Thirteen-year-old Zoe Smith spends four hours a day practicing her skills at Bull City Gymnastics in Durham.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without it,” said Zoe, an eighth-grader at Quest Academy, a charter school in North Raleigh.
It would be tough for most middle school students to spend so much time on an after-school activity. But Quest, which opened in 1999, begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 1:30 p.m. each day to allow students to pursue passions outside the classroom – sports, theater, dance.
Students in third through eighth grades must participate in at least five hours of after-school activities a week, said Elizabeth Readmond, Quest’s administrator.
The K-8 school receives hundreds of applications a year, but there is space for only 145 – roughly 16 students per grade level.
Quest has proven to be a successful education model for students who dedicate a large chunk of their time to activities outside school. Some students are avid wakeboarders. Others are figure skaters or play for elite soccer teams.
A former student performed with a traveling theater production, Readmond said.
On Thursday, students showcased their talents, performing songs, showing off karate moves and dancing.
The Wake County Public School System is hoping to attract the kind of students Quest enrolls, as well as other students who want a more flexible school schedule.
Crossroads Flex High School in Cary is set to open in August. It will offer a mix of in-person and online courses, allowing students to take classes in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Wake school administrators have received about 100 applications for Crossroads, said Tamani Anderson Powell, marketing and communications director for the Office of Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement Programs. An admissions committee accepted 66 students, who were required to write an essay and get recommendations.
Some applicants wrote essays saying they had busy athletic schedules, but others said they worked jobs to help support their families or felt the high school they attended was not meeting their needs, Powell said.
The application period will reopen Monday to give families another chance to get into the school. Crossroads Flex hopes to enroll 100 students the first year, Powell said.
Zoe, the gymnast, plans to attend Crossroads Flex in the fall. The program will allow her to practice at the gym in the mornings and take classes in the afternoons. She can also complete assignments online.
Last month, Zoe finished eighth in her division at a USA Gymnastics meet. She doesn’t have dreams of competing in the Olympics, but she hopes to go far in her sport.
“My goal is to compete at a Division I college,” she said.
Because Quest Academy has a shorter-than-normal school day, it focuses only on core subjects.
“It’s strictly math, science, social studies and language arts – that’s it,” Readmond said.
Since the school only serves students up to eighth grade, some have had to turn to more traditional education settings for high school. Some go on to the public school system, while some choose private schools.
Now Crossroads Flex is a new option. School leaders have considered requiring students to spend an average of 10 hours a week on-site and an average of 20 hours a week learning online.
Wake is expected to name a principal for the school in the coming weeks. The principal will then help hire a staff of at least three teachers, a counselor and an administrative assistant.
“I think this can be a really exciting time for teachers as well in how you deliver instruction,” Powell said.
Chris Cioffi, 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi