Eighteen-year-old Josh Kalfus hasn’t logged a normal day at Colchester High School since he was a freshman.
He traveled to Laker Lane periodically as a sophomore for physical education and chemistry classes — the latter because his mother didn’t want him conducting experiments in the house — but spent most of his time in a virtual classroom.
And by the start of the 2017-18 school year, he’d said goodbye to the building altogether: Kalfus was one of a select few chosen to join the Boston Ballet School’s pre-professional men’s program after an intense audition process last April.
Now considered a CHS senior, he takes online classes through the Community College of Vermont in between rigorous rehearsals and is on track to graduate with his high school diploma in June with a few college credits to boot.
“I know so many people who wish they had the opportunity to pursue whatever their [passion] was,” Kalfus said. “I really am happy CHS allowed me to do this in addition to completing my high school education.”
Kalfus began dancing as a young boy but didn’t get serious about the art form until grade 8. He bumped up his training regimen soon thereafter, signing up for a full slate of classes at the Vermont Ballet Theater School.
After participating in a few summer intensive programs across the country, Kalfus was convinced he wanted to devote even more time to ballet — and knew he would have to seek out-of-state training in his juvenile years to have a shot a professional career.
Still, he wasn’t willing to abandon his academic efforts. Many of his dance peers had to drop out of their public high school to manage the demands, he said.
“I was mainly nervous about what I would do in terms of graduation,” Kalfus said. “I wanted to have the option to go to college or finish dancing.”
Kalfus’ pursuit of dance may be unique among the Colchester student body, but more and more local kids are choosing alternate paths to graduation, CHS counselor Bob Hall said.
“There is the occasional student who just has a different thing in mind,” Hall said. “They just have another plan.”
Kalfus is one of eight CHS students enrolled in an early college program this year, according to Hall. He said interest in that option, along with offerings like virtual high school or technical school, has blown up in recent years.
That’s partially thanks to Act 77, a “flexible pathways initiative” that encourages school districts to expand programs that acknowledge “individual goals, learning styles and abilities,” according to the Vermont Agency of Education website.
One Colchester student recently apprenticed as a plumber during his senior year, Hall said. Another took half-days of classes and spent afternoons working with the fire and rescue departments in town, eventually going on to study fire science in college.
Hall said these alternative paths to graduation better meet the needs of kids who don’t fit in to the typical academic mold. They also require the student and the school to communicate clearly and work together to craft a plan amenable to both parties.
“School can be something that just happens to you, or you can take control of your learning,” Hall said. “For us, that’s the important message we’re trying to drive home to students.”
The out-of-the-box concepts associated with flexible pathways can be applied to almost every student, Hall said, even if they choose to remain in the high school building full-time for all four years.
A new CHS program called the Laker Learning Lab allows students to create a for-credit course that aligns with their interests with the guidance of a faculty adviser. This year, kids have chosen to learn Korean, become Google Analytics certified and to write a novel, staff told the Sun in November.
“There’s no question that for the vast majority of students, the conveyor belt is the right pathway,” Hall said. “That’s fine, but even if you’re riding the conveyor belt you should be in charge of it.”
In fact, Kalfus is now especially grateful he kept up with schoolwork. He was recently accepted into a six-year doctorate program at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and plans to start full-time classes in the fall.
Thanks to his chosen college’s geographic location, he hopes he’ll still be able to take some classes at the Boston Ballet.
“I kind of left both options on the table,” Kalfus said. “I tried to excel at both.”