When he was a high school freshman, hockey player, Salvatore “Sal” Bullaro from Elgin, Illinois, began opting out of study hall periods and filling them with courses for credit because he knew he wanted to graduate early. A few weeks ago, at 17 years old, Sal did just that. Although he needed only one class to graduate, Sal ended up taking three courses—including two that were NCAA-approved—after enrolling in Apex Learning Virtual School (ALVS) for his senior year. “I had a pretty good gauge on my NCAA requirements throughout high school, but after talking with Joe I decided to get two more NCAA courses in before graduation,” says Sal about working with Joseph O’Leary, the Head of Academic Advising for ALVS. Sal Bullaro in Concord, Massachusetts, in 2020. A friend of Sal’s recommended ALVS to him last summer when Sal was invited to play the 2020-21 season with the Islanders Hockey Club in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts. “I did some research and it seemed like the best virtual school option,” says Sal, who just wrapped up a successful hockey season with the Islanders. “The best part of attending ALVS was being able to do the work on my own time. It was getting harder to juggle hockey and classes during traditional school day hours even before I went to Massachusetts.” “It’s definitely geared so you can do it on your own,” says Sal of the ALVS platform. “Everything’s right there for you.” Sal felt well prepared for attending a virtual school after his school district shifted to online learning last spring because of the pandemic, and his favorite time to do schoolwork after he enrolled with ALVS was 8:30 p.m. “He had good foresight in the way he navigated his courses during high school,” says Sal’s mom Lauren. “Then he started with ALVS in November and knocked his senior year out in just over three months. The transition was pretty seamless, and I liked the color-coded weekly progress reports we received. I was able to see if Sal was ‘in the green or yellow’ and talk with him about it. The reports provided peace of mind.” Sal grew up watching his dad play in a master’s hockey league and began playing when he was nine-years-old, which Sal and Lauren both say is “kind of late” for the sport. Although Sal struggled with Learn To Skate (LTS) programs early on, he says wryly that he “eventually learned to skate.” As he progressed through local and regional youth hockey programs in Illinois, Sal’s family was increasingly on the road and managing a lot of logistics, including school, but Lauren says it was worth it. “Like any sport, hockey teaches kids how to persevere, be resilient, work together as a team, follow the leadership from coaches, and ask questions,” says Lauren. “It’s fun to see their passion—whether it’s frustration or happiness—play out.” In the junior hockey world, “billet families” provide long-term host housing and support to young players who get invited to play for teams far from home, and Lauren and Sal are very grateful to their billet family in Massachusetts who hosted Sal while he finished his senior year and played with the Islanders. “I got super lucky with my billet family,” says Sal, who’s back home in Elgin now. “With Sal 1,200 miles away, it was fun to watch him problem solve on his own and mature into a young man,” says Lauren. “He had to figure things out on his own, even while calling me for advice. Every day was a journey, but he figured it out, and his siblings prayed for him and sent him pictures to stay connected.” Sal is gearing up for camps and team tryouts that begin this spring. Although Sal has been accepted to Denver University—he wrote the college application essay on the bus while he was attending the US Premier Hockey League (USPHL) Hub City tournament in Florida last year—he is planning to defer college so he can play one more year of junior hockey. “It was a unique experience moving away during a pandemic,” says Sal, who is hoping to get a part-time job assisting former coaches with their local teams. “I’m looking forward to seeing my cousins, who also play hockey, catch up on sleep, and doing some boating and fishing.” With Sal back home for now, Lauren says the opportunity he had to attend a virtual high school helped make all the logistics of last year less daunting for her as a parent. “We appreciate everything Apex did for us.” ALVS partners with school districts, sports programs, coaches, school counselors, and organizations including the NAHL, NAPHL, and NCAA to ensure academic success for busy student-athletes. For students who dream of participating in a sport while earning their college degree, ALVS provides transcript reviews to make sure they are meeting NCAA eligibility standards. Learn more about how ALVS helps thousands of high school athletes each year.