Aspiring dancer thrives at online school

Sarah Yoak, of Marietta, was just 16 when she moved away from her family to Columbus, after being accepted into the prestigious BalletMet Trainee Program. Now, she spends her days dancing and her evenings and weekends completing online school through the Ohio Connections Academy.

She was recently named one of the academy’s Star Students for January, recognized for her hard work, determination and positive attitude.

Yoak, who will graduate from high school this spring, said she has found that just like her, every online student had a unique story and reason for choosing the unconventional path.

“I think it’s important for people to know that kids who do online school aren’t anti-social,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons other than just wanting to be homeschooled. And it’s great–you can talk to the teachers one-on-one, it’s so personal.”

Question: How long have you been an Ohio Connections Academy student?

Answer: I started doing Connections at the beginning of this year, so in August. I had been doing a different kind of online school for a year before that. My junior year I did an independent study through Williamstown High School. I had been to school in Williamstown since kindergarten.

I thought switching to a structured online school would help keep me more organized. I could keep everything under one tab, contact the teachers more easily…I had some friends who recommended it to me, too.

Q: Was the reason you did the independent study the same–in order to have time for your commitment to dancing?

A: Yes. I moved to Columbus at the beginning of the last school year, when I was only 16.

Q: Was that a hard decision or were you just excited to be in the dance program?

A: It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I really struggled with how hard it would be to leave my family, my school and everything that was familiar. I had gone to the (trainee program) for the summer and then they offered me the year-round program. I had expected to come home after the summer and then found out I could stay for the rest of the year. The junior and senior years are the most fun parts of high school. There’s prom, graduation, the last years with everyone you’ve known and grown up with. So I had to choose between having a normal life and following my dream.

Q: How often do you get to come back home?

A: I was there for a week after we finished The Nutcracker, from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1. And we get a spring break, too. Last year, I wasn’t as self-sufficient and missed my family a lot so I came home more often.

Q: Do you feel pretty comfortable living on your own now?

A: It’s an adjustment. Last year I had a host family, so I had a stand-in mom and dad to get me up in the mornings and to drive me places. This year I have an apartment with a roommate. I have to do my own laundry, make food, make sure I wake up when the alarm goes off, all the things that normally at this age I would have parents helping with. It’s kind of like college but I don’t live in a dorm, like a freshman would. It’s like I skipped three years of my life.

Q: How does the dance program work? How much time do you spend there?

A: I dance every day pretty much from 9 to 5. The day starts with a ballet class for an hour and a half. We start with slow movements and by the end we’re jumping around. We practice our craft. Then we have pointe class, where we dance with a boy. Then we have rehearsal for whatever show we’re doing. Then about 5 or 6, I go home and have school, dinner, a shower and everything.

Q: I would imagine it takes a lot of self motivation to start school that late,when you’re probably tired after a long day.

A: It can be hard but Connections is really helpful. They give you a to-do list every day.

Q: How does the school work? What’s a typical day?

A: I log into the online forum and there will be a list of assignments. The classes I’m taking right now are English, Statistics, Algebra, Government, Career Planning and Personal Finance. I do an assignment in each class. Each one has an introduction, an informative part and then an interactive portion. Then I take a quiz or submit an assignment at the end.

Q: What time do you usually finish school for the day?

A: Usually I finish around 9 or 10. Sometimes I catch up on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s nice that I can do that.

Q: How interactive is the experience?

A: It surprised me how interactive Connections is. A monthly phone call with your homeroom teacher is required to talk about grades and anything else going on. The teachers are readily available by webmail and you have all of their cell phone numbers so you can call or text them anytime. There are discussion boards with the other students where you can talk and ask each other questions.

Another neat thing they do to try to make it as real as possible is they’ll schedule activities, like a trip to COSI, where we can all meet in person.

Q: Do you feel like you have classmates?

A: Sort of, but I really like the independent feel. I can do things on my own time. I don’t have to worry about the other kids in the class, I can work at my own pace. If you’re falling behind, you can ask for help. If you need more to do, they’ll give you bonus assignments. It’s really flexible.

Q: When you’ve talked to other online students, do you find that they chose online school for a variety of different reasons?

A: Yes. There are people like me who are involved in sports or the arts and pursuing an unconventional career and who need flexibility. Then there are students who selected online school over public school for personal reasons or medical reasons.

Q: What are your career goals? What’s next for you?

A: I want to be a professional ballet dancer. I’ll be going to audition for different companies during the audition season, which is January, February and March. If I need to, I’ll come back for a third year of training here and then try auditions again next year.

Q: How long have you been doing ballet?

A: Since I was 4. I hit a rough patch when I was 7 and thought I wanted to be a cheerleader because none of my friends were doing ballet. I had been dancing at a studio in Parkersburg. My mom asked me “Are you sure? They’re doing The Nutcracker and you get to be an angel.” So I stuck with it.

Q: What do you love about ballet?

A: Honestly, it’s such a love-hate relationship. You spend so much time staring at yourself and picking yourself apart for what you’re doing wrong. But I love the release of it, the movement, making shapes with my body. I love the music and having a way to express myself other than talking.

Kate York conducted this interview.

Sarah Yoak

¯ Age: 17.

¯ Residence: Columbus/ Marietta.

¯ Enrolled: Ohio Connections Academy; BalletMet Trainee Program.

¯ Family: Parents Terra and Matthew; Sister Lauren, 15.

Source: Sarah Yoak.

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