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A Texarkana youth is taking steps each day to reach his goal of becoming an elite triathlete, but pursing that dream requires many hours of training.

Grant Jarvis swims during a workout Dec. 30 at CHRISTUS St. Michael Fitness Center in Texarkana. He is in training to become an elite triathlete, with the goal of participating in the Olympics.
Photo by Jerry Habraken/Texarkana Gazette.
Balancing daily workouts with schoolwork was difficult last year during Grant Jarvis' sophomore year at a local high school.

"We actually started thinking about it mid-summer knowing that the schedule is going to be really tough," said John Jarvis, Grant's father. "What drove our motivation to try to do something different junior year is that the sophomore year he was training as hard as he could, he was studying as hard as he could and getting about five hours at the most of sleep a night."

Jarvis said the family was concerned that Grant, who he said gives 110 percent in everything he does, was putting too much pressure on himself and was not giving his body and mind much-needed rest. He was competing in not only triathlons, but also in cross-country, track and swim. Academically, he was ranked seventh in his class.

"It was taking a toll physically and mentally," Jarvis said. "And knowing the junior year was going to be more intense, we really started thinking there's got to be some changes made."

The Jarvis family found their solution in iUniversity Prep, a virtual school based in Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District. It's a tuition-free, Texas-based virtual school, in line with Texas Education Agency curriculum.

"We really do offer that comprehensive, flexible option for kiddos like Grant that are very busy outside of school who need flexibility, but do not want to sacrifice comprehensive education," said Dr. Kaye Rogers, director of virtual education for iUniversity Prep.

Now in its third year, the virtual school offers courses for grades four through 12. The first graduating class, in spring 2015, had 26 students receiving a high school diploma.

"We are super excited to be able to be offered statewide," Rogers said. Advanced placement courses are available, and currently, Rogers said, the students are taking top ranks in the state.

"We are really proud to continue to be the highest virtual school in Texas," Rogers said. That claim is based on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness testing and Texas Education Agency accountability rankings. In 2015, iUniversity Prep was rated Met Standard, with distinctions in reading/ELA and social studies.

Grant's mother, Larkin Jarvis, spent months reviewing Texas virtual schools before selecting iUniversity Prep, evaluating curriculum, test scores and accessibility.

"It had great reviews," she said. "Reviews are really important to me, that's what really hooked me. The great reviews and the low student-teacher ratios. Almost everybody said they are so accessible."

The school has 17 teachers who serve 400 students each school day. Although it's not a brick-and-mortar school, the teaching strategies are the same, Rogers said.

Grant said he believes the rigor in the curriculum is comparable with what he was learning at Texas High School, where he spent the first two weeks of his junior year, but it's more streamlined and personalized.

"Compared to what I did before, because I'm in some AP classes, the difficulty's about the same, but the time is the big thing," he said. "I want to say the workload's a little bit less. Personally, I would consider there to be less busy work because you're not just trying to be in school eight hours a day. Everything you're doing is homework. Everything's more focused, more concise, more efficient. The whole program is more efficient than what I had been doing."

Each school day, Grant has scheduled live lessons with his teachers. He logs in, and on the screen, he's able to interact directly with the teacher and other students in the class. There, he can ask questions and share ideas, just like in a brick-and-mortar school. Assignments can be completed at any time during the week, but are due on Sunday night.

Building and maintaining social circles is another important part of high school that's very different for Grant this year.

"We know how important the social aspect of public school is, so we really had to weigh all that," his father said.

He schedules time with his friends, who live not only in Texarkana, but across the nation and even internationally. "It's really neat to get in contact with people that do what you do that live so far away," he said of the friends he's made while competing in triathlons.

Grant said his eyes were wide open going into this school year, and understood exactly what he was giving up for his success.

"I lost all those coaches, lost all those teammates with one big decision," Grant said. "The UIL rules say you have to be a full-time day student to compete so that was really hard. Sports and getting to see all the people I know and love at school. I don't get to see them in person as much anymore. Those are the two big things that I really had to say 'You know I'm gonna have to give that up if I'm gonna pursue this dream.'"

Grant said his future plans include continuing his path to become an Olympic athlete, plus go to college. Which one he will pick is still up in the air, he said.

"I'm going to college. My goal would be to get an academic scholarship because there's not a lot of opportunity for triathlon in college, for guys, especially," he said. "At this point, I'm not thinking I want it to be my main profession as I grow up, but that could change."