It’s 2 p.m. on a school day, and 16-year-old Danielle “Dani” Moulton is well into her afternoon on the slopes at Keystone Resort. But this 11th-grader isn’t skipping class. She’s already done with school for the day.
Moulton started ski racing at age 5, and has not attended regular public school since sixth grade. Instead, she takes all of her classes online — homeschool for the modern age.
Her school, Colorado Connections Academy (ColoCA), is a tuition-free, public K-12 online school where students complete classes at home. ColoCA is operated through Mapleton Public Schools in Denver, and provides Moulton with the flexibility she needs in order to race.
“I decided to get serious about skiing, so this was an easier way to balance races and training,” she said.
The ColoCA curriculum is designed by national education experts, and customized to meet state standards. The school has various online resources to accompany lessons, as well as providing a computer for students.
Moulton said she likes working on her own schedule. In the mornings she wakes up, eats breakfast, and then heads upstairs to her “classroom,” a corner computer desk in her mom’s bedroom. She then trains in the afternoons. Her mom, Kristin, said her husband was a ski racer and got everyone in the family hooked on the sport.
“Some days are longer than others, but I try to get all my work done in the mornings so I can train in the afternoon,” Moulton said. “It’s just this crazy sport where you go down a hill really fast on two sliding sticks basically.”
Moulton said she never felt like she missed out on anything by not attending a regular public school. She attends two to three big race events every season, which can last for a week at a time. There are also smaller races every few weeks, which run for a weekend, usually Thursday through Saturday.
“I like being able to get ahead in school and then go to things like speed weeks,” she said. “I can get it done the week before, do twice as much, and then I don’t have to worry about anything during the races.”
In order to keep in touch with her teachers, Moulton uses webmail, but can also call teachers and even view live lessons to ask questions directly. She plans to attend a college with a ski club, so she can continue with the sport after high school.
Moulton takes six to seven classes every semester, which is about what the average high school student takes as well. Right now, she’s taking French, English, a finance class, world history, AP Calculus and honors chemistry.
Nicole Jones, Moulton’s 11th grade English teacher, said she looked to online education as an alternative to suit her style of teaching better.
“I didn’t fit in the typical brick-and-mortar setting, I really yearned to have individualized interactions with my students,” she said.
Jones said she teaches about 200 students. The curriculum is already provided, which Jones said helps her find the time to then individualize it for different students. This year, there are also homeroom assignments for teachers, giving them a smaller group of students to keep in touch with specifically about goals and academics.
“It’s almost like a blank slate,” Jones said. “We have the ability to create new avenues for students to learn, to have an environment that’s flexible and accepting of all students.”
Moulton does most of her work virtually, including chemistry labs. Though some, her mom said, need to be done in their kitchen. The other day, Dani had to work on boiling red cabbage to figure out acidity levels, for example.
The ability to finish work early before a ski racing weekend has helped Moulton focus on her sport, she said. Fellow high school students who attend regular public school often couldn’t make to the mountain until about 1:30 p.m., so Moulton would have almost an hour of practice time one-on-one with her coach.
“You are trying to beat yourself down the hill,” she said. “I’m not doing it for the events or anything, you’re just skiing for you and doing as best as you can. It’s competing with yourself.”
As she clicks through her lessons for the day, Moulton picks up a sheet of paper with yesterday’s math homework. Her teacher likes to see the work, so Moulton does the calculus assignment by hand, then scans it to turn it in. Her education, she said, has really allowed her to pursue her skiing passion fully.
“I don’t have to worry about projects or school or homework, I can just focus on the race and what I have to do,” she said.