College Preparation in the Homeschool Setting
ST. EMMELIA WEST CONFERENCE, APRIL 2018
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Interviewer: So, you’re from Texas and the Texas laws are a little bit different than California laws, but did you homeschool through some kind of government program or just independently?
J: We homeschooled independently of government programs. But we did participate in some outside activities, for example, we did Classical Conversations for a year or two, and we also participated in speech and debate for highschoolers.
Interviewer: What was your main thinking about preparing for college? When did you start that process?
J: I think my husband and I wanted our kids to acquire some kind of skill, but it didn’t matter to us if they were going to a 4-year university or college or if they were going to beauty school. We just wanted them to acquire some kind of skill to be able to pursue.
Interviewer: And what was your thinking behind that?
J: I don’t think everybody’s cut out for college. I know, for sure, my 14-year-old isn't – no way! When he’s at home, he can’t see himself in a big classroom. He fixes things and tinkers and stuff so I think he would be better off going to mechanic school or something like that. I think they need to figure out where their gifts and their talents are and then develop them accordingly. My oldest son is a writer, so he graduated college with a journalism degree because his thinking was, “I’m not going to school for English.” So, the funny thing is that his degree is in journalism but he works in IT. [Information Technology]. So even if they do go to school for one thing it may not pan out.
Interviewer: So did you have some kind of formal college preparation plan for them?
Interviewer: So what did it look like in the jump from high school to college?
J: It was stressful at first because we didn’t know what the requirements were. My two oldest are two years apart so they competed against each other. She went to junior college while he went straight into university at 17. That wasn’t my idea. When we were registering my daughter for junior college, I asked, "What are the requirements for enrollment?" The registrar said, "Whatever your high school requires for her to graduate." I said, "So, if underwater basket-weaving and Greek were requirements for her to finish high school, she would need to have taken those to apply here?!" And they said “yeah.” So, I said “Okay, that’s what she had then!”
My husband and I are last-minute-fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type individuals so we didn't develop a 4-year high school plan for our kids. By the time they were 14 or 15-years-old they mostly developed their own interests. So, when it was time for them to go to college, we sat down with them, and we said to my son, “Alright, what did you do in the last 4 years?” He said, “Well, I read several Dostoevsky books” – okay, Russian literature. And my kids were studying Greek – okay, foreign language, 4 years. And we just made up their transcript at the end of their high school career. For the grades, we’d ask them, "How do you think you did?" “Ehh, I think I got a B.” “Okay - B”
But then, when they went into college, my daughter – who’s graduating next month – has averaged a 4.0 or 3.89 depending on her semester. My son graduated— he’s more of a student like I am, but he still got 3.0. And I have another daughter that’s going to graduate in December with two degrees. One of her degrees is in Spanish and she never took Spanish before college. At home we studied Greek because we were in a Greek parish, but she liked Spanish because my husband’s Hispanic, so after she got into college she decided to get a degree in Spanish, without prior preparation. So, for my kids, if they wanted to go college, they would go. I have one daughter that’s not in college, but she still took the PSAT because that’s what she wanted to do. The other kids took the SAT and they got accepted into Texas A&M University, which is a pretty prestigious university within the state of Texas. My son, when he first started at Texas A&M, found it very difficult, and it kind of broadened his horizons a bit, but he got in because of his SAT scores. And we didn't even know how to study for that.
Interviewer: So, your children let you know what they want to do, and then you help them to accomplish that? Did your kids do junior college and university?
J: Some did junior college. One went straight to university. We had some do dual-credit during high school [taking courses at the junior college during high school, for both high school and college credit.] I have a daughter right now that’s taking dual credit. Her older sisters in college made her do it, and she’s fighting it, but they tell her, "You have to do this."
Interviewer: So they didn’t have any problem with your homemade transcripts?
Interviewer: That’s great. A lot of people worry about that.
J: No they didn’t, but we're in Texas. Maybe California’s different.
[Other Panelist]: Regarding California, I’ll just say that Berkeley accepted our home-made transcript (though she had not done junior college), and when classes were almost starting, they said, "Oh, you also need to show us a diploma." So, we went home, made a diploma, and they accepted that too.
J: That’s the shocking thing is you’re thinking – “oh my God!” – are they going to accept my home-made transcript? But you get there, and they ask, “Oh…do you have a diploma or transcript?" and you say, "Sure, here you go." And you realize it's all pretty simple.
