Q&A with U.S. Performance Academy Founder Peter Smith
The NCAA-approved school offers a flexible curriculum for student athletes
Since 2013, U.S. Performance Academy in Elkins, NH, has been providing online-based education for high-performing athletes in grades 6-12. The NCAA-approved school offers a flexible curriculum for student athletes who are currently training, traveling and competing worldwide, who aren’t able to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar education facility.
As founder and president, Peter Smith has designed a system that he says motivates young athletes, who need a connected support system to stay on track with their studies while also helping them succeed on the field.
Q. How does U.S. Performance Academy work?
A. We have athletes all over the world, five different continents, on multiple micro-campuses that offer a full-fledged academic experience — one that’s built flexibly without sacrificing quality. We set out to create a learning experience that students can take anywhere, whether they’re sitting in aisle 3 of a Delta flight or on the coast of Spain. No matter where they were, that quality and experience doesn’t change. But then we realized, to support these kiddos, we needed a tremendous amount of support.
Q. How do students connect with their learning coaches?
A. Every student can meet with their teachers almost on demand. We don’t have designated study halls or homework lounges, because kids can reach out to their teachers in a one-on-one fashion and have a discussion or get answers. On top of that, the learning coach is solely focused on not what we’re learning and grading, but how the students are learning.
Underneath all of that is allowing kids and families to really customize their own experience, because they’re often on the road too much. Our support system is really unique; similar to what other online schools do in the sense that it’s fully one-on-one, but we also have a dedicated learning professional that’s a personal trainer for your own learning.
Q. What sparked the idea to develop this type of education model?
A. Coming out of college, I did an Olympic campaign with sailing, and I understood how challenging that was, not necessarily on the water, but off the water. Ninety percent of the work is knowing what our athletes are going through. So I can relate to a lot of those kids. For me, it was the idea of putting the power in an individual’s hands.
A good friend of mine said, “My son is sailing all over the world. Why do you brick-and-mortar principals and teachers make it so hard for him to pursue both his athletic and his academic dreams? Why does he have to choose between one or the other?” And that was how the idea was originally, starting a sailing school down in Miami and then that blossomed into all sports at the same time. We’re going into our 10th year now.
Q. Does the school also accept students that require different learning assessments?
A. Across the board, we’re open to anybody that we feel is a good fit and is going to work really, really hard. We’re not a sign-up-and-register school; there’s an application process. We want to make sure you’re the right fit for us and we’re the right fit for you.
We just validated a program this past year for neurodivergent learners, working with some of the leading learning specialists in the country, coming from incredible schools on the higher end of things that were totally dedicated for kids that learn differently. What we’ve been able to build out is a tiered support model, one of the first in the world for asynchronous support for kids that learn differently.
Q. Why choose online learning versus going to school in person?
A. I keep thinking about how traditional schools are popularized. Kids are told when to come to school, what they’re going to do first, when they’re going to learn, what they’re going to learn, how they’re going to learn it, down to where they’re going to sit.
What we do is kind of flip that model on its head and say, “Here’s where we want you to be, here’s how you’re going to successfully complete this. You’re going to develop the manner in which you want. We’re going to help you on the way.” Those are the sort of things that I get most excited about at U.S. Performance Academy.