Ice dancer Jonathan Schultz sees online classmates for first time on Graduation Day

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Jonathan Schultz, a 15-year-old ice dancer with Olympic ambitions, will miss practice for the first time in years on Wednesday.


Instead of lacing up his skates, the Westchester resident will be garbed in cap and gown, walking the stage on Graduation Day with classmates he’s known since kindergarten — yet has never seen face to face.


Jonathan is among 850 students who are graduating this year from the California Virtual Academies High School, a 12-year-old online public school. Known as CAVA, the K-12 charter school has 11 academies across the state, including the Los Angeles location, which is chartered by the West Covina Unified School District.


Jonathan and the other 200 graduates from the Los Angeles school will celebrate their life milestone in two shifts — one at 11 a.m., the other at 2 p.m. — at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel.


Ever since his earliest school days, Jonathan has completed his studies — English, math, history, world languages and the like — on a laptop or tablet computer in the comfort of his home.


He is quick to point out that this isn’t home school, and that his mom is not his teacher.


“It’s not like she’s trying to teach me calculus,” he said with a playful chuckle during an interview with her present at the Skating Edge Ice Area in Harbor City. “That wouldn’t happen.”


CAVA’s K-12 student enrollment has mushroomed since its inception in 2002. Ten years ago, it served 2,500 students, according to the California Department of Education; it now enrolls some 15,000.


Other online schools have come along, such as California Connections Academy and iQ Academy California.


As enrollment has grown, so too has the level of acceptance.


Jonathan’s mother, Maureen Schultz, said she noticed a difference in the way Jonathan’s two older sisters — who also completed the program — were treated by the same university, just two years apart. Both applied to the University of Pennsylvania.


“My oldest one, I don’t think U Penn knew exactly what to do with her,” she said. “But by the time Kristina applied they were like, ‘Oh, you’re a virtual school student, we love virtual school students.’ ”


As it happens, neither daughter attended Penn. Jennifer, the eldest, just graduated (summa cum laude) at USC; Kristina just finished her freshman year at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Both sisters had been enrolled in the online schooling since fifth grade.


Having been through it twice, Maureen knows how surreal Graduation Day can be for these students, who would look at each other and tentatively ask: “Are you (so and so) … ?”


“Then they would hug each other like they were long-lost friends,” she said.


Jonathan has followed in the high-achieving footsteps of his sisters. With a GPA of 4.2, he is among the 60 or so valedictorians of the 850-member class. (The distinction is conferred on anyone with a 4.0 or better.)


While online education appeals to many students who are chasing big dreams, in Jonathan’s case, it was the other way around: the fact that he was taking his classes online meant that he needed to find a way to fulfill state-mandated P.E. requirements.


Jonathan had gone to the ice rink for birthdays before.


“And everyone else would kind of already know how to skate because they’d done it before,” he said.


He decided to take lessons. He excelled quickly as a single skater. One day, about four years ago, a young girl saw him working with his coach and approached them. She was an ice dancer and needed a partner; skilled male ice dancers are a scarce commodity.


He and the girl — Elizabeth Addas of Pacific Palisades — gave it a try. Within three months, they were competing in the Pacific Coast Sectional Championship, where they took second place. They didn’t do so well nationally. But the following year, they won the sectional championships and, in January 2013, took third place nationally at the juvenile level.


Now they have their sights on Team U.S.A. If they qualify for nationals in November and again make the top three at nationals, they can join the 18-member team for the junior level.


Jonathan said he hadn’t intended on graduating so early; it’s just that once he finished a class, there was nothing to do but go on to the next one.


“It just sort of happened,” he said.


Next year, he’ll study computer science at West Los Angeles College, with an eye toward transferring to UCLA or UC Berkeley at age 18.


As for CAVA, although the learning is online — and though most students are meeting face to face for the first time on Graduation Day — some students do get to know each other, in a virtual sense anyway. Many of the lectures allow students to interact with one another in real time, not unlike how people interact on social media sites or with game platforms like Xbox.


“The online platform allows for students to virtually raise their hands, ask questions or make comments using a microphone or typing in questions and answers,” said CAVA spokesperson Mary Leake Schilder. “Similarly, teachers will ask questions of the students to answer, just like in a traditional classroom.”


Students take field trips together, and the school offers weekly in-person classes and clubs at locations throughout California.


Jonathan never availed himself of these opportunities; he was too busy practicing. Once he got serious about skating, CAVA became a way for him to cram long hours of rink time into his week. He would get up around 7, power through his schoolwork, and try to be done by noon.


He says he gets his social fix through skating, a church youth group and his part-time job as a disc jockey at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, where the Los Angeles Kings train.


Jonathan said he wouldn’t miss Graduation Day for anything, not even skating.


“It’s important to me,” he said. “One day of training is not a big deal. You only graduate from high school once.”

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