Texas Connections Academy giving athletes the ‘flexibility’ needed to compete

The Kelley sisters, from left, are: Skyla, Shayla, McKenna, and Emma

The Kelley sisters, from left, are: Skyla, Shayla, McKenna, and Emma

The Texas Connections Academy has been providing students from across the state with the ability to obtain their high-school diplomas online since 2008. Many pupils are attracted by the flexibility of the program, which allows them to accommodate unconventional work schedules, challenging family obligations, or other responsibilities that make traditional programs unfeasible.

The school is particularly attractive to elite-level athletes. More than five percent of families surveyed cited the ability to pursue extracurricular athletics activities as their most significant reason for choosing the academy, and several members of the student body are competing at the highest—and in some cases even Olympic—levels of their chosen sports.

“These are high-achieving students we’re talking about here,” said Lea Ann Lockard, executive director of the Texas Connections Academy in Houston. “They are off the charts in terms of what they do.”

Last year’s valedictorian, for instance, is now in her freshman year at Virginia Tech University on a full athletic scholarship for diving.

“I have been traveling at least one-and-a-half hours away from home to train for sports since the sixth grade,” explained Emma Villarreal. “Texas Connections Academy gave me with the necessary time flexibility to travel for sports throughout high school while still providing me with a challenging curriculum.”

One of the members of the school’s Class of 2015 is McKenna Kelley, the daughter of Olympic gold-medalist Mary Lou Retton and an outstanding gymnast in her own right. Her little sister, Emma, also a gymnast, will be starting there as an eighth-grader this fall.

“The flexibility of the Texas Connections Academy allows me to train the six to eight hours in the gym that is needed in my sport,” said McKenna. “And the academics are first-rate. The ability to call my teachers directly is a major plus.”