Kirsten Blanco is a graduate of California Connections Academy from Rancho Santa Maria, California. Kirsten joined the school in her sophomore year and graduated in 2010. She appreciated how the flexible schedule at Connections Academy made it possible for her to focus on preparing for college and on improving her health. As a result, she was able to achieve her goal of graduating early and beginning her college career. Kirsten shares her story below.
“In the beginning of my sophomore year, I was diagnosed with an extremely rare migraine condition with severe atypical neurological symptoms that interfered with my ability to attend school and keep up with my work. The private bricks-and mortar high school I attended was unsure of how to handle my case, and after missing over a month of school, I needed to find a way to stay on track with my education, while also focusing on improving my health and well-being. I did not want to fall so far behind that I would need to take an entire year off from school, and after learning about Connections Academy’s flexible program, I withdrew from the traditional school system and continued my education from the comfort of my home.
The flexibility of Connections Academy’s program allowed me to complete my work during the times of day that worked best for me, rather than the traditional 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. schedule of traditional schools. Despite having many days when I was feeling too unwell to work, I was able to stay on track since I was able to complete multiple assignments for a class during the times I was feeling better. I really liked that classwork and homework were essentially one in the same, which allowed me to focus more on learning and comprehending important concepts instead of struggling to keep up with the 'busy work' that was so common in traditional school.
The curriculum was very well-structured and straightforward, and although challenging at times, it pushed me to critically think about and apply the material. It also allowed me to take electives in activities that I was interested in, such as digital photography and classes at a local yoga studio for physical education credit. I felt like it fit my learning style even better than the private school education I was receiving before. Also, my instructors were always very understanding and supportive, and it was easy to contact them for help via phone or email. Most of all, I liked how I could work ahead of schedule, which allowed me graduate a year early with a diploma and begin classes at a community college.
The structure of the program ensured that I remained responsible and self-motivated to complete my work efficiently and on time, and it taught me how to be independent and hold myself accountable for my own education. While it was never easy, I learned valuable multi-tasking, critical thinking, and communication skills that have contributed to my success at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Today, I am happier, healthier, and ready to continue moving forward in my education.
I am currently pursuing an undergraduate bachelor of science degree in neuroscience at UCLA. In addition, I work for an addiction psychiatrist and researcher at the university and tutor English composition for elementary through graduate school students in Los Angeles. I am also involved in a campus organization that teaches yoga and nutrition to children in underserved communities to help encourage self-esteem and healthy habits. Prior to transferring to UCLA in 2013, I maintained excellent grades at my community college, making Dean’s List each semester and graduating magna cum laude with an associate’s degree in chemistry. Additionally, I presented and received awards for original research in the humanities and sciences at honors conferences held by UC Berkeley and UC Irvine.
After my undergraduate education, I plan to take a couple of years to work and pursue research and medical volunteering opportunities while possibly completing a yoga instructor certification as well. My ultimate goal is to attend medical school and eventually specialize in pediatric neurology or internal medicine with a focus on nutrition."
Without Connections Academy, I would not have been able to accomplish so many personal and educational achievements while struggling with my migraine condition. Today I am happier, healthier, and ready to continue moving forward in my education.