April 6, 2012
Erika Van Dyke is a senior co-captain on the UC Davis women's gymnastics team and has excelled both on and off the competition floor. She received All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honors from 2009-11 and shares the program's record on the balance beam. But her academics are also strong and homeschooling helped in their foundation. Like Aggie men's basketball player Paolo Mancasola who was featured last week, Van Dyke credits homeschooling for much of her success.
By Sean Maraz
Athletics Communications Intern
It's 4 o'clock on a Monday in mid-February 2012. Erika Van Dyke finally gets to relax a bit after her extensive day. She sits amongst her fellow gymnasts after a practice, reflecting on her day.
There was the early morning study session for her psychology midterm, then the midterm itself. Then there was lunch with her teammates, an upper division biology classand, finally, her gymnastics practice.
This may sound like a typical day for a UC Davis student-athlete but prior to her time at UC Davis, Erika's day was much different than your average teenage student-athlete.
Rewind seven years. It's 4 o'clock and Erika finally relaxes with her family. She sits reflecting on her day.
There was the early morning gymnastics practice that had lasted several hours, then the hours she had used to learn English literature with her main teacher - her mother - and then it was off to the charter school. At the charter school she had two difficult classes: trigonometry and physics. Then it was back home for some more English grammar lessons with her mom. Finally, she attended her afternoon club gymnastics practice.
Erika Van Dyke is a senior student-athlete and 2012 co-captain of the UC Davis gymnastics team. Her story at UC Davis is one of pure success. As a gymnast she has received All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honors three years in a row. In 2010, Erika was the MPSF champion on balance beam and tied the UC Davis school record of 9.90.
Additionally, her academics at UC Davis have been close to flawless. She earned All-Academic honors from NACGC/W from 2009 through 2011, and earned All-Academic honors from MPSF from 2010 through 2011. Currently, Erika carries a 3.98 GPA as a psychology major with an emphasis in biology.
Before her immense success at UC Davis, Erika took a different path than most. Since the sixth grade, Erika was homeschooled. The decision to be homeschooled was based mostly on athletic grounds. Being homeschooled would allow her to focus on gymnastics and successfully avoid the substantial time constraints that regular schooling demanded.
"It helped with flexibility," she said. "It gave me a lot of flexibility to allow for extensive practice time and competitions - and to get some sleep."
However, while the decision was based on athletic factors, education did not take a back seat. Erika's mother, who was a substitute teacher at local schools, became her teacher and facilitated much of Erika's learning.
"There was an emphasis on gymnastics, which helped me focus on athletics," Erika said. "But it still allowed me to maintain that high level of academics. My mom became my teacher and started helping me in the sixth grade."
Erika's mother was her only teacher through eighth grade. After eighth grade, and until she entered UC Davis, Erika pursued a combination of homeschooling and classes at Forest Charter School, located in Truckee, Calif. Erika would take classes two days a week at Forestand focus on other studies at home.
"I went to the charter school for math and science courses because they were advanced classes," she said. "My mom wanted to make sure I had a strong foundation in those topics. My mom felt more comfortable teaching me English and social studies so I took those at home and studied independently."
During her time at Forest, Erika completed multiple math and science courses includinggeometry, algebra 2, pre-calculus, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics. Because Erika only took two days of classes a week at Forest, she was given work to complete at home.
"I was given take-home assignments in the interim," she said. "For instance, they would give me work on Wednesday that would be due the following Monday."
This education system allowed her time in the day to study, to work on gymnastics, and to have some down time.
"I would practice in the morning, have a section in the afternoon where I would do school and then have another short practice and be done with both at 4 o'clock or 5 in the afternoonso I could go home, have that down time, spend time with family.I felt like it was a great way to balance both of them early on."
To make sure Erika was progressing appropriately, she was given tests both at Forest and at home. "At the charter school, the teacher would create the test and I would have regular tests just like in public schools," she said. "For math and science, having the tests was really critical to me for getting the foundation in those subjects, because they're so fundamental to go on to upper division classes at UC Davis.
"At home, my mom would create tests, or used tests that were in the teacher's manual," she added "I would take a test based on the content of the subject that I had been studying at home."
In addition, on a monthly basis, Forest would send an educational specialist to meet with Erika to check through her work and to make sure she was meeting the standards and meeting her educational goals.
During her senior year, Erika and her family moved to Sacramento. To finish her education, Erika took classes at home with material from South Sutter Charter School. Erika also took calculus at Sacramento City College.
"Taking calculus at Sacramento City College was great," she said. "My experience at Sac City College allowed me to get college experience prior to coming to Davis, which helped the transition. It gave me good classroom experience.
Erika explained that the transition to UC Davis was an easy process, both academically and athletically. "The process of getting into Davis went very smoothly. I planned and took the SATs around gymnastics competitionsand the charter school sent my transcripts to UC Davis."
Erika's gymnastics talents were top0-notch and enabled her recruiting process to also go smoothly. "My gymnastics coaches sent my tape to many schools and UC Davis visited me on several occasions to check up on my athletic and academic progress," she said. "They got to see what my routines were like and follow my progress through my competitions."
Coaches didn't have trouble persuading Erika to come to UC Davis because, "Right away, when I stepped foot on campus, I knew I would come to Davis. It felt like such a good match."
Soon, Erika was a full-time UC Davis student-athlete, leaving behind her homeschooled days and becoming a part of a more team-centered gymnastics team. She elaborates, "In club, there was the team component but it was also very individualized, very focused on what you as an individual had to accomplish throughout the season. College-level gymnastics is very much a team effort.
In addition to college-level gymnastics having a higher team-dynamic than club gymnastics, it also brings about a greater connection among her teammates.
"Club was a unique experience, in that people were coming from all different areas. I feel a much bigger connection now then I did. I think the biggest part of it is the whole college experience of gymnastics," she said. "The team aspect, having classes together with my teammates, and all of us going through the same process, brings us much closer."
Erika took a different path than most in her early life. She was homeschooled by her mother since the sixth grade, took math and science at two different charter schools and one community college. While some may look at her educational path as different, or strange, the reality is that it worked perfectly for her.
That path brought her to UC Davis, where she is the co-captain of the gymnastics team, a recipient of numerous athletic and academic honors, and carries 3.98 GPA. Erika Van Dyke defines excellence in a UC Davis student-athlete.