Interviewer: It’s a different way of thinking because for those of us who went through the public school system it was all about your transcript, right? You have to pass this test and your GPA has to stay at this level, and there's so much pressure about what's on the transcript. So it’s very refreshing to hear that.
J: Yeah, honestly my kids made up their own GPA at the end of their high school career.
[Another panelist]: I’ve gotta see that.
J: They were honest. We were all in the same house when they were doing their school work, so we know what they got accomplished.
Interviewer: Did you help your kids with the college application process or with searching for grants or scholarships? Or they had to do it all?
J: No, I didn't help them with that. They had to do it. I have eleven children and I was nursing babies when my oldest went to college, and so I didn’t have time for that. Especially when my son – at 17 years old – wanted to go to Texas A&M. I did nothing to help him because I was dead set against it.
Interviewer: How did you get your son to be so self-motivated?
J: He and his sister are very competitive; it came naturally in our home. We’re talking about my top five oldest; they are all very competitive. Not so much the next ones, the littler ones. With some of them it’s going to be a different story.
Interviewer: So do you feel like your own education helped form them into where they were going?
J: No, no no! I was very poorly educated in the Arizona public school system. I learned along with my children, as I homeschooled them. I now know the 50 states of the United States of America, because I homeschooled my children. I was never taught that in the public school system.
[Another Panelist]: That’s the great thing about homeschooling. Learn all the things you never learned the first time.
J: Yeah, exactly. And it’s great, because you can choose whatever you want to learn, too. "I want to learn about this"; "I want to learn about that."
Interviewer: What do you think helped them the most in their high school years to help prepare them academically for being successful in college?
J: Having the freedom to choose what they study.
Interviewer: And why do you think that is?
J: Because they would be more interested, if they chose what they would study, and would voluntarily study it more. And they realize they are able to learn whatever they want to learn. My son wanted to study Russian literature and read a lot of Dostoyevsky. My daughter wanted learn Greek and she studied Greek heavily because she wanted it; the rest of them I had to kind of push along to learn Greek.
Interviewer: So, going through the whole college process with a couple of kids – how many finished?
J: Two, and the third will graduate in one more semester.
Interviewer: Okay, so having two, almost three through the college process, have your opinions about college changed? And what you would do differently?
J: I definitely would want them to do dual-credit, earning college credit from the junior college while in high school. I feel like that’s a wise thing to do. It just prepares them a little bit ahead of time because in our homeschool environment we aren't rigid, we don't do tests. So, my daughter that’s now doing dual-credit, she has to take these tests and she has assignments due at a certain time, and it’s been good for her. So, I’d definitely encourage that. And I would push a little harder on making sure they get an education – even if it's a trade like mechanic or welding training – because I have two right now that are kind of floating through space so to speak.
Interviewer: So, either college education or some kind of trade?
J: Yes. My 20 year old fudged through that a bit. She’s married now – but we really wanted them to get some kind of trade or college education before they got married. So, I think we would be more insistent on making sure that happens, because I know my husband is very adamant about making sure they have something that they can fall back on.
Interviewer: Besides the academics, do you feel like they all adjusted well to life outside the home?
J: Yes. They all lived at home while attending college, but my two daughters are "Aggies" [Texas A&M fans] – they are very involved socially at school. My daughter is president of a club on campus, and my son was the president of his writing club. So yes, they moved right in and had no problem interacting on campus and in the world. One thing that did frustrate them was their classmates' lack of ability to learn, and they were thinking, “What is wrong with you?” My kids were extremely frustrated because the students would go to class without having studied. My daughter would get the highest grade in the class simply because she went home and read the text; whereas the other students would say “Well, the teacher didn’t talk about that in class.” So other students didn't like her because she made the curve higher because of that. That was the big frustration for them, that their compadres didn’t care to learn.
[Other Panelist]: My kids have the same problem. They were so frustrated in college because the other students were just there physically, but not mentally. They weren’t interested in what was being taught at all.
J: The thing that frustrated my kids, too, is they would say, “You are spending THOUSANDS of dollars to be here!” They felt that the other students were so wasteful with their time and their money.
Interviewer: Anything you would share to people entering the process?
J: Yes – It’s a lot easier than you think! It’s just getting those first couple of kids into college, and now I’m like “Hm! - no problem!” They still have to do it themselves. I don’t help my kids fill out paperwork. I don’t tell them what college they’re going to attend; they have to do it all themselves. Because I’m not going to be there when it’s time for them to apply for a loan, or buy a house, or any of those other things.
