Not long after Janet Sisson became the Director of Learning and Academics for the Northern Cyclones Junior Hockey Academy almost three years ago—a unique role created for her by Cyclones co-owner Bill Flanagan—she and Bill got a visit from Joseph O’Leary.
“Joe came to see us, and he was super impressed with our organization because we were providing a structured space for our students to do schoolwork with supervision,” says Janet, who taught high school science for almost 20 years before joining the Cyclones staff. “We had desks and chairs set up in a building near the rink and had set times each day for school. When Joe walked in, the students were on their laptops—as a team—all working on their own assignments.”
Joe is the Head of Academic Advising for Apex Learning Virtual School, and he agrees with Janet about his first impression of the Cyclones’ approach to education when he visited the Cyclones Arena in New Hampshire.
“The on-site learning program was incredibly well run, and I immediately understood the commitment the Northern Cyclones had to supporting its student athletes academically,” he says.
What began as the Flanagan Hockey School in the early 1990s became the Northern Cyclones 18 years ago with one team of mostly junior-level players. The majority of the players were high school graduates, and the few who were still in high school were local kids.
Janet says as the Northern Cyclones expanded to include younger players and maximize the use of two ice rinks at the Cyclones Arena, the organization started recruiting players from outside the area. Initially, Janet was hired by the Cyclones as a tutor. But Bill Flanagan, who owns the team with his brother Joe, quickly saw that Janet could provide even more support to student athletes on the team and invited her to direct the education side of the program.
“Education has always been paramount to the Flanagans as they grew the Cyclones,” says Janet of brothers Bill and Joe and their daughters Kali and Baye. “They all played hockey in college, but also wanted to be well prepared to not have a hockey career. Professional hockey has become a very competitive field, and they want their student athletes to be prepared for life beyond hockey.”
The Northern Cyclones is now a robust organization with five teams and almost 100 players, and Janet is committed to their philosophy of college and career readiness.
“Some of these players will go on to play hockey in college, Europe, or Canada, or become coaches themselves,” says Janet. “But many of them won’t. Setting them up for college and the work world with a good GPA is important to us. And we started asking who could help us do that? Joe from Apex wanted the opportunity to help us.”
This past season, 15 players from the Northern Cyclones attended Apex Learning Virtual School, and Janet says ALVS is her top recommendation to parents for a private online high school. Her number one reason is the flexibility ALVS offers to both student athletes and educators.
“They have partnered with me and given me a dashboard I can use 24/7,” says Janet. “I can’t do that with most other online programs. Many of our players are having this whole new experience away from home, and I’m a teacher and a mom figure. I do my best to track their progress and hold them accountable.”
The veteran science teacher says she loves it when an ALVS student who’s doing a wet lab at the academy draws a crowd of other players who say, “Wow, that’s cool!” She says although 2020 was an “outlier year,” a silver lining is that parents have an increased understanding of the difference between ‘online school’ and ‘virtual school.’
“The ALVS curriculum is diverse and challenging—and never easier than a traditional brick-and-mortar school,” says Janet. “There is a wide range of AP, Honors, and elective courses. Their teachers are professional and responsive. Also, a lot of our families are balancing the costs of ice time, room and board, and education, and ALVS offers financial options to help students attend a private online high school.”
“I do my best to empower families so they can make the best choice for their hockey player,” says Janet. “These kids travel a lot, just like kids who play baseball or are in theater arts. They may leave the academy at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday and not get back until midnight on Sunday. With ALVS, that’s OK.”
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.