Valedictorian Jennalyn Shares Her Online High School Success Story
For Idaho Virtual Academy graduate Jennalyn, the last two years have been a whirlwind of activity, making her high school graduation quite a success story. This high-achieving student managed to balance two jobs, along with music, family, and social activities, and still graduated valedictorian of her class!
Like many advanced learners, Jennalyn was bored in school, and came to online school with a desire to be challenged. Eight years later, she graduated at the top of her class. We learned about this student when she submitted her story to our What’s Your Story website, and were so impressed, we wanted to learn more. In our interview, Jennalyn shares her experience in online high school, how she achieved her goals, and some of her plans for the future.
With 22 college credits already completed, Jennalyn will be continuing her education at Idaho State University in the fall. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors, and are so proud we could be a part of her educational journey!
From your story, it sounds like school kept you very busy, Jennalyn! But in your free time, what sort of activities or hobbies do you like to do?
When I have free time, I like to spend it playing piano and violin. I am not amazingly good at playing either, but it is a great way to get rid of stress and express my emotions. This past year, I played violin in the orchestra pit for the local brick and mortar high school in the musical Aida.
You said in your story that you knew it would be more challenging to make friends in an online school—how did you overcome that? What social activities were you involved in?
In order to enroll in K12, my parents told me that I had to make friends at church. This encouraged me to strengthen relationships with my friends that were my age. It was important to my parents that I did not lose the social interaction, and because of that, my parents encouraged me to make friends with kids at my church. I participate in a program called AWANA and I also participate in the youth group at my church. Both of these activities have allowed me to make friends with people that share similar interests.
I was also able to dual enroll for orchestra at the brick and mortar school I had formerly gone to and I danced with my sister’s bagpipe group. These opportunities allowed me to slowly ease into making friends in new and different ways with IDVA.
In the past few years, my activities have changed as I have grown more accustomed to being in an online school. I have always attempted to attend as many in-person activities as I can in my area. This has allowed me to meet more kids my age that I go to school with.
My leadership class also offered many opportunities to become friends with students across the state. I mentored a handful of kids each year that were struggling or had asked for extra help. One of the students I spent a few hours emailing my sophomore year of high school happened to be sitting on stage with me during one of my graduations! I have many friends in my school and have been very thankful for the chance to get to know them over the years!
You mentioned you worked while you attended high school—what was your job, and how did you manage your schedule to allow you to do both?
I had two different jobs, I worked as a nanny my junior year and started work at a law office around Memorial Day of last year. Working my junior year was difficult because I was beginning to learn how to balance life, work, and school. On Monday, I woke up at 7 and started school at 8. I would normally be done with Monday’s schoolwork by noon, but would start working ahead on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s work because I worked those days as a nanny.
By 4pm, I would wrap up my school day and head to piano lessons. Piano lessons ended at 5pm and I headed home to eat dinner and take off for church at 5:30pm. Then I would be home around 9pm to finally end my day. It was exhausting and then the next day I would wake up, work, and complete school. Wednesdays were about as crazy as Monday’s as I worked my job and completed school until 4:30pm and often times had a commitment at 6:30pm across town. I honestly wonder at times how I ate my junior year – I was WAY too busy.
This year, things slowed down after I moved three and a half hours away to a (much) smaller town. I started living with my grandparents and working. I haven’t taken piano or violin lessons this year and at times practicing violin and piano has been neglected. I also spent some time during my first semester at a Pharmacy on Saturdays, so I was staying pretty busy.
Overall, the only reason I survived these past two years is because of the support I have from my families, teachers, and school staff. I do not know how many times one of them stepped in to make things a little easier for me. I had teachers that met with me after 3pm this year, even though that was not one of their normal times for office hours. My counselor helped me make wise decisions this past year about what classes I would take and how many I would take. I have been SO very thankful for all the help and support I have received the last two years.
What were your favorite courses or electives in high school?
Favorite. That is a hard word for me. I really dislike having to make solid decisions as to what was my favorite as I really loved almost every minute of high school. Normally my favorite class is the one that challenges me the most. Surprisingly, the challenging subject changes each year.
My freshman year, my favorite class was Music Appreciation. It was my favorite mostly because it included multiple schools from K12 and I really enjoy music. At that point, I was only playing violin so it helped me expand some of my musical horizons. I explored types of music I probably would have not explored if it was not for that class. It helped me understand basic music theory to an even greater degree as well.
My sophomore year, my favorite class was Spanish I. I LOVE learning new languages and my Spanish teacher made learning fun and exciting. It helped me with English, a subject I have always struggled a little with. Then my junior year, my favorite class was most likely AP US History. AP US History was one of the first AP classes I took. It was a difficult class. However, I loved the teacher and learned so much about how to learn in that class. The class went quickly, but it helped me improve my ability to take test and quizzes. It also helped me improve my writing.
Finally, my favorite class my senior year was AP English Language and Composition. The class was brutal to start with because my grammar skills needed a tune-up. I spent HOURS at the beginning of the year crying through trying to figure things out. However, my teacher helped me and gave me resources that helped me improve my writing. At this point, I feel more ready to conquer college writing than I would have at the beginning of the year. It was an amazing class that challenged me to meet my highest potential. The work paid off at the end of the year when I received a 106/100 on my final exam.
What are your goals for after high school—are you planning to attend college? If so, what do you plan to study and where will you attend?
