Davidson Academy Online student Ethan contributed the following reflections on his time spent at Davidson Academy Online in our February 2023 eNewsletter:
Dear Prospective Student,
My name is Ethan Roberts, and it’s hard to believe that this is my sixth and graduating year at Davidson Academy Online (DAO).
My attending DAO actually happened by coincidence. Before DAO, I both homeschooled and participated in various gifted and STEM programs at public schools. Those programs boasted dedicated teachers and I have fond memories of my time in public school, but I found that even their most accelerated learning programs left me wanting something more challenging.
At this time, my mom searched for an academic setting that would best suit my needs, and that’s when she happened upon the Davidson Institute—I applied to become a Davidson Young Scholar out of interest and was accepted. I truly enjoyed their student webinars where I explored various interesting topics within a discussion group, albeit asynchronously—this would mark my maiden voyage into the sea of virtual learning.
Long story short, just as I was completing my elementary gifted program in 5th grade, the Davidson Institute announced the opening of an online campus for Davidson Academy in 2017. I had never heard of an “online school” before, but this event marked a pivotal turn in my academic future—the chance to not only attend a school that could potentially meet my needs but also one that I could attend without needing to relocate.
Perhaps because my educational path had been rather nonlinear; because I had always been working in very small groups in my gifted classes, on discussion boards, or alone at home; and because I had spent much of my life in the digital sphere, I was very open to the idea of distance learning (although I was a little nervous about it). DAO’s online program felt like an excellent opportunity to connect with a diverse cohort of profoundly intelligent students from around the country and top-caliber faculty. I was intrigued by the idea of starting high school at 12. But I was clueless about what a day at an online school would look like; that didn’t stop me, though. Moreover, I was quite pleased at the thought of not having to wake up while it was still dark outside. At DAO, classes (all the years except one) did not start till 10 a.m. CST for me. And I was certainly overjoyed that pajama pants could become staple schoolwear—how could I pass up an opportunity like that?
Even more fantastic is that DAO’s courses are not bound by age or grade; students take the classes that best suit their abilities and needs. If you’re already at a high level in, say, math, you take a math course commensurate with your ability (with prior approval, of course), so you basically set your own path based on your academic capabilities. The counselors here, always very responsive and caring, helped me to map out a prospective learning plan as I made my way toward college. The classes are, of course, intellectually rigorous, offering synchronous, in-depth discussions with assignments that hone one’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills while building collaboration skills. The classes can be hard at times, but I never once found them unmanageable (not to mention you are free to ask for extensions), and I think DAO is simply unmatched in the degree to which it prepares students for college—basically, if you can make it through DAO, you can thrive in college.
The modest class sizes (in my experience, from around ten or twelve to sometimes no more than two students) ensure that you get to know your teachers very well with more per-student attention and better communication between student and teacher. The care that the teachers and staff here show their students makes it easy to reach out and ask for clarification or assistance. At DAO, the faculty members are committed mentors and collaborators.
In addition, I dare say that DAO has one of the strongest English programs in a high school setting, ranging from Composition and Analysis to Value Theory (philosophy). The teachers read academic papers critically and offer helpful feedback for strengthening arguments. Moreover, there is the added support of The Writing Center where students can seek help with clarity of paper, structure, and strategies for revision from upper-level student writing tutors.
Before I forget, also know that, once approved, you can pursue independent studies outside of DAO to earn high school credit as I did for all my high school years at a local-to-me university in neuroscience research.
Thinking back on what I found most memorable about DAO, I must say that I have taken some truly amazing (and occasionally hilarious) classes—Asian Studies, American Literature, British Literature, Advanced Rhetoric, Advanced Biology, Advanced Chemistry, and so on—that I consider to be some of the most fun I’ve ever had in an academic setting, some of which ignited sparks of interests that I didn’t even know I had. Part of this comes down to the teachers, whose praises I could sing all day—the teachers here continue to exceed my expectations, and I am very impressed at how knowledgeable and deeply enthusiastic they are about what they teach. I have tremendous respect for them.
At DAO, they take that extra mile, and they provide a lot of support and effort so that students can grow and develop in a way that fulfills their aspirations. DAO does not incentivize competition; it knows that every student is excellent in their own way. In not being chained to grades, I learned to admit the limits of my knowledge and be persistent in overcoming them for the sake of learning. The lessons I picked up and the memories I made here are sure to act as my guiding star for a long time. Having “trained” at DAO, I feel that I will be leaving DAO as a more confident and grounded version of myself.
To all prospective students, my advice is to apply if you feel like this is the kind of school you’d want to attend. I understand that it can be difficult to get an exact sense of the school just from reading my experience, so do ask any questions you may have and see how much of a mutual fit there is between you and DAO. You might just find a new and wonderful home at DAO.