Stephanie Dolan, The Flyer Group
BROWNSBURG — A terminal illness is a lot for anyone to deal with, and especially so when you’re only 16.
Andrew Rusk of Brownsburg has been struggling with mitochondrial myopathy — a form of muscular dystrophy — for all of his young life. The disease makes many aspects of Rusk’s life difficult, not the least of which is his education.
“Andrew was unable to excel in his traditional brick and mortar school, and a high school diploma seemed unattainable,” Dylan Martinez of the Pinkston Group said. “Andrew’s parents tried everything to get him on track academically — half-days, skyping into classes, homeschool — but nothing seemed to give Andrew the kind of educational environment he needs.”
“Hoosier Academy is a K-12 Inc. powered online public charter school,” Martinez said. “Since Hoosier is entirely online, Andrew is able to complete his schoolwork anywhere with an internet connection and at any time of day. This flexibility enables Andrew to complete his work around his appointments and fatigue without falling behind, something that is not possible at a traditional school.”
Rusk said the school is a perfect fit for him.
“The interaction I had with other students [during past attempts with other schools] was very limited,” he said. “With the exception of some of my teachers who came to my house, communication with school staff was hard. It was difficult to help them to understand what I needed so that I could be successful.”
Rusk says Hoosier Academy meets all of his needs.
“The students can talk in class just like we’re in a traditional classroom,” he said. “There are even some kids who get in trouble for talking too much. They also have clubs and social outings, if students are interested.”
Martinez said Rusk is also a member of the University of Indianapolis men’s golf team through a program called Team Impact.
“It’s a program that links children with terminal illnesses to a college team so they can experience all the aspects of the sport,” she explained.
Rusk says he loves the UIndy golf team.
“What a great group of guys to have as friends,” he said. “I just went to my first golf tournament this week. I had a great time but I wanted to cheer for my team and I guess that is frowned on in golf.”
Being a part of the team, he said, is important to him because he’s “just one of the guys.”
“No one is focused on my illness or what I can’t do,” he said. “It’s an unconditional friendship.”
Hoosier Academy is a public charter school authorized by Ball State University. The institution offers a blend of online learning and face-to-face instruction, allowing flexibility and options for each student and their family.
Currently enrolling kindergarten through 11th grade, Hoosier Academy offers both an onsite as well as a virtual school. The program is tuition-free, accredited, and employs teachers certified by the state. Remedial programs are available, as are enrichment opportunities such as science fairs and poetry contests.
“I haven’t been in onsite classes since I was in first grade,” Rusk said. “I’ve been homebound and tried skyping into some classes. It was very hard being the only one attending class like that. Everyone wanted it to work, but it was very hard on me.”
Due to his medical condition, Rusk will not earn his diploma until he is 22.
Symptoms for mitochondrial myopathy can include strokes, hearing loss, weight loss, varying degrees of dementia, epilepsy and cardiac defects.
“I can only take three classes at a time without being physically exhausted,” Rusk said. “It may take me longer, but I am going to do it.”
Follow Hendricks County Flyer Reporter Stephanie Dolan on Twitter @StephanieDolan.