Published Online: December 3, 1997

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Beginning this summer, serious young athletes in Anchorage, Alaska, are likely to have a school that accommodates their unusual training and competition schedules.

The planned first-of-its-kind charter school--called the Sports Program for Youth Development, Education, and Recreation, or SPYDER--is aimed at competitive skiers, gymnasts, skaters, hockey players, and others whose sport demands long hours of training and seasonal or regular travel.

The school--recently approved by the Anchorage district board, pending permission from the state--would provide a flexible, year-round, multitrack schedule for 180 middle and high school students. SPYDER students would choose which four nine-week sessions, of the five the school would offer each year, best accommodate their athletic pursuits.

School officials say that without SPYDER, local students who are serious about developing as athletes either have to sweat it out in local public schools--where their grades could suffer--or attend flexible schools outside Alaska.

"Most teachers are willing to work with athletes, but sometimes training and competition can get in the way," said Carol S. Comeau, an assistant superintendent for the 48,400-student school system. "Many athletes felt they had to leave the state to get the flexibility they needed."

Although the school is geared mainly toward students who participate in sports on a highly competitive level, Ms. Comeau said it would be open to any student involved in a program outside school that demands physical training, including dance.

Greg Rupert, the chairman of the SPYDER school committee, said he hopes to enroll his son Andrew, a 16-year-old competitive skier, and his daughter Elizabeth, a dance enthusiast, in the school next year. Last year, he said, Andrew missed 30 days of school and was constantly chasing after missed assignments and exams and working well into the night to catch up.

The charter school, the district's fifth, still needs state approval, but local officials say the state usually concurs with the local district's decision.

Art Taylor, a sports psychologist and expert on youth sports at the Center for Sports in Society at Northeastern University in Boston, said the Anchorage program was one of the more innovative sports-related school programs in the country.

"It sounds like a great idea," he said, "as long as the school keeps kids accountable educationally."

--KERRY A. WHITE kwhite@epe.org

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