Student Stories

CVA is a unique opportunity for many students of Washington State. At CVA we feel uniquely lucky to serve so many incredible students as well. We'd love to introduce you to a few...

Sally - Age 15SALLY 

Sally was born in a small village in Northern Guyana. At a young age, she was kidnapped and forced into slavery to work in the vegetable fields. She ran away and was adopted by Americans who moved to Yakima. When she was 10-years-old, Sally attended school for the first time.

She enrolled in the Columbia Virtual Academy (CVA) because her parents decided that the brick & mortar school couldn’t meet her unique educational needs. At CVA, she was able to customize her curriculum. Sally admits that she still struggles with math but loves her classes nonetheless.







Sam was diagnosed with "severe learning delays" when he was two years old. 

At 3, his mom, Joann, discovered that he was severely lactose intolerant and it affected his ability to learn. By the time he was 4, Samuel no longer needed an IEP.  

After that, he flew through two to three years of math each school year. This last October, Samuel received an academic achievement award from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth for his near perfect scores on the SCAT, an above grade-level test that’s given to gifted 2nd-8th graders.

Not only was Samuel a year younger than the other third graders who took the test, but the proctor forgot to give him a pencil and scratch paper for the test. Samuel did all the math in his head.

“As far as a regular brick and mortar school, I know, without a doubt, that neither of my kids would be happy or well served there,” said JoAnne, “Neither can tolerate repetition or busy work, which is common in traditional curricula. And finally, neither would receive the level of instruction that they require; I have yet to hear of an elementary school that offers middle school and high school course work to 8 and 10-year-olds. But CVA does this through their customizable program.”


Hannah RunningHannah Cunliffe

Hannah Cunliffe spends her time as most ninth graders do—shopping, talking with friends on the phone and hanging out with her sisters—but don’t let that fool you. Last summer at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) 2010 Outdoor Season, which is a sneak preview of who might make it to the Olympics in 2012, she was ranked as the fastest 14-year-old in the US in the 100 and 200 meter dash. If that wasn’t enough, she also disintegrated the AAU National Record for youth girls division that has stood since 1980 by 1.3 seconds. “Although it was my goal to break the national record in the 100m last summer,” said Hannah, now 15. “I was very surprised that I did and thankful that God blessed my hard work.”

Hannah has come by her talents naturally, and each of the eleven members in her family are involved in some form of athletics, ranging from ballet to basketball. Her father, Mike, was an All-American in track & field. Her mother, Michele, was a “highly skilled” body surfer, skier and “an average” gymnast. The Cunliffe family lives down the street from Redondo Beach in Federal Way, Washington, where they stage sports related outings nearly every weekend. “My home on meet days is a zoo,” said Michele, “and it looks like one!”   

Like most exceptional athletes, Hannah’s regimen on meet days is mostly about food and sleep—eight hours and plenty of water and protein—and years of dedication and hard work. “She has a very specific routine that she likes,” said Michele. “She does not like to be late.” On days where Hannah feels rushed, or doesn’t get to warm-up the way she wants, she runs a “bad race.” As part of her warm-up routine, she needs to talk to someone, usually a family member.  

The family travels three times a year to track meets all over the country. Last summer Hannah was invited to the Swiss National Championship where she competed in their Under20 division. Hannah competed against Kambunji Mujinga—the 18 ½-year-old Swiss National Champion who’s ranked ninth in the world in the 100 meter dash and thirteenth in the 200 meter dash. Hannah came in second in the 100 meter dash (11.70 Mujinga, 11.72 Cunliffe). Hannah won the 200 meter dash (24.00 Cunliffe, 24.13 Mujinga). To put this in perspective, Hannah’s time of 24 seconds would have tied her for the Olympic gold medal in 1960. “Now Hannah is getting multiple invitations to travel around the US and world,” says her dad, Mike.

With the exception of the two oldest who attend college and the youngest, the Cunliffe children are all CVA students. Michele appreciates “the ability to have flexibility at home and not sacrifice the quality of their education.” Hannah’s CVA Teacher, Eldon Palmer said, “Not only does Hannah challenge herself on the track, she also challenges herself academically.” Through CVA, the Cunliffe family makes excellent use of their local community based instructors (CBI’s) to help their children reach their full potential. “All children have dreams to be great, and it is a parent’s job to fulfill this attribute in their children,” said Michele. “This is what CVA has allowed our family to do regarding their extra-curricular activities.”

Hannah’s best time of 11.72 is only 0.59 seconds away from the 2008 Olympic team A Standard of 11.13, which would guarantee her a spot on the US Olympic Team. Hannah’s best time in the 100 meter dash is 1.18 seconds away from the world record.  

And she’s only getting faster.


HannahHannah McConnaughey

Columbia Virtual Academy student, Hannah McConnaughey, won Children’s Literature/Young Adult category of the Whidbey Island Writers Association’s (WIWA) annual Spirit of Writing Contest for a chapter of her novel “A.G.E.N.T.S.” Despite being only thirteen years old, Hannah was encouraged to enter her work into a contest meant for adults (ages 18 and older) by her CVA teacher, T.O. Bakken. T.O. felt that Hannah’s writing was too advanced for a normal middle school student and suggested the contest to compete with “adults.” 

“We didn’t think she would win anything,” said Hannah’s mother, Ashley. The morning Hannah found out she had won the contest, her mother called the Spirit of Writing Coordinator, Dot Read, “in a panic.” The grand prize for winning was a full-ride scholarship to the WIWA writer’s conference, which is a three day workshop. Dot admitted that Hannah wouldn’t be eligible for the prize because she’s too young to attend, “There is no way we’re going to take Hannah’s first prize away. She is a very unusual young woman—truly a prodigy,” she said. “We strongly encourage Hannah to apply for a ‘student’ scholarship to the conference.”    

“I want to thank my amazing CVA advisors, Jon Heflick and especially T.O. Bakken, who have been so supportive of me and my writing,” said Hannah. “I hope that I can encourage other middle school and high school authors to go for it, and submit their writing to competitions.”

Hannah’s name will appear on posters announcing the contest winners at local libraries on Whidbey Island. Her writing will be published in “The Spirit of Writing 2011” booklet. In January, she will also participate in a public reading series at various Sno-Isle Libraries where she will read a chapter of “A.G.E.N.T.S.” Hannah plans to have the book finished sometime next year for publication.

Congratulations Hannah! This is a truly amazing accomplishment!