Keeping kids ‘On Track’ with action-sports-friendly education program

Andrea Leib meets up with some of her current and former On Track School students. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School.

Andrea Leib meets up with some of her current and former On Track School students. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School

Spend any length of time near a motocross track and you'll probably spot her: a svelte blonde in boots and jeans, checking in on her husband as he gives a bike a tune-up or waving to her son as he tears around a turn during his training laps.

Andrea Leib is a familiar face at tracks around the country. Her son is Michael Leib, the well-spoken and mild-mannered motocross rider who's spent the majority of his life pursuing a professional career while racing across the U.S. and Europe. Her husband is Don Leib, the founder of Rocket Exhaust.

But to simply call her a "track mom" is to seriously underestimate what she's poised to do for action-sports families across the globe.

Leib is the founder of On Track School, a private, fully accredited distance-learning program that has evolved over the last 12 years to offer a complete education for kids who want to start pursing their careers before they hit 18. In an age where sponsors are plucking kids as young as 8 and 9 out of obscurity and grooming them to become champion surfers, snowboarders and motocross riders, it's a much-needed alternative to traditional public-school education, which, according to Leib, can be a serious roadblock for action-sports families.

"Tutoring at the track in our motorhome made me realize we needed a solution away from the races so we can focus on racing," says Leib. Photo: courtesy of On Track School.

“Tutoring at the track in our motorhome made me realize we needed a solution away from the races so we can focus on racing,” says Leib. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School

"Kids in public school are only allowed to miss 10 days of school per semester," Leib tells GrindTV. "If you surpass that number, you fail or you're asked to leave or pursue independent study."

And Leib knows firsthand just how difficult it can be for a young athlete to stay on top of his or her studies while simultaneously training for a competitive career. It's an experience her own kids went through when Michael, then just 10 years old, began traveling the country to compete in races.

Leib says that, unlike with more traditional sports such as baseball, putting her son on a dirt bike would mean uprooting herself, her husband and their daughter, Ali, and hitting the road to Florida, Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey and Oklahoma for amateur national races. Michael's school was less than supportive of the idea.

"Teachers would assign Michael three times the amount of math the other students were getting," says Leib. "They didn't get it because it wasn't, like, professional ice skating. We had problems with teachers losing his work. Michael suffered a lot of social anxiety, too, because he was very humble and didn't want to go in and say, 'Oh, look, I won this trophy for getting first place at nationals."

At the spring Amateur Motocross Nationals in Texas in 2001, On Track offered tutoring to riders so they could stay on target at school. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School.

At the spring Amateur Motocross Nationals in Texas in 2001, On Track offered tutoring to riders so they could stay on target at school. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School

When Michael was in fifth grade, Leib and her husband realized they needed to make a change. The duo experimented with charter schools and homeschooling until Leib decided to take things into her own hands. With a B.A. and a master’s degree in education with a focus on counseling, and more than 30 years' experience in the field of education at all grade levels, Leib launched On Track School, creating her own program and curriculum that would be more flexible to fit the busy lives and schedules of young athletes.

On Track is not homeschooling, nor is it a charter school. Leib describes it as an online school where students can complete their workload at their own pace. Students are required to work at their studies for three to four hours a day and check in with a staff of learning coaches (the school's certified teachers) via email, text, Skype or phone call. Students can attend online classes, take interactive quizzes, read e-books and upload their work from anywhere in the world.

"There's flexibility built in," she explains. "You don't have to log in on certain days at certain times. You can work ahead, too. But all the students have a responsibility to communicate with their teachers and meet certain goals."

Another perk for student athletes, who often spend hours working with personal trainers? No physical education class. Just prove you're working with a trainer and you'll get “Sports PE" credits for studying things like nutrition and heart rate. Students can earn “Life Experience” credits for other areas of interest as well.

Andrea cheering on her students at the On Track School 2015 high school graduation at Loretta Lynn's Amateur National Motocross Championship in Tennessee. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School.

Leib cheering on her students at the On Track School 2015 high school graduation at Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Motocross Championship in Tennessee. Photo: Courtesy of On Track School

And it's not just motocross riders who can benefit from On Track School. Leib says she has students who are pursuing rally car racing, barrel racing on horses, ice hockey, downhill BMX, surfing and even professional singing careers. “We have two students learning to fly who are becoming pilots,” she adds.

On Track also functions as a plan B for older motocross riders who need a diploma in order to start applying to colleges.

"In motocross, there's not a lot of sponsorship money," she explains. "Sometimes the biggest roadblock for kids is that they're choosing between investing in a new motorcycle and buying an education."

Leib's program is at the forefront of what is projected to be a national education trend. According to On Track's website, by 2019 50 percent of high school students will be learning completely online — and not just within the action-sports community.

"We aren't cresting the wave just yet, but we're on the swell," she explains. "It's the future of education that students will learn on FaceTime and Google Hangout, and they can be anywhere in the world, from Hawaii to New York."

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