HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: These North Carolina siblings should inspire you

By: Andrew Campanella

Last Upated: April 15, 2021

Two students in North Carolina are defying the odds to become championship swimmers. Virtual schooling is helping them – and many other children –  pursue their dreams and their happiness.


For some students, pursuing their dreams means taking a road less traveled. But if the pursuit of dreams leads to the attainment of happiness, the journey is worth it.

That is the experience of so many children who attend virtual schools in America today.

For the past two years, I have attended an annual conference planned by the National Coalition for Public School Options (PSO), an organization that represents families of children who attend online and virtual schools. These parents never cease to inspire me. (Here are just a few photos from my recent trip.)

Well, I had just returned from this year’s conference when I read a story about a brother and sister who attend the North Carolina Virtual Academy. Click here to read the story.

These students, Olivia Wilkerson (13 years old) and Evan Wilkerson (11 years old), are pursuing their dreams of becoming championship swimmers. Attending a virtual school allows them to take rigorous coursework and maintain an equally rigorous swimming practice schedule.

According to the North Carolina news website WRAL, “the siblings spend a lot of time underwater – they’re facing a week of morning and evening swim meets that occur almost daily.” When they’re not swimming, they are studying. The North Carolina Virtual Academy, which is a public school that does not charge tuition, provides needed flexibility.

By pursuing their athletic goals and their academics at the same time, the Wilkersons are following in the footsteps of some noted American athletes. For example, this past year’s winter Olympics featured a variety of online school graduate including championship figure skaters Mirai Nigasu, Karen Chen, Vincent Zhou and Nathan Chen – all of whom attended Connections Academy in California.

But the story of the Wilkerson kids has a twist. Olivia and Evan were born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis and are virtually blind. They “see the world the same way — in almost total darkness with just a bit of light.”

That has not stopped them from swimming, getting trained in CPR and rescue, attending a Space Camp for visually impaired students, or from learning at NCVA. I encourage you to read the full article here or by clicking on the video below:

To me, this story is one of courage, persistence, and yes, the pursuit of happiness. During a time when school choice foes (and even a fair share of friends) use virtual schools as virtual punching bags, I encourage everyone to take a step back and remember the real people whose lives change when new opportunities are made available.

My Challenge: I challenge you to think of something you didn’t think you could do – but, because of the education options available to you, you made it happen. Tweet about it, or put something on Facebook about it, using the hashtags #SchoolChoice and #HighlightingHappiness

Read more about how virtual schools are helping students pursue their dreams and happiness. Click here to read my Five Questions for Tillie Elvrum, president of the National Coalition for Public School Options (PSO)

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