Virtual K-12 Public School Allows Students To Pursue Theater Passion Without Sacrificing High-Quality Education

Flexibility of online school also helps students and their families manage busy lives


St. Paul, Minn. (June 17, 2016) — Did you know that Minneapolis-St. Paul is the second-largest theater city after New York? Adults, children and teens take to multiple stages to entertain. But for child and adolescent actors still in school, how do they make it all work?

With auditions, rehearsals and performances, some of these kids can see 60-80 hours of theater commitments per week—and they wouldn't have it any other way. With crazy schedules, how do these kids fulfill their dreams and get a high-quality education, not to mention maintain some sanity, and have family time? These Minnesota families, and others, have found a solution—online public school at MTS Minnesota Connections Academy.

Minneapolis' Gavin Nienaber, a soon-to-be sixth grader, is well on his way to a successful theater career. Currently rehearsing for his role as Gisborne in this summer's production of The Jungle Book (Old Log Theater), Nienaber enrolled in Minnesota Connections Academy during the 2014-15 school year. He needed a flexible schedule to accommodate his acting career.

'Gavin is articulate and loves what he does,' says dad, David, a former math teacher. 'The flexibility and quality of the curriculum at Connections Academy has been great. Gavin can even study between shows at the theater.”

School has been in session during many of the productions Nienaber has been in. This past spring, Nienaber played Colin in The Secret Garden (Theatre in the Round) and April through June 2015, he played Michael Darling in Peter Pan the Musical (Children’s Theatre Company). Nienaber enjoys sharing his online school experience with others, often telling his story when audiences hear from the cast after a show. This past winter, he also participated in a Q&A with other child actors at Minneapolis' Children Theatre Company's 50th anniversary celebration.

The school's faculty also enjoy keeping up with their students’ lives outside of the 'classroom.' One of Nienaber's teachers, Jamie Gehrman of Apple Valley, Minn., took her family to Peter Pan. Not only did she know her daughters would love the show, she also wanted to show her support. “It was a thrill to watch Gavin,” said Gehrman.

For Nienaber, it began at age six. He's hit the stage with roles in A Christmas Carol (Guthrie Theater), Shrek the Musical (Eagan Summer Community Theatre), and Disney’s Tarzan the Musical (Children’s Castle Theater).

Nienaber has also appeared in many short films, including Stuck in Mute, which debuted at the Minneapolis International Film Festival and won best picture at the Apex film festival. He does commercial work as well. His busy schedule, however, hasn't impacted his grades. He continues to be a straight A student and loves Connections Academy.

Another student not new to the theater scene is Carley Clover of Champlin, Minn., who will be a seventh grader at MTS Minnesota Connections Academy this fall. Clover has big dreams to perform in New York City on Broadway and recently had a lead role as Baby Louise in Gypsy (Pantages Theatre). She also played Amaryllis in the Music Man last year (Gutherie Theater). Clover began performing at the age of seven when she was in A Christmas Carol (Guthrie Theater).

'Monday's are really the only day off in the theater world, but Carley wouldn't have it any other way,' says mom, Tricia. The family enrolled in the online public school program for the 2015-2016 school year. 'I wish we had started with online education earlier,' she says. 'We are so in love with Connections Academy. The teachers and faculty are beyond supportive of Carley. Even with her busy schedule, school remains a priority. Carley made the Honor Roll the entire school year.'

This upcoming winter, Clover will appear in Orphan Train (History Theatre). She also does commercial work and takes vocal lessons at St. Barnabus Performing Arts in Plymouth, Minn.

A tuition-free, public school, MTS Minnesota Connections Academy provides personalized K-12 education that combines a proven curriculum, unique technology tools, and a collection of electives, clubs and community experiences to create academic and emotional success for students. Its program meets the needs of students and their families who are looking for a unique public school option in a non-traditional setting. Typical students include those who need a flexible schedule, learn at a different pace from their peers, need more one-on-one time with teachers, are looking for less distractions and less drama, live in isolated rural settings, are homebound, or were previously home-schooled.

The school's nearly 2,000 students are served by more than 60 full-time faculty members, which include state-certified teachers, school guidance counselors, special education professionals, and administrative staff. Students work with their teachers via e-mail, LiveLessons®, text-based curriculum, webcasts, telephone conversations and more, while an adult “Learning Coach” helps to oversee progress in the home. Students and faculty have an opportunity to meet face-to-face through Minnesota Connections Academy's full complement of field trips and community experiences. Extracurricular online opportunities (electives and clubs) are also available for students such as Quiz Bowl, Student Literary Magazine, Arts and Crafts Club, Book Club, Chess Club, Pen Pals, Poetry Corner, Science in the Kitchen, Yearbook and more.

“We're proud to offer families a high-quality education option that helps meet the needs of every child,' says Melissa Gould, principal at Minnesota Connections Academy. 'If you're a parent and think your child may need a change in the fall, now's the time to explore different schooling options. If you've heard of virtual education but aren't sure how it works or if it'd be the right fit, I encourage you to attend a free information session, either online or in person.'

Enrollment for Minnesota Connections Academy's 2016-17 school year is underway and free Information Sessions— online and in-person —are being offered for families to learn more. For a complete event schedule, visit www.MinnesotaConnectionsAcademy.com/Events. Connections Academy operates its full-time online school program in Minnesota through a partnership with Minnesota Transitions Charter School.

About Connections Academy
Connections Academy is a leading provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual schooling for students in grades K through 12. Through tuition-free public schools, and full-time and part-time private school programs, Connections Academy delivers superior, personalized education for students, with the freedom and flexibility to experience our online learning community from anywhere. The combination of certified teachers, a proven curriculum, technology tools, and community experiences creates a supportive and successful online learning opportunity for families and children who want an individualized approach to education. Among the schools supported by Connections in the 2015–16 school year are 30 Connections Academy virtual (online) public schools that operate in 26 states. It serves students worldwide through the online private school, International Connections Academy. Connections Academy offers grades K through 12, though some public school programs do not offer all grades. For more information, call 800–382–6010 or visit www.ConnectionsAcademy.com. Connections Academy and its parent company, Connections Education, are part of the global learning company Pearson.