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Chasing Olympic Dreams While Homeschooling

by David Engle | Feb 15, 2022 | 5 min read

Darya Stoughtenger, a seventh-grader with Bridgeway Academy, recently experienced the thrill of a lifetime. She was able to participate–from afar–in the opening ceremonies for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, currently taking place in China! But we’ll get to that incredible experience shortly. First, let’s learn more about Darya and what led her to this moment.

To be honest, we could create a whole series about Darya’s achievements, both on and off the ice. To say that she’s talented would be an epic understatement. She’s an honor roll student, a decorated figure skater, an accomplished musician, a featured artist, a community activist, and bilingual–she’s literally a renaissance woman, at the age of 11!

Off the Ice

First, the music. Before enrolling with Bridgeway Academy, Darya was educated in Canada through fourth grade. While up north, she attended the Canta Arya School of Strings in Kingston, Ontario, to study violin. This led to several opportunities to play in concerts with the Kingston Symphony as well as an invitation to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto for a master class. Her skill with strings has earned her awards from the Kingston Kiwanis Music Festival as well as accolades from the residents of the retirement homes in which she has performed as a service to her community. As an artist, Darya has received numerous awards and had her artwork featured for two consecutive years in the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston, Ontario.

On the Ice

Then there’s ice skating. Despite having only trained and skated for four years, Darya has built an impressive resume on the ice…

  • Multiple silver and gold medals in Canadian competitions
  • The intermediate, junior, and senior Spirit of Skating Awards in Kingston
  • The Ardelle Sanderson Award from the Skating Club of Lake Placid
  • Flower girl at the International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid
  • Invitation to skate in the 40-year reunion of the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid
  • Participant in the kids’ routine for the Stars on Ice show in Worcester, MA
  • Silver medal at the Empire Winter State Games in Lake Placid in February 2022

But her most memorable moment–the highlight of her young and incredibly promising career–came when she was chosen to be part of the opening ceremonies for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China. This amazing experience involved traveling to Lake Placid to film part of a video with the NBC production crew that would be featured during Team USA’s entrance.

The video, which is narrated and presented by global icon Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is titled “I Dare You” and features Darya and other young athletes performing in their respective sports. The video’s inspiring message is that the journey all starts with a dare–a dare to dream, a dare to be the best, a dare to put in the countless hours of hard work and the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to accomplish things that most human beings can only dream of accomplishing. Consistent with the theme of the video is Darya’s commitment to being the best at what she does–and it was her skating ability as well as her captivating personality that earned her a spot in this once-in-a-lifetime Olympic opportunity–though perhaps it will be a twice- or thrice-in-a-lifetime opportunity as she keeps pursuing her dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete.

Working to Be the Best

Earning a spot on an Olympic team requires work. A lot of work. More work than the average human being can handle. It involves pain, sacrifice, and a seemingly infinite number of hours and miles for both the athlete and her family. It’s not a challenge one takes lightly. But Darya and her family have accepted that challenge.

Her routine generally consists of school (more on that later) and three to four hours of skating every day. She also trains off-ice, which consists of ballet, dance, and strength training–all of which is difficult enough. Factor in that she trains just outside of New York City…and lives in upstate New York, which is about a five-hour drive. One way. But, then again, former Olympian and world champion Russian figure skaters-turned-coaches don’t grow on trees.

This is often the price to achieve greatness, however, and Darya and her family are all in. Currently, she is working on improving her scores at each competition, specifically by getting her double axels and triple jumps as clean and consistent as they can be.

So, where does she find time for school?

In the “Classroom”

That’s where Bridgeway Academy comes in. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Darya had been studying in Canada; however, once the pandemic hit and borders were closed, the Stoughtengers decided to stay in the U.S. so Darya could focus on her training. While searching for the right program to accommodate Darya’s beyond-hectic schedule, her mom, Jill, came across Bridgeway Academy. Turns out it was the perfect fit for Darya. She enrolled in our Total Care Blended program, and her whole family loved the experience during her fifth- and sixth-grade years. For seventh-grade, Darya is working within our Total Care Textbook program, which has drawn rave reviews from Jill.

“The Blended program was fantastic,” she said. “This [Total Care Textbook] program works great because of all the travel we do. We have a conversion van, so she just continues working as we travel.”

Darya’s typical day begins with anywhere from three to five hours of schoolwork before she starts her training. For the Stoughtengers, homeschooling is a family affair–Jill, Darya’s father, and her grandmother all help out with instruction, and they love the flexibility and support Bridgeway Academy provides.

“Darya loves it because she can work at her pace and be able to pursue her passion,” explained Jill. “It’s a great program, and our advisor Briana is only a phone call away.”

From Briana’s perspective, Darya is going above and beyond in her schoolwork, earning High Honor Roll recognition for her academic achievements (and has already logged 19,365 minutes of PE, which has to be easy when your free time is spent ice skating). This is a direct reflection of the value Darya’s family places on education. In fact, as Jill explained, “School always comes first. If everything isn’t done in the morning, she does not skate. But this never happens because Darya is really focused and a very hard worker.”

That’s not surprising to hear, since pursuing an Olympic dream requires tons of hard work and dedication.

Recommending Bridgeway Academy

Darya and her family needed a homeschool program that provided a balance of flexibility and high-quality education–both necessary components in order for Darya to maintain her training and competition schedule while still managing her studies. The Stoughtengers ultimately chose Bridgeway Academy and have no regrets about that decision.

“Bridgeway is an excellent program,” said Jill. “We think that [Darya] is learning much more in this program than she would in regular school. The whole program in general is fantastic.”

For some elite athletes and their families, education can often take a back seat to athletics. This is not the case for the Stoughtengers. Education is a top priority, and it travels with Darya everywhere she goes.

“It works because we can work on her studies any time of the day,” Jill said. “If she is competing, we can do schoolwork around her schedule. It’s always with us.”

While plans are always subject to change, especially in the world of competitive athletics, Darya and her family anticipate that they’ll be with Bridgeway Academy for the long haul because they’re thrilled with the education Darya is receiving as she continues to follow her dreams.

“Without this program, she definitely could not pursue her passion to this degree. She is happy and loves doing school this way. For her, it’s the best of both worlds.”

We can’t wait to witness all of the great things that are in store for Darya, and we’re thrilled to be along for the ride!

Whether or not you have an elite athlete or performer in the family, if you’re in search of a homeschool program that delivers the best in both flexibility and education, look no further. Bridgeway Academy, in the words of Jill Stoughtenger, offers the best of both worlds. Call us today at (800) 863-1474 to speak with a homeschooling expert!

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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