Class of 2013: Brandi Williams looks toward career in physical therapy
WORTHINGTON -- Brandi Williams is a relative newcomer to the halls of Worthington High School and its Class of 2013.
Growing up in rural Brewster, Brandi -- the oldest of Ken and Marcy Williams' three daughters -- first attended the Brewster school system before she made the choice to pursue an alternative method of schooling.
"I actually went to Brewster through seventh grade, then for eighth grade through the first half of 10th grade, I went to Connections Academy, an online school," she explained.
According to its website, Connections Academy "provides a new form of free public school that students attend from home or another location outside a traditional classroom. This is a unique program that combines the strong parental involvement of home schooling, expertise and accountability and a flexible learning environment."
Brandi first heard about Connections Academy through some friends in Rochester. The program was facilitated through a teacher in the Twin Cities who provided online live lessons and studying assistance and checked her work.
For Brandi, this alternative form of schooling was a good fit as she was able to complete her studies on her own timeline.
"I got to do a lot of things, like help out in the field, go with my dad, do things that I love," she said. "It taught me lots of responsibility and to be independent. Math was the hardest part. I don't care for math too much. "
Eventually, however, Brandi began to crave some aspects of the traditional high school experience.
"I really wanted to be in FFA," she explained. "My dad had been in FFA, my cousins had been in FFA, and I really wanted to participate in it. Also, my sisters came to Worthington the first part of my 10th grade year. My one sister had an indoor band concert, and I decided to come to it. I really wasn't enthused, but I decided to go anyway. At that competition, I saw how well the kids got along, and I started to miss that -- being able to goof off, be with your friends. So with that, and with wanting to be in FFA and sports -- I like track -- I decided to go to Worthington High School."
Still, Brandi had some trepidation about going from a solo schooling experience to a school the size of WHS.
"I was scared to death," she admitted. "But what helped is that some kids found out I was coming here and friended me on Facebook. That was really nice, so I got to know some people that way before I started classes. And kids were really good about talking to me and making me feel welcome. For the first month or so, I was probably really quiet, nervous."
Brandi gradually began to feel more at home in the halls of WHS, and has enjoyed the 2½ years she has spent there. She has especially benefited from participation in FFA activities.
"There were parts that I wasn't expecting," she said. "I thought it was going to be a lot more strict. It is, but it isn't. It's a fun strict --not grind, grind, grind and boring. I like being able to hang out, go to the competitions. I've been doing the sales competition for three years, and I'm also in Envirothon. I've tried some other areas, but those are my two main ones. I've also been on the officers team during 11th and 12th grade. I'm now secretary."
At the moment, Brandi is gearing up for the spring track season -- another aspect of the high school experience that she missed as an online student. Last year, she ran the 4x100 meter relay, the 4x200 meter relay and the 200 meter dash and competed in the pole vault.
"It's scary at first," she said about using a pole to propel her body through the air and over a bar. "But once you get the hang of it, it's fun. We have a lot of people out this year."
Academically, Brandi has been a solid student, having made the adjustment from solo learner to classroom learner.
"In some classes, I felt ahead," she said about the transition. "But I didn't have a lot of the same classes I had before. The way of learning is totally different, but I think (Connections Academy) will help me a lot in college, because I know how to study and learn on my own."
She's already gotten one college class out of the way during her senior year --an animal science course offered for college credit through the University of Minnesota.
"Animal science was tough," she said. "But we got college credit, and I found out it transfers real nice. ... I was supposed to take college plant propagation, too, but we didn't have enough people signed up, so three of us are doing it as an independent study -- but no college credit."
Brandi's plan is to first attend Rochester Community and Technical College for two years and then transfer to Concordia College, Moorhead. That plan was largely influenced by one of her best friends, Susanna, who lives in Rochester. The girls met at a church convention about six years ago and bonded over mutual interests, including a love of horses.
"We have always wanted to go to college together," explained Brandi, "but as the time got closer, it looked like we were going to go in different directions. Then, it turned out that she was going to stay home and do online classes, so I decided to go over there."
Susanna's family has offered Brandi a place to stay while she completes her Rochester studies.
"When I go over there, we have fun riding," said Brandi, who does not have a horse of her own. "She's going to teach me how to jump, and we've done a lot of bareback riding."
That interest in horses has factored into Brandi's career aspirations.
"I'd like to study physical therapy, and I can do pre-PT at Concordia," she said. "The reason I chose PT was I heard about hippo therapy. They use horses as therapy for people with disabilities. Also, I figured people are always going to need PT, and it's a rewarding job and a lot of fun. I thought about veterinary school when I was younger, but that was harder to get into (a graduate program), so I changed my mind."
Before she heads off to college in Rochester, Brandi will spend the summer earning some money at Schafer's Health Center and Gifts in downtown Worthington. In the after-school and weekend hours she's already worked there, Brandi has picked up health information she figures will be applicable to her future career.
"You learn a lot, but there's a lot to learn," she said. "I still haven't learned everything. I'll miss it when I go off to school."
She also helps out on her uncle's produce farm during her spare time. But Brandi won't spend her entire summer working.
"I have a boyfriend over in Afghanistan, and he's coming home this summer," she said with a big smile. "His name is Cody Van Ede. He's from Wilmont. I met him through a good friend."
Van Ede is serving as a gunner in the U.S. Army transportation corps in Afghanistan. He will be stateside soon, Brandi shared, but won't be home on leave until June.
"It is tough" having a boyfriend serving overseas in one of the world's trouble spots, she shared. "But we get to Skype and talk quite a bit. We talk just about every night. It's morning for him when it's night for us, so the schedules can be hard."
Consequently, Brandi is counting down the days until two momentous occasions in her life -- reuniting with Van Ede and getting her high school diploma. She's primed to tackle new challenges outside the walls of WHS.
"It's been fun, but I'm ready to be done," she said.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.