Interviewer: And you can’t go on a job interview with them…
J: Right! I can’t go on a job interview with them! So they start learning these things when they apply for college.
Interviewer: Alright, thank you.
Married 33 YEARS, MOTHER OF 7 CHILDREN
5 COLLEGE GRADS (1 SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY, 1 HILLSDALE College, 3 BERKELEY)
HOMESCHOOLED 25 YEARS TOTAL
Interviewer: Tell us about your family, and your experiences. Since you homeschooled in California, did you file the California Private School Affidavit, or were you part of a public charter?
G: We did a range of things, from doing everything at home, to small co-ops, to two-day a week classes from a homeschool academy here and there, to online classes. We were never part of a charter school. Four of them took some junior college classes during high school. Six out of seven did speech and debate, so that was a big part of their education.
Interviewer: So did you have some kind of plan?
G: No. I didn’t really have a plan. I pretty much based high school on what I had taken when I was in high school however many years earlier. When it was time to make a transcript I had to ask friends who were a year or two ahead of me in their homeschooling journey how to do that. I had no clue. I kind of made one just by saying “okay you did this class and you did this class,” but a lot of what they did I hadn’t really graded per se. So a friend showed me how to format a transcript. Then around that time a friend was visiting from Texas who had been the counselor and vice principal at a Christian school in San Jose, and I asked him what he thought of the transcript. He said, “I don’t see any Economics on here” and I said, "Oh, I never did Economics! I didn’t know that was a high school requirement!" And he said, "Well, did you ever talk to your kids about how to balance a check book? Did they get bank accounts? Did you talk about the news and what was going on economically?" He listed all these things and I was saying, "Yeah, yeah, we did that." So he said, "You can write down Economics. That’s all that they would have gotten in school." So there was kind of a learning curve for how to make a transcript. And it’s funny because later, two of them ended up majoring in Political Economy.
Interviewer: Yeah, I was in an elevator at a homeschool conference with a well-known homeschool speaker once, and I just cornered him and said, "Okay, I don’t know how to do these transcripts." He said to me, "Did your children do what you asked them to do?" I said, "Yes." He said, “Then they got an A.”
Interviewer: Okay, so, you had kids that went to junior college first and ones that went directly a 4-year university?
G: All of them went to junior college before transferring to university. Some began with a course or two in high school. Some didn’t start junior college until they were finished at home, basically had graduated and went fulltime, but they weren’t technically finished with high school because they hadn’t done all their science and math, so they got those done in their first year of junior college.
Interviewer: Did you continue to do transcripts for everybody?
G: Yes. Everybody was different, but all of them either actually were, or still technically, high schoolers in junior college, so those units went on their high school transcripts. They applied to college as freshmen, except one who transferred to Hillsdale. Even though some of them had been going to junior college full-time for a year, they applied as freshmen because they were taking courses needed to complete their high school transcript for university admission.
Interviewer: So, that’s how you handled classes that you didn’t feel like you were able to teach?
G: Yes. We didn’t do science at home during high school. I couldn’t provide for lab sciences, so their first year at junior college they'd do biology in fall and chemistry in the spring. And that was it. That satisfied requirements for high school science, plus they got college credit. Math was not our strong point in high school either. Except for one who did PreCalculus at home, higher level than Algebra 2 they did at junior college. The second oldest liked math and was good at it, and he eventually majored in Math, no thanks to me. My oldest went to college as a piano performance major and after his first year he told me, “I’ve decided to switch to civil engineering.” I said, “Oh, but I didn’t prepare you for that!” He didn't have the math background, so it took a little extra time at the university, but that’s what he did. He went straight through and got his masters, and he’s a civil engineer.
Interviewer: That’s pretty common I think. Kids will switch.
G: Yes. I even switched. I only had 2 years of high school science; I hadn’t really liked science that much. Later I took a year off college and worked at a forest in Vermont, and went back to school as a Botany major with really no background in science at all. So I had a little precedent for that, even though I got alarmed when my child did the same thing – I felt bad because it was my responsibility to prepare him.
Interviewer: So were they all successful in college? Did they have any trouble academically or socially?
G: Academically they were just like what [Panelist 1] was saying – they did very well. Socially it seemed like they adjusted fine also. There definitely is an adjustment to go through, because it’s such a different world. I think a lot of my kids didn’t appreciate certain aspects of what they encountered. But they all found friends, a couple of them met their spouses at school. I think they enjoyed those years.
