 'I want to graduate in three years, four years, five years,'" Demschar said. "'I want to do honors courses, AP, concurrent enrollment, I want to go to this college. And this is my training and competition schedule.' We look at all that and put together a pathway."
The process of starting the school began last year, when Street mentioned the idea to Demschar. Street is adamant that students in Park City live in a "blessed environment" with several excellent schools, from the public school district to the Winter Sports School. But her message that there could be a better way to educate young athletes resonated with Demschar, a mother of high-level athletes who she homeschooled at times.
"She turned around with so much enthusiasm within the first 30 seconds that I was like, 'Wow, cool, that was an easy sell,'" Street said. "The more we talked about it, the more it made sense."
From there, it happened quickly. Kemp soon joined the effort, and they spent the next several months building the school from the ground up. At every meeting, they asked each other if anyone had thought of a reason not to continue.
"Those were the only times that were silent," Kemp said.
For Street, starting the academy has been a whirlwind. She's eager for families to learn about the school and for students to join it.
"I'm hoping to really be able to reach a lot of kids on different levels and meet them where they're at so they can get the kind of education they deserve to get," she said. "Most people, if they're that driven in one area of their life, they're easily persuaded to be that driven in another area."
For more information, visit picabostreetacademy.com.