Life and aspirations led Vail Valley locals through online high schools |

Life and aspirations led Vail Valley locals through online high schools

Addy Stearns ski racing career took her to Denver Online High School. She'll play soccer at Smith College this fall.
Special to the Daily |

EDWARDS — The path to the rest of your life is rarely a straight line.

Hannah Geisman and Addy Stearns were among those for whom the high school commencement walk was a circuitous route.

Dancing queen

Hannah Geisman has known ballet was her passion since she was 5 years old. She was surrounded by the arts and dance while growing up in New York City, Los Angeles and Colorado.

When she and the Colorado Ballet Co. found each other, she knew she wanted to be a professional dancer.

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“I could always picture myself as a professional dancer,” Hannah said.

And now she is. Hannah was accepted at Smith College and is taking what may be the best gap year ever. She auditioned and was accepted to the Colorado Ballet’s pre-professional division.

She has been with the Colorado Ballet for years and made the tough decision to leave Vail Mountain School, move to Denver to live with a host family and train six hours a day.

She weighed spending her junior and senior years of high school away from her family against the shot she’s now getting.

“It was worth it,” Hannah said. “I was excited, but it meant having to move away from Vail and my family.”

Hannah landed in Colorado Connections Academy after years at Vail Mountain School. One is not better than the other, Hannah said. They’re just different.

“Both are great options. Being in a traditional classroom can be beneficial. I was able to set my own schedule and keep to it. That’s not the case for everyone. Some people get distracted,” Hannah said. “VMS gave me the immediate teacher-student feedback.”

Math was a little trouble, even though she likes it. So was Spanish. Calculus was tough, and Colorado Connections Academy came up with a tutor who got her through.

Her mom, Jennifer, has been driving Hannah to dance classes for Hannah’s entire life, usually an hours-long round trip.

“A huge part of me was relieved that she earned this opportunity,” Jennifer said.

On the one hand, her daughter was launching early, which would be tough for any parent. Then again, it could have been worse.

“She had also auditioned for New York City,” Jennifer said. “Denver’s not far.”

The last year was basically a 12-month audition for Hannah’s Colorado Ballet Co. spot.

When her acceptance letter arrived in May, she practically danced on the ceiling, even though it meant postponing attending Smith for at least a year.

“It’s similar to becoming a professional athlete,” Hannah said.

Hannah is a professional. She’ll perform at the Ellie Caulkins opera house. “Dracula” in October, “The Nutcracker” around the holidays and “Romeo & Juliet” in the spring — the list is long and distinguished.

She reports for duty in mid-August.

Addy’s excellent adventure

Addy Stearns was looking at high schools in Denver and was leaning toward George Washington’s international baccalaureate program. Her brother went there and loved it.

She told the George Washington folks she wanted to ski race and train. They told her that would not work with their program, but they’d still like her to enroll there.

She politely said, “No thank you.”

So Stearns and her family scouted around and found Denver Online High School.

“This is a good program. It’s not like one of those places where your teachers are sitting at a computer in Texas,” Addy said. “I could walk across the hall and ask for help if I needed it.”

Her skiing career was soaring, until one day she heard her knee pop. Her life shifted directions, but not where school was concerned.

She said she thought about transferring to a traditional high school, but she liked where she was.

“They were very supportive. They wanted me to succeed, no matter what else was going on,” Stearns said.

When she was done, she was valedictorian and had enough college credits to earn her associate’s degree from Colorado Mountain College. Denver Online has a widely varied student body, from those trying to make it in the arts, to athletes, to people raising families while working two or three jobs and making school fit into their hectic lives.

She hit her graduation speech out of the park.

“We’re all in very different situations. All our paths are so different, and we all went through so many different things to get here. We all chose this path and this way to get through high school,” Stearns said.

She landed in the Vail Valley when her parents moved here for jobs. She played soccer and skied with Battle Mountain High School (Skimeister top 5), the Vail Valley Soccer Club and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail for two years.

Her next path takes her to the East Coast and Smith College, the largest of the Seven Sister schools, where she will play soccer.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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