Interviewer: Did they go away to college?
G: The oldest stayed at home for university, the next four went away. I am really grateful for the wonderful Orthodox parish where my second son was in Michigan, and also for the OCF at Berkeley, which is really an amazing community and program thanks to Metropolitan Nikitas and others there.
Interviewer: And did you help them with fellowships and grants?
G: No, I really didn’t. They figured that out and they did get some scholarships. All three schools either offered or helped them apply for scholarships, in some cases after a year of being there.
Interviewer: So you have seven kids, and I know you start out very relaxed in your homeschooling approach during the elementary years. A lot of people start getting nervous and worry they’re making all these mistakes. Did you go through that while homeschooling for high school or did you always feel pretty confident that they were going to succeed?
G: I don’t know how confident I felt at first, because when my oldest was accepted to college, I was thinking, “Whew! It worked!” I was a little bit all over the map in my homeschooling because as different opportunities arose, I did different things for different kids. I never really had a plan that was set in stone for how to get them through high school. Sometimes I think if you have a big family, you have to be more relaxed because you just can’t handle everything. You do the best you can do each day, and then get dinner on the table.
Interviewer: That’s always a good way to end the day. So would you add anything for people that is an encouragement?
G: Yeah, I would just echo what [Panelist 1] said. I think a lot of what we get caught up in is not really that necessary. For myself, looking back, I wish that I had spent a little less worry on academics and put more effort into my own spiritual life and into our relationships. Although I always had a very strong sense of what a precious period of time it was, and really enjoyed having them home, I still wasted some time thinking “oh no, we didn’t do this,” or “I have to do that” or “look what these people over here are doing – maybe I should have done that…” So that is the kind of thing I would try not to do, now that I see how it all turned out. It just wasn’t necessary to worry. If you find yourself thinking you cannot take on high school in terms of getting them a proper education, that you won’t do a good job, I would say don’t listen to those thoughts. My kids’ high school education would be considered lacking by many people, but academically they have all done well – a master’s degree, departmental honors at Hillsdale, cum laude to summa cum laude at Berkeley…the results are good even when it feels like you are not doing a very good job of it.
ORTHODOX PRIEST, MARRIED 32 YEARS, 6 CHILDREN
5 COLLEGE GRADS (BERKELEY, DAVIS, Sacramento STATE university), 2 IN GRAD SCHOOL
HOMESCHOOLED 25 YEARS TOTAL
Interviewer: Okay, so you have six children – where are they in the college process?
Fr: Five out of six have graduated, and my youngest is going to state college. All of my children went to junior college before the university. We homeschooled by filing the private school affidavit. That’s how we registered every year as a private school with the state of California, and that was really helpful. When they wanted to step into junior college, they had to do the application process on the computer, and it asks you where you went to school. We had a school name, and they typed that into the application, and went right past that screen to the next screen. You know – no hesitations there – so that was very handy. Of course it’s scary, because you have to keep all the transcripts and the records of their courses on file for three years. It just seems a little bit daunting. But we were never challenged on that. We were always members of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, and we would get their journal and they would always say how they successfully defended this family or that family, and if some truancy officer came to the house they’d defend them in the courts. So, that was a little nerve-racking, but I had a similar experience as [the previous panelists], realizing it’s not as scary or as bad as it seems.
Fr: My oldest is an RN. My next daughter went to Berkeley, and now she’s doing a master’s in Vancouver. My oldest son graduated with two degrees – a bachelor’s in history and in psychology – and then he went on the Hawaiian Chieftan as a sailor for a year. The Hawaiian Chieftan is a masted sail ship. He loved it. Then he graduated with a master’s from McGill, and now he’s doing a doctorate there. My second son has a bachelor’s degree. My fifth child is graduating from UC Davis next month. And then with my youngest - we're fast-tracking her. She’s going to be 17 next month, but she’s already in junior college because we want to get her launched further in life, because we’re older now.
Interviewer: What role did outside activities besides academics play for your family?
Fr: Oh I think that being PK’s [priest's kids] made them a little tough. We live on the church property; they grew up there. They had lots of responsibilities liturgically to keep things alive in the parish, and had to relate to all kinds of personalities and meet all kinds of people, and I think that rounded them out pretty good for leaving the nest, so to speak, and making their way in the world.
