In this guest blog, James Madison High School graduate, Alexander Free, talks about how studying with JMHS allowed him to pursue his dream of becoming a Division I student-athlete. Learn how JMHS helped him get where he is today.
When I was Fourteen, I was Given the Opportunity of a Lifetime. The opportunity to depart from the path of a traditional student and fully engulf myself in a rigorous training program to help me achieve my ultimate goal of being a Division I student-athlete.
However, this jump would mean foregoing public high school and transitioning into a fully online high school. And stepping away from traditional education was not easy choice. Before my freshman year, I had received academic scholarship offers from some of the most elite academic boarding schools in the U.S., and I had always prioritized academics before athletics. But after a thorough investigation of a diverse group of online high school programs, my parents and I decided that James Madison High School was the best program for me at the time.
By Choosing to Pursue My Tennis Dreams while Studying Online with JMHS, I soon noticed that normal extracurricular activities like choir and FBLA meetings were replaced by four-hour training sessions in 100-degree heat. Instead of sitting at a desk, most of my school work was done between tennis matches in a variety of hotel rooms around the country. What I lacked in traditional experiences like homecoming and Friday night football games, I made up for by visiting over 30 states in four years.
Being a student at James Madison taught me to think outside the box and develop interests that many students would not be able to pursue. I dove headfirst into politics during the 2012 Presidential campaign and volunteered my time for the candidates of my choice. I developed a passion for coaching tennis and finding new ways to improve both myself and the people around me.
My first foray into tennis coaching came when I was 15 years old when I volunteered to teach tennis during physical education classes to children at an inner city public high school in Birmingham, Alabama. Having the opportunity to spend time in that environment and see the positivity that radiates off of those children who have so little, inspired me to continue pursuing opportunities in coaching that would eventually shape my educational and career interests.
After graduating from JMHS, I wanted to attend a university that would allow me to continue to grow my passions in tennis and politics. I chose to move to Tyler, Texas, where I would be a member of the Honor’s Program at both Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler. At The University of Texas at Tyler, I was elected Student Government President and a member of The University of Texas System Student Advisory Council. In Tyler, I was able to continue working on the political issues that I care deeply about, such as: reducing smoking on college campuses, making college tuition affordable and reducing the rates of childhood illiteracy in East Texas.
While improving relations between students, faculty and administration, we were able to compromise and create effective policies to eliminate smoking on our campus and to set up a reading program that will provide extra literacy training and resources to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and schools. My campus involvement gave me the opportunity to speak at the Change the Conversation conference in 2015 about the role students have in reducing the epidemic of sexual assaults that is plaguing our college campuses and to be a part of a video promoting President Barack Obama’s “It’s On Us” initiative.
My decision to attend JMHS is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. My education has given me opportunities to open doors that may not have been available to me otherwise. Since graduating, I have played college tennis at the highest of levels, coached hundreds of tennis players across the United States, started a reading program to improve the lives of impoverished children, worked on a Hollywood movie set, worked beside major figures in politics and education, won awards for academic research and graduated from college Magna Cum Laude in three years with two different degrees.
Recently, I received an academic scholarship to Appalachian State University to earn my Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration. After graduation, I hope to use my education administration background in conjunction with my coaching experience to work in a collegiate athletic department. If the goal of a high school education is to prepare you for college, then I can fully say that my education from James Madison has paid off tenfold. It is an experience that I would recommend to anyone that is interested in learning in a flexible and exciting environment that is completely different than the traditional experience of high school.