I plan on going on to college this next year at Idaho State University. My plan is to go to college there and to get a PhD in Pharmacy/Masters in Business or a degree in Social Work. At this point, I have not decided between the two majors, but I am going to use my first few semesters to make a decision. I have a Career Path Internship (CPI) with ISU this next year; the internship should be in Social Work. I spent some time in the Pharmacy profession during my Senior Project last semester at IDVA. I am hoping to use the CPI to get an idea of what I want to do.
Did you take courses in high school specific to your college or career goals?
Yes, I was able to take about 22 credits worth of college classes during my years at IDVA. Overall, these classes have taught me a lot about myself and my learning style. I have stayed VERY busy over the last two years and am looking forward to possibly having one year less of college. I will say that taking that many credits in high school is not something that is easy. I know that I probably could not have handled a course load like what I had without the support I received.
I am aware that I have acknowledged the support many times, but I really would not have gotten as far as I did without it. I will say that some classes ended with barely an A, but each time, I was proud of myself because I finished and stayed strong. Those moments were worth all the tears that were a part of the experience. It was worth it.
What would you say is your favorite thing about online learning and Idaho Virtual Academy?
The flexibility and the amount of support I received would have to be my two favorite things about online learning and IDVA. When I first started IDVA in 3rd Grade, my younger sister had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disease (Amegakarocytic Thrombocytopenia) that triggered the need for a bone marrow transplant therefore causing the need for less germs and a few moves over the course of the school year.
We ended up living with my aunt for four months in the middle of the school year after moving across town. This would have caused me and my sisters to go to three different schools during one school year, but we used K12 instead. As I got older and my sister got better, I have been able to work and take part in other activities when most kids would be in school. The flexibility has been an amazing blessing.
I cannot say enough about the support I have received as I have completed eight years at K12. The teachers and staff have always been there trying to help me out along the way. They have always been so supportive and helpful as I have gone through tough moments and have been able to share in some joyous moments as well.
Graduation was not really as much for me as it was for my teachers – they have stuck with me for many years. I do not know how many sarcastic comments or blond moments or stupid metaphors they have put up with over the years to see me graduate – hopefully enough that they will miss me.
I want to be the person younger students miss enough to blaze their own trails or see my work and are inspired. I can remember when I watched one of my younger sister’s Class Connects, who was a grade younger than me, and my work was up as an example on the screen. My sister looked at me and said “isn’t that yours” and I was speechless. I want other people to see me as an example that should be remembered for the good things I did.
Do you have any tips for staying motivated in an online high school?
This past year, I struggled with motivation about the time March hit. At that point in time, I pulled out five different colors of post-it notes and stacked them up in a pattern with enough sticky notes to make it to the end of the year. I did not count how many sticky-notes were in the stack, but I wrote my “tasks” for each day on the sticky notes. When the tasks were complete, I filled in the little bubbles I had made to the left of each task.
One by one, the sticky notes were placed onto a flat surface near my desk as I slowly created the word “GRAD” with my post-it notes. I did this to remind myself that graduation was built on hard work and little accomplishments. Now, those post-it notes are still there and my honor cords and valedictorian medal hang beside it. Motivation comes when you change your perspective and realize that the results of hard work are worth the difficult moments.
Another tip I would like to share is that I have always kept a calendar of some sort with my assignments written out in it. I like to make sure that there is enough room to have a line for every subject on every day. This way, I can write all my tasks for each subject on each day. Over the years, this has worked for me. My parents at one point checked it every week and kept me accountable, but this year after moving three and a half hours away I was completely on my own.
I don’t know how many times I spent my Sunday nights writing down my work for the week, but it has always been worth it. This meant that I KNEW Sunday when I had a “bigger” assignment due within the week. Sometimes, this meant I could compensate in other classes to allow more time to complete the harder assignment later. My teachers have always had the schedules available within the high school classes, but I miss fewer deadlines if I write down what I need to do.
If worse comes to worse, I start to use my teachers, parents, and counselors to keep me on track. Sometimes a call to my teacher can make a huge difference in my motivation to complete a task. I have also called my counselors on multiple occasions. My parents have also been game for pep talks, even if I needed one at midnight. I cannot say enough to thank my teachers, staff, and family for the number of times they helped motivate me to reach my potential.
What piece of advice would you give a student who is new to online learning?
I would tell them to start slow and to take their time to learn the school. I know so many people who miss this process, and they end up confused mid-year. As a part of this, take your time to get to know the staff of your school – give your counselor a call, enter office hours to introduce yourself, or even send a quick Kmail to your advisor.
While this is not a brick and mortar school, we have staff just like one. Each staff member is working towards YOUR success and you should take the time to introduce yourself. By the time I tested in person for my final senior semester, the staff at the learning center knew me because I had taken the time to introduce myself. Take the time to reach out at the beginning of the year. One handshake now could make a difference later.
Enter your biggest accomplishment from the 2013-14 school year in our What’s Your Success Story contest for a chance to win up to $1000 for a summer camp scholarship.
Ashley MacQuarrie began writing professionally more than ten years ago and has covered education, technology, current events, pop culture, and other topics. A former homeschooler, she studied English and Film & New Media, graduating with a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University. Ashley has classroom experience working with children who have autism and other special needs. She has also tutored students from kindergarten through college and taught English to teens and adults at a language school in London.