Interviewer: Did all of your children go to junior college before the 4-year university?
Fr: Yes, they did. Financial issues made this necessary.
Interviewer: Did you make your own transcript for them? Were there any problems with the transcripts being accepted?
Fr: The transcripts were accepted without a problem. On the top of the transcript we have the name of our school and the number given us when we filed our affidavit. There was no problem.
Interviewer: Yeah. We ask this because a lot of people do worry about transcripts being accepted.
Fr: I think it’s a lot easier than people think, as you all were saying. When I went to high school your transcript was like something carved in stone for the rest of your life, and here where my kids are growing up there isn’t a big deal about it. I think they’re just happy to see students come in.
[Other Panelist]: They’re happy to see homeschoolers. A friend of mine talked to an admissions counselor at UCLA who told her, "It doesn’t matter what the transcript says – homeschoolers come here and they do very well. Homeschoolers are people who we know are going to be able to learn well."
Interviewer: That’s encouraging because we do worry a lot that we’re going to mess up or be failures or something so it’s always good to have the affirmation that people are looking for homeschoolers. So your children had no trouble getting into any schools that they were looking for?
Fr: Yes. My fifth child went to UC Davis because she wanted to be close to home, but she got accepted to UCLA and Berkeley. And she kind of wishes she had gone on to Berkeley because her big sister went there and she knows academically Berkeley was much more interesting. But she chose a school close to home – she’s our choir conductor and she’s very enthusiastic about supporting the parish – and that’s just the choice she made.
Interviewer: And did you help them in finding scholarships or grants?
Fr: No. Their mother is just gold. Their mother, my wife, Matushka helped them with that. And they’re also go-getters, so they also just did stuff on their own. I was busy with other stuff.
Interviewer: And did they have problems academically when they went to the junior college?
Fr: No, no. They all did fine.
Interviewer: So, there's a recurring theme here – they’ll be fine. Anything to add, Father?
Fr: I’d like to say it’s not as scary as you think. It’s not that bad.
MARRIED 30 YEARS, MOTHER OF 9 CHILDREN
3 COLLEGE GRADS (ALL TEXAS STATE University)
HOMESCHOOLED FOR 23 YEARS; STILL HOMESCHOOLING
Interviewer: Could you tell us again about your kids that have gone through college or are in college?
E: Yes, I have three children who have graduated from college and all three of them will be going on to graduate school in one form or another. They all did the junior college route. For me junior college is a perfect transition. Besides being cheaper, it gives them a halfway place before they’re ready to go to the university. It fixes any learning gaps or anything that was possibly missed in homeschool. For example, we didn’t do laboratory science at home, but they got there and they did fine. There wasn’t any problem. Our homeschool was stronger in literature and history, but two children did science technology college, and they’ve been straight A students.
E: And for us the transcript thing in Texas is much simpler. You just make up anything and give it to them and that’s it. So it really doesn’t matter. They test them anyway and put them where they need to be. The one problem we had is that I used a lot of older literature and that messed up their writing. They’re good writers but because they were using English spelling and old style grammar and sentence structure, the computerized tests messed them up. So they had to start at a lower level, and then the professors would say “You don’t belong here.” So that’s the biggest problem we had. And also a math curriculum we used was good curriculum and good for self-learning, but it did not teach for that entrance test. So we’ve had trouble there, where the material we used didn’t go well with computerized placement tests. It’s not that they didn’t know the subject matter – they did, and they did fine in their courses.
Interviewer: So what was your main focus when you were preparing them for college?
E: I didn’t have the mindset of preparing them for college per se. I’d let God decide where they needed to go and let them find their own direction.
Interviewer: So what does that look like though? Did you talk to them about leaving all doors open?
E: I was on survival mode! I was still having babies and breastfeeding when my oldest children were preparing for college. So it’s not quite that orderly and they know it. They had to be self-directed and know what they wanted, and I would do my best to support them but they really had to do it themselves to be honest.
[Other Panelist]: Self-made people. The best kind.
E: Yes, well I think that’s why they did so well in college because they wanted to be there. They’re interested. The professors love it because everybody else is just passing time, they don’t care. While the homeschooled kids are engaged, they’re interacting with the professors, they are there and they want to be there.
Interviewer: Okay so you’ve all said this, you’ve all talked about self-directed kids and I know our [final panelist] would say the same thing. So do you think your kids were successful because they were naturally self-directed and motivated, or do you think some of that can be attributed to the homeschool setting?
