Student Spotlight: Katlyn Sawyer

Apr 26, 2019

Flexible GCVS education helps gymnast keep Division 1 college scholarship in her sights

A Division 1 gymnastics scholarship and a medical career are big parts of Katlyn Sawyer’s plan.

Sitting in a traditional classroom?

Not even a little part of her plan. That’s why Katlyn is a student at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, taking interactive online classes on a schedule that accommodates her training and tournament schedules.

Katlyn, 16, of North Reading, is a grade 10 student at GCVS. She trains in gymnastics almost six hours per day in an average week, and travels to 10 competitions around the country during the November-to-June season.

Maintaining such an intense training schedule at a traditional school would be difficult, and at the very least would force Katlyn to constantly catch up on missed lessons and assignments. At GCVS, however, personalized computer-based learning and understanding teachers enable Katlyn to learn at times and in places her schedule allows.

“GCVS gives me a lot more flexibility to train the way I want and to get the best education I can without sitting in a classroom,” Katlyn said. “If I’m traveling, or I have a doctor or dietician appointment, I can watch the recorded class later the same day so I don’t get behind. The teachers are also really good about accepting assignments late if I’m traveling.”

Katlyn started competition-level gymnastics training at a recreational class when she was three years old. She quickly developed into a serious gymnast, winning all four events (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercises) and the all-around title at the Massachusetts State Championship in 2011. She currently competes at the Junior Olympic level in USA Gymnastics events.  

By seventh grade, Katelyn’s parents Tina and Greg knew she needed an alternative to conventional schools. Tournaments can be as far away as Las Vegas and keep her out of school for days at a time. A traditional school meant a constant scramble to keep up that afforded Katlyn little or no opportunity to excel in her studies.

The Sawyers found GCVS through online research. The school’s focus on quality distance learning technology and personalized education appealed to them immediately. GCVS’s distance learning system enables students to access assignments, attend or watch recordings of classes in their own time. GCVS teachers work with students to harmonize academics with outside pursuits.

“With a brick and mortar school, it’s all about being in the building. If you’re not in the building, you have to constantly explain why and struggle to catch up,” Tina Sawyer said. “With GCVS she can learn anywhere with WiFi. Katlyn’s laptop goes everywhere with us. She plugs in earphones and works on assignments in waiting rooms, airports and the gym.”

Katlyn takes a full load of classes: honors English and pre-calculus, U.S. history, chemistry, Spanish, computer science and physical education. Her favorites are English and calculus. Most days, she wakes up around 7 a.m. and trains from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Afterwards, she watches recordings of classes she might have missed and attends live online classes in the afternoon. She returns to the gym at 5 p.m. and trains until 9 p.m.

Katlyn communicates with teachers through email, online chat, and periodic in-person meetings. If she knows she’s going to miss a deadline because of training or travel, she arranges with her teachers to hand in assignments when she gets back.

Though she misses some of the trappings of a traditional school, Katlyn says the tradeoff is worth it.

“GCVS allows me to train harder, be better, and achieve what I want in school and gymnastics,” she said. “I miss having friends sitting beside me and seeing my teachers face-to-face every day. But I’ve made friends in my classes, I see them face-to-face at some of the school events and we talk on the mic during class. It’s a good balance.”