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Virtual School

Greenfield virtual school honors first-ever graduate

Juliette Zielinski, who graduated from Greenfield's virtual school, stands with her parents Elizabeth and Paul. She is the first to graduate from a Massachusetts public virtual school. (Submitted Photo)

Juliette Zielinski, who graduated from Greenfield's virtual school, stands with her parents Elizabeth and Paul. She is the first to graduate from a Massachusetts public virtual school. (Submitted Photo)

GREENFIELD — A competitive ice skater from Ludlow graduated from Greenfield’s virtual school last week, becoming the first student in Massachusetts to earn a high school degree from a public cyber school.

The Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School held a private ceremony for Juliette Zielinski, 18, last Friday in Westfield.

Zielinski has been taking virtual courses for three years and officially enrolled in the Greenfield virtual school last fall. She ranked 11th at a national figure skating championship last fall, said her mother Elizabeth Zielinski, superintendent of the public King Philip Regional School District in eastern Massachusetts.

Zielinski sometimes skates up to 15 hours a week and works out off the ice, in addition to working at a part-time job, her mother said. The student attended virtual lessons and studied for her courses during gaps in her days, seven days a week.

“It’s not easy and usually the academic work that is produced is two to three times more than what you’d (need to complete) in a typical brick-and-mortar school,” said Elizabeth Zielinski.

She said the family decided to test out virtual education for one year to see how well it worked for them. Elizabeth Zielinski believes it’s prepared her daughter for technological and self-directed learning skills that she’ll need in college.

“I think virtual education has to be the right fit. ... It’s not for every student,” she said.

The graduation ceremony was held at Amelia’s Gardens in Westfield. The Zielinskis brought about 40 people and rented out skating time at the nearby ice rink.

It was also a big moment for Greenfield virtual school leaders, who called the day historic and a testament to the work that’s been done behind the scenes for the past 15 months. There could be as many as 30 graduates next year, they said.

The school, which started as a Greenfield innovation school, almost closed in spring 2013, but a campaign by families kept it open. Then, after it became the state’s first Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School last July, a group of leaders had to essentially build the school from scratch in a limited window of time.

“I think that everyone that worked so hard (for) this school can appreciate the moment,” said Executive Director Carl Tillona.

“It made me realize how important our work really was,” said board of trustees Chairman Ed Berlin. “She could not have gotten a public school education anywhere else in Massachusetts and been able to do what she’s done in her life.”

Zielinski is the first student to win the Susan Hollins Founder’s Award, named after Greenfield School Superintendent Hollins who launched the school in 2010. The virtual school will award the honor each year to a senior who exemplifies the school’s ideals, which include courage, scholarship, generosity and entrepreneurial spirit.

She’ll study kinesiology and exercise science at Bridgewater State University next year, where she will continue skating and coach as well.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264, On Twitter, follow @RecorderShores

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