On March 6, 2020, students in Gilbert Public Schools left their classrooms for spring break, including the student-athletes who attend the Performance Academy.
The school-within-a-school caters to the unique needs and schedules of high-performing student-athletes and performance artists. Like many students across the country, the Performance Academy’s students didn’t set foot in the classroom again during the 2019-2020 school year because of COVID-19. But unlike those who had to suddenly transition to a different learning mode of working online, these students made the transition much more easily because of the way their school day is set up.
The Performance Academy in Gilbert, Ariz., is a learning model designed for student-athletes and artists in grades 4-8 that allows them to attend school from 7:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and train in the afternoons – a time of day that is believed to be most beneficial for young athletes to achieve better performance with fewer injuries. With athletes frequently absent from the classroom because of competitions, meeting their educational needs while ensuring enough time for them to pursue their passion required a different approach. This is where the program’s partnership with Summit Learning became important.
Before the pandemic, students worked with teachers in-person but they also had everything they needed through the platform by using a district-provided laptop. This allowed students to continue working even when away at competition. Students were used to working remotely – emailing and video-conferencing with teachers – and submitting work electronically for feedback.
“The fact that our students were used to occasionally having to work remotely when they were out of town allowed them to transition to the remote learning model required after schools shut down due to the pandemic much more easily,” said Nancy Linville, a math and science teacher at the Performance Academy.
Saniya Sapakie, a sixth-grade actress, said her previous experience with remote learning had a positive impact on her academic performance last spring.
“It was an easy transition for me,” Sapakie said. “Unlike some students, we didn’t have to learn a whole new website and learning program when things shut down.”
Kate Soto, whose daughter, Sophia, is a fourth-grade figure skater, said the only major change she noticed was the location of where her daughter completed her work. Other than that, the remote learning experience was mostly business as usual.
“I think the nature of the Performance Academy develops independent learners,” Soto said. “They are accustomed to seeing what they need to accomplish and getting it done. The fact that they were already working with an online platform through Summit Learning definitely made the transition smooth as well.”
Holly Harrington, mother of two Performance Academy students, also said the familiarity with working on a laptop helped her daughter, an eighth-grade figure skater, and her son, a sixth-grade hockey player, transition more easily to working on schoolwork at home.
“Even with occasional technology and internet challenges we experienced at our house on video calls, they were able to continue working and connect with their teachers in a variety of ways,” Harrington said.
Performance Academy students began the 2020-2021 academic year in distance learning, transitioned to a hybrid learning model, and then returned to a full-time in-person experience. But with positive COVID-19 case numbers in Arizona increasing, the student-athletes have transitioned back to a hybrid model and continue to learn and work efficiently, regardless of the learning environment.
Angela Kesner’s daughters, Keegan and Kaylee, attend different schools. Kesner noticed right away that the switch to distance learning was less challenging for Keegan, a fifth-grade gymnast who attends the Performance Academy.
“I think the transition was so much easier for Keegan than it was for Kaylee,” Kesner said. “Her being used to working online with the platform in the Performance Academy was the key to making it work.”