E: I think the homeschool lifestyle encourages it, at least certainly in my case.
Interviewer: I know it can be a mix.
E: Yeah, it wasn’t because I taught them how to be self-directed. It was just because they had to be, in order to survive. My children – with our situation – had to be self-directed to a large extent. Also when they get to junior college and college, it’s a fresh new experience. They’re excited. And then they’re surprised they can actually do pretty well! Maybe their mom didn’t seem that good as a teacher, but maybe it actually worked!
Interviewer: Yeah, I didn’t ask this, but do you think your kids were nervous that they were going to be prepared?
E: [panelist turns to her adult college graduate in the audience and asks:] Were you nervous going into college?
[son of panelist 4]: I freaked out a little bit during the placement test. I didn’t realize it was going to scale the difficulty when I gave the right answers. So I got to this point where I was actually doing calculus and I didn’t recognize it, so I broke out into a cold sweat thinking, “I'm bombing the placement test.” But I actually did okay. The panic was more at the beginning because I didn’t realize how the placement exam worked. Once I actually got into class, it really wasn’t a big issue.
Interviewer: So going through the process now with several kids, would you do anything differently or are you staying the course?
E: I am not as gung-ho about college as I used to be. I’m disappointed there are agendas there. I don’t think college is right for every child. I think for girls there are a lot of temptations there, too, as far as values – careers vs. traditional family life. I really think that with college you have to know what you want, and go there and get what you want. You can’t just go because everybody does it. You have to have a purpose, so that you can overlook these other things. I don’t think it’s a place just to spend time anymore; there are too many temptations. My kids went through and they all stayed chaste and they were fine in that department. It’s just the mentality, you know. I think with girls I’m more wary, to be honest, just from my experience. My oldest daughter got through; the culture didn’t influence her. I have another daughter now who is college age, and she’s not going to go to college. She may do trade school, but it looks like she may just get married. And I’m okay with that. I think it’s good to have fallback skills, but I don’t think you have to develop those skills from college. I developed a business, but I never went through college. There is so much available now that college isn’t essential any more. I think we’re still thinking in an old way, and we need to start thinking outside of the box. Because everything you need that you get at college you can also get on the internet. You just need to have direction and know what you want. It would be nice to have an apprenticeship where someone can help you in a direction, but I don’t think you have to go to a four-year university anymore, unless you’re doing certain things where you have to have certifications or the degree.
Interviewer: Any advice or encouragement?
E: It's just like they all said: it’s easier than you realize. My kids did great, and I think, for the most part, they did enjoy it.
MARRIED 30 YEARS, MOTHER OF 3 CHILDREN
3 COLLEGE GRADS (BERKELEY, DAVIS); 1 AT HOLY CROSS SEMINARY
HOMESCHOOLED FOR 15 YEARS
Interviewer: Can you tell us a little more about your family?
M: We have three children, one girl, two boys. We thought public school would be just fine. But I feel like education and academics have changed dramatically over the past 30 to 50 years. I saw my mother’s first and second grade primers and they were like what is taught in 5th grade right now. I mean, it's incredibly different, how the education system has been dumbed down. So one of ours was learning three-syllable words and they were only teaching one-syllable words, and now it’s February and I’m thinking they should run out one-syllable words soon and move on, but they didn't. So I just was very discouraged, and pulled them out.
[Other Panelist]: That’s where it is today.
M: It really is, and for me it was a matter of time. They get up in the morning, you have to dress them, feed them, get them out the door, put them on the bus, spend this time getting them to class where Johnny can’t behave so no one can pay attention to actually teaching, and then, oh wow, we had five minutes of learning.
Interviewer: So basically you started with public education and then the academics made you decide to homeschool?
M: Yes. I didn't decide to homeschool for spiritual reasons. Our spiritual life was separate from our academic life. Then I realized our academic life just had to come home, and home was all about the spiritual life, so that was a natural order for us.
Interviewer: And how did you approach high school?
In high school our oldest was bored, and started studying on her own. She was a National Merit scholar. She guided herself through; she did not go to junior college except for Spanish one summer. She also took some online classes with Northwestern University. I just found a picture of her and my neighbor’s daughter cutting a cow’s heart open on the dining room table with the eyeballs and everything next to them. That girl, our neighbor, is a nurse now, flying on emergency helicopters.
