PLANT CITY — Madison Opfer, a local athlete known for her golfing prowess, remains a focused, determined young woman.
She also has an interesting perspective on learning, especially after her freshman year at Tulane, where she plays golf — extremely well — for the Green Wave.
It becomes more interesting because in 2012 Opfer graduated from the Florida Virtual School.
This meant the previous four years she did her school work mostly in front of a computer through online classes, waking up around 8 a.m. and cranking for four or five hours on calculus, English, history and so forth.
Yes, she had Virtual teachers with whom she often talked on the phone, but for a great deal of it, she said, “I had to teach myself.”
“Calculus, for instance, is a tough without a teacher right there,” Opfer said. “I think I called my teacher every day for calculus. A lot of times it’s you and the textbook and you just have to work it out. You and the textbook.”
Don’t get her wrong. She’s not whining. She’s simply talking about her experience. Who knows, maybe some of the 150,000 students enrolled in the Florida Virtual School might benefit from Opfer’s thoughts.
Here’s a few more: “I got so used to the (Florida Virtual School) that I was ready to be done with it (by senior year). I was ready to go to a classroom. I was ready to just to be around a bunch of people and interact with students and teachers.”
For Opfer, high school involved a lot of alone time. That’s because after she was done with school work, she’d head to the golf course for hours of practice, which was a big reason she chose the Florida Virtual School in the first place.
“You can make your own schedule with Virtual School,” said Opfer, who managed her time so well that she was pretty much done with her high school senior curriculum before her final spring semester. But this fact, she said, got her out of practice — not with golf but with school.
“The first two months of my freshman year at Tulane were hectic and I struggled (with school work),” said Opfer, who in the fall semester found it tough to juggle being off at tournaments for almost a combined month (Four tournaments, four days apiece). “I had to learn to manage my time better.”
Tough to do. Her days often involved waking at 5:30 a.m. for physical training, going to class from 8 a.m. to noon, heading immediately to golf practice until 5 p.m., eating something, studying for a few hours and then every so often attending meetings for student athletes.
And that was a regular day. Not a tournament week.
But in the end, she persevered.
“And I’m stronger for it,” she said.
Now she’s looking forward to her sophomore year where she hopes to improve on her already solid 18-hole stroke average of 74.64 (perhaps with a little better putting), and her adaptation to college life in general.
“I’ve heard that once you get past the learning experiences of your freshman year then things feel easier,” Opfer said. “I can’t wait because I do love college. I like racing to class and the feel of the campus.
“Sometimes I hear other students who are not athletes talking about how they stayed out all night and I think ‘Well that’s not what I’m doing.’ But I get enough socializing in and I’m good with that.”
As for the preparation that the Florida Virtual School provided, Opfer said it was just fine, but if she had to do it over again, she might have mixed in Virtual School with some regular classes at Durant High, for which she played a few tournaments as a perk to the Virtual School curriculum.
“Having a few regular high school classes is the only way it would have been better,” Opfer said. “But overall, I’m happy with the way everything has turned out.
“It’s worked pretty well for me.”