Gymnastics is recognized as a demanding sport, especially for gymnasts who are striving to compete at a high level. With this specific group of athletes in mind, North Stars established its homeschool program back in September, 2009. The homeschool program was created to provide gymnasts with an opportunity to train more hours in a day while completing their education at a pace that best suits their specific situation. Today, the program has proven to be successful and grown to consist of nearly 30 athletes. “Whether the goal is the elite level, or a college scholarship, our homeschool group can be a pathway to success,” said tutor and staff member of the program, Leanne Belar.
Belar explained the trouble that some gymnasts face when attending a traditional school while trying to reach their goals in gymnastics simultaneously. “Our program has many gymnasts that live a good distance from the gym, or even come from a different state, and they would be unable to make regular practice times or to take unexcused time off from school for traveling and competitions.”
At 8:00 am, while most children are beginning their day at traditional school, members of the North Stars homeschool program begin their gymnastics practice. The girls are broken up into four groups based on their grade level. All four groups participate in a warm up, basic exercises and conditioning. Then, the groups rotate between schooling and practice throughout the day, with lunches, snacks and even recess in between.
The program operates on a 12-month schedule, with five days of schooling per week during the traditional school year and two days of schooling per week during the summer. Each schooling session lasts approximately 2.5 hours. Students in the eighth grade and under use the independent study method while everyone uses the same curriculum provided by the K12 online learning program. Those in grades 9-12 use an accredited online high school program that follows NCAA requirements, pacing guidelines, and offers courses approved by the NCAA eligibility center.
Belar, along with two other members of the program’s staff, Norma DiTommaso and Liz Wylie, all provide supervision, answer questions, offer corrections and provide feedback for the students during the given time. “It is an advantage to the gymnasts that we have a dedicated schedule, space and staff strictly for homeschooling,” said Belar.
Although the homeschoolers do not learn in a classroom, the staff has adjusted the program over the years to ensure that each student receives an experience that remains traditional, as well as, fulfilling. The changes include the addition of two new blackboards to the homeschool area, an annual graduation ceremony, Iowa testing, math review, hot lunch program and a weekly Spanish lesson.
Parents have also helped improve the program by volunteering to create yearbooks for the students every year and organizing community service projects. Past projects included the girls assisting in the Beth Israel Children’s Hospital “Fuzzy Drive,” hosting an annual Thanksgiving food collection for families in need and holding a jewelry sale in which the proceeds were donated to help children with cancer.
“Currently, our National Honor Society students are organizing two community service projects for our group. They will be holding a collection gathering donations for shelter dogs, as well as putting together a craft to aid United States military servicemen and women,” said Belar. “This summer, all of our homeschool athletes will have the opportunity to participate in these events to benefit others,” she added.
Belar described the program as “professional” and a “team effort” between the athlete, the coaching staff, the homeschooling staff and the athlete’s parents. Gymnasts are invited to join the program when the North Stars coaching staff identifies a gymnast who is struggling to excel and could benefit from the program. After the coach offers an initial invitation, Belar meets with the athlete’s parents to provide information on the program as well as answer any questions. “An adjustment period is completely normal and to be expected for our incoming families, and I am always available to offer support to our parents and help in any way I can,” said Belar.
This year, the homeschool group graduated six gymnasts from the eighth grade. The graduates were Emily Castiglia, Mia Davis, Alyssa Dillon, Emma Loyim, Hannah Loyim and Brooke Siter. All six graduates plan on continuing their education with the homeschool program for high school. “During the end of the year ceremony, we also acknowledged our two high school girls that are National Honor Society inductees,” said Belar. These students were Tiara DeTommaso and Anneliese Silverman.
“Our program has a proven track record with several of our homeschooled gymnasts going on to sign National Letters of Intent for full athletic scholarships and/or to compete for D1 universities. We also have several gymnasts that were a part of our group in the past, or that are currently part of the group, that are committed to universities,” explained Belar. Among these former homeschoolers are Alonza Klopfer and Ashley Foss. This fall, Klopfer will compete for the University of Alabama while Foss will compete for the University of Georgia.
“Depending on each individual athlete’s goals, the homeschool group can offer these special young ladies the best coaching, training and schooling situation in the gym.”