Alexander “Xander” Babich was three years old when he caught sight of the ice rink adjacent to the pool where he was taking swimming lessons.
“He immediately said, ‘I want to do that,’” said Stacy Babich, Xander’s mom. “And here we are, 15 years later, and he’s staying with another family in another state so he can play hockey. It went by really fast,” she says with a laugh.
Unlike a lot of junior hockey players, Xander didn’t come from a hockey family. “We’re more of a football family,” said Xander, who grew up in Northern Chicago where the Babich family lives. But their enthusiastic support of Xander’s journey as a student athlete on the ice is very apparent.
This past summer, Xander was invited to play center with the South Shore Kings, a National Collegiate Development Team (NCDC) in Wrenthan, Massachusetts. He would be the youngest player on the team (and the only one still in high school), and the invitation provided him with an incredible opportunity to advance his hockey career within the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL).
The sticking point was that Xander, who was a high school senior, needed the flexibility to attend school remotely so he could head to Massachusetts before he graduated.
“Although he needed only one class, the school couldn’t adjust his schedule at all,” said Stacy. “Before the pandemic, the only accommodation we received was a lunch period at the end of the day that allowed Xander to leave school a little early for practices in Downtown Chicago. Then, with the pandemic, the school was working so hard to support all of the students, and they just couldn’t make the accommodation we needed to get Xander to the east coast.”
Fortunately, Stacy was encouraged by a friend who is also a hockey parent and a Chicago Public School (CPS) teacher, to contact Apex Learning Virtual School (ALVS) in time to switch from in-person school to virtual school.
“Apex already had a partnership with CPS, and they were so understanding and accommodating,” said Stacy. “ALVS even made sure Xander had all the NCAA-approved credits he needed.”
Xander needed only English 12 to graduate, but as Stacy and Xander worked with the ALVS team to get him enrolled in virtual school, they discovered that the university he will attend also wanted him to have a Pre-calculus credit.
“Another thing I really like about ALVS is the Honors courses they provide,” said Stacy. “He was able to continue that Honors path even though he wasn’t in a regular school setting. We were able to get the Precalculus Honors course on his schedule in addition to the English Honors course. It’s one less thing he has to worry about.”
Xander has a lot to celebrate these days. He just graduated from ALVS and celebrated his 18th birthday. He will be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the first technological research university in the U.S., to earn his degree while playing Division I hockey.
While many high school sports were sidelined or dramatically delayed in 2020, junior hockey organizations managed to get an entire season in, and Xander’s team is preparing for playoffs. He’s also looking forward to getting back to Chicago for the summer.
“It’s cool that we play at Foxboro Stadium. It’s a lot more open here in Massachusetts, with more trees, but I do miss the city life,” says Xander, who keeps up with his friends in Chicago via FaceTime.
What is Xander’s advice for other virtual school students?
“Get it done so you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” says Xander. “Never settle on doing just one assignment. The work can be done more quickly than when you’re in a traditional school. Sports take up a lot of time, and doing the work consistently reduces stress.”
Stacy says enrolling Xander in virtual school helped solve an immediate problem for her student athlete, but it had other benefits as well.
“I liked the program because it gave Alexander a lot of independence,” she says. “It helped him grow as a person and be accountable with his work. Our children need to have opportunities to reach a little bit. And even though he was working on his own, I still had my eye on it using the parent portal. Someone always got back to me if I had a question, and it was a great experience all the way around.”