Annapolis Student Finds Success in Gymnastics, Online Schooling


Sophia Handel, a 12th grader at George Washington University Online High School (GWUOHS), has been passionate about gymnastics since she was nine years old. The Russian-born gymnast and her teammates are ranked No. 1 in the United States, No. 2 in Europe, and No. 4 in the world for acrobatic gymnastics.

An Annapolis resident, Sophia credits her flexible school schedule at GWUOHS for allowing her the freedom to practice three hours a day, five days a week, and travel across the world while still receiving a high-quality education.

“I found that my junior and senior year at GWUOHS have been some of my best. This semester, I got the best GPA ever,” Sophia said. “All my teachers were really proud of me and my advisor is always on top of things with a weekly check-in which I find very helpful.”

Also, she says while away competing in Europe there isn’t the stress of missing classes. There are live online sessions which help teach, review, and practice for classroom tests and quizzes.

The sessions are recorded and posted each week, making it easy to catch up if anything is missed.

GWUOHS is an independent online private school that enables students to attend class anywhere there is an Internet connection. Online schools like GWUOHS are becoming increasingly popular among student-athletes, entertainers, and other students who require a more flexible schedule to accommodate their lives outside of the classroom, according school officials.

It has been a major part of the success experienced by Sophia, who was adopted as an infant from an orphanage outside Moscow, Russia. Her parents are Larry Handel, president of Campus Travel Management Inc., a specialized travel consulting and data management company; and Rita Pavloff, a former speech pathologist, now stay-at-home parent who spends quite a bit of time behind the wheel shuttling Sophia to her practices each weekday afternoon.

In a previously published report about Sophia, it was noted that many may have seen her image on posters advertising leotards and athletic clothing. She is the lead photographic model for GK Elite’s Cirque du Soleil collection, and has modeled for Alpha Factor Competitive Gymnastics Apparel. Still, her passion is gymnastics.

“My trio just went to Karolyi Training Camp, just outside of Houston, Texas. There we trained with some of the best coaches in the U.S to prepare for an upcoming Vegas trip, which determines which groups will be selected for National Team. Our biggest goal is to make Senior World Championships 2018 in Belgium,” said Sophia, who’s already been accepted to Towson University and Goucher college.

Included in the reasons Sophia and her team have earned so much success is the chemistry between them, she said.

“I would consider either Cameron, my base, or Sara, my old top, a sister. We always had great communication, we rarely fought, and we all were striving for the same goal,” Sophia said. “When I was feeling down they always pushed me to be better. There were never secrets between us even though there was an age difference of three years. We were very lucky to find each other.”

As she looks toward another world ranking in gymnastics, Sophia said others who aspire in her field should consider schools like GWUOHS and follow their hearts.

“If I have learned anything through my acrobatic gymnastics career, it is truly to follow your heart. My coach said to me ‘I can’t make you want it, you have to want it yourself.’ Those words have stuck in my head ever since,” she said. “Acrobatics is a team sport, so it is important that you all strive for the same goals. Never lose sight of what you want and never give up. If you are currently looking at GWUOHS or online schools I highly recommend giving it a try.”

“Joining K12 was one of the best decisions I ever made. It might be scary going from a public school with thousands of people to a computer screen but there are still tons of clubs you can participate in,” Sophia continued. “Also, you are encouraged to make friends and what is even cooler is that some students live overseas. Most important perhaps, you’re constantly reassured that you’re on the right path by your teachers and advisors. It is something new and worth it.”