JD is a Catalyst “distance learner” because of  environmental sensitivities that have been a challenge for him for much of his life. He meets with a Catalyst teacher off-campus and earned perfect scores on his ACT and SAT math and critical reading tests. He is concurrently taking classes at the Colorado School of Mines, where he has been granted early admission. He plans to major in physics. He is an outstanding student and has creatively dealt with his challenges with the help of a flexible schedule at Catalyst and his enthusiasm for learning.

What do you like about distance learning?
The flexibility. I can go at my own pace. I can learn things I wouldn’t ordinarily learn in high school. For example, I’ve studied quantum mechanics. I do the work I need to learn more efficiently, without the busy work.  I’m doing distance learning because it’s what I could do, not by choice. I would, given the option, take my classes in a classroom at Catalyst.

How have you made it work for you?
I take some classes at Colorado School of Mines and some at Catalyst. For the Catalyst classes, I meet weekly with my teacher and communicate regularly by email and by phone. Homework works exactly like it does in regular high school, but my teachers are only present during some of my class hours. The rest, I study the topic by myself.

Any advice for a student who wants to try distance learning?
Distance learning is very individualized, and you’ll have to make it work for you. With that said, aggressive time management is an absolute must. Distance learning is inherently unstructured, and you’ll need to find a way to motivate yourself, and then get yourself to actually do the work. If you’re having trouble, get parents, teachers, whoever involved immediately.

What’s the most challenging thing about distance learning?
The isolation. Even aside from the lack of human contact, it can make you think all kinds of things that aren’t true, “I’m not good enough” being particularly persistent.

How have the Mines classes gone?
It’s been excellent. I like the university-level courses, which are more challenging and in-depth than high-school classes. I can take classes that aren’t offered in high school — differential equations, for example. University classes, obviously, are good preparation for university. It’s also a way to dip a toe into university social life, so to speak.

What’s your favorite subject?
My favorite subject is unquestionably physics, specifically particle physics and quantum mechanics.

What makes a good teacher?
There’s something about not teaching to the course and inspiring you to learn things for yourself. Being open to questions, even if they aren’t strictly about the course material. Being willing to listen to students. Accepting differences.

What do you like to do outside of school?
I read voraciously. I particularly enjoy science fiction and literature. I’m learning to ski. I write fiction. I’m working on a novel.

What’s your favorite book?
It’s a toss-up between Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu.”

Do you plan to continue at Mines?

Yes, I do. The people there have been wonderful.

What’s your dream job?
I’d like to be a particle physicist at CERN, with just enough time on the side to write a novel.