Interviewer: So, your oldest went straight into Berkeley from homeschooling, without junior college, but your boys went to junior college?
M: Yes, I didn’t know anything about this "junior college into college" business. We happened to live near a junior college. One of my sons was in love with astronomy, so I said, "they have astronomy classes, let’s see if we can get you in there." So, we enrolled him in junior college astronomy in high school – but we didn't think he would do that great, so we enrolled him pass/fail. He ended up with an A, and the teacher was so upset because he couldn't give him the A, but could only give him a "pass." So that experience gave me the idea of sending my boys more and more to the junior college for the things I don’t do and don’t know. Because I know my gifts, and math isn’t one of them. So they went into junior college during high school.
Interviewer: And your boys ended up doing their their first two years of college at the junior college while they were in high school, and then transferred to the 4 year university as juniors?
M: Yes, both of them transferred in as juniors before they were 18. The local junior college was practically in our back yard. It was very convenient to send them there for classes. We started off with just one class, added more, and pretty soon they were full time. Basically, they did junior college for high school. One transferred into Berkeley and was there for 2 years. He just got accepted to MIT Sloan for a master’s. My second son graduated from junior college with an AA by the end of highschool, and then transferred to UC Davis. He then went to Holy Cross and is graduating from seminary next year.
Interviewer: Is there anything you learned or would do differently?
M: Something we faced, which was a homeschooling surprise – we thought we had this thing together – was that when he transferred to Berkeley, my A student got a D in Calculus. Sigh. That was a fun Thanksgiving. You got a D?? There are things called “weeder classes.” They are weeding out the people who don’t belong in medicine. Don’t ever let your children take a weeder class in college. Then they come home with a D. It ruined his GPA for the whole time at Berkeley. That’s the homeschooling disadvantage – you don’t know these things.
[Other Panelist]: Nowadays some people are starting to know that. A friend whose son went to Berkeley for biomedical engineering knew that ahead of time, so she had him do all of those classes at junior college and then re-take them at Berkeley where they are much more difficult. He had a class where they were so impacted that he had the lab one semester but there was no room in the lecture, and he had to take the lab without the lecture. The following semester he did the lecture.
M: That’s why they have the weeder classes, all the classes are so impacted. However, during the junior college experience, my children learned how to get into a class. You sign up but the class is full. They learned to go and sit in the class and wait until everybody else dropped out, and then they would get added. It was a good lesson, even though it doesn’t always work. They got into more classes just by showing up for 3 weeks. Go be persistent, that’s what life’s about.
Questions from the Audience
Audience: How do you recognize a weeder class? Does it have a “W” next to it?
G: They’re mostly math and science and they would be the "Intro Calculus," "intro this," and "intro to that"; they’re huge lecture classes. Chem, Physics, those kinds of things.
Audience: There’s an issue that’s come up in our homeschooling community just because now for the first time there are people thinking that they’re going to try to homeschool high school, and it’s mostly about homeschooling boys. Mom homeschooling boys. And wondering if that’s the best thing for their boy, and having conflicts with them. What you do with that, when boys are becoming men, and you are trying to make a commitment to homeschooling but thinking that they need to do some intentional things?
G: What do you mean intentional?
Audience: Well, like what do we need to do, do we need to make sure that they have things they’re doing with other adults that they’re accountable to, do we need to make sure they have some kind of intentional internship, do they need to be taught by dads…
M: So it’s not just mom nagging at home all the time which is what we always hear. I have boys who were like that. And if they’re not competing with someone else, a boy is not going to be happy with mom. If mom’s going to be the teacher for one guy home alone, it’s tough. I would not recommend that, at least with my boys. Boys need something to compete with and you don’t want it to be their mom.
G: I think that’s where junior college can come in handy, or an online class, or a co-op type of class. It’s really good to have other people involved. We also got that with speech and debate – that was a really huge thing because there was so much parent involvement in coaching them. I also think high school is a time where they need to start owning what they’re doing too, and we need to either accept what they are going to do or not do, or find them another way. So, less fighting and more just letting the natural consequences happen.
Audience: So my oldest is only 14 but I’ve heard this from older people and I’ve tried it a few times and it works. So I want to hear if you experienced this but I’ve heard that teenage boys, 13, 14, have just got a lot of hormonal energy going on and they need to be exhausted and so I had a friend who sent her kid to work on roofs with a roofer friend of mine and he came home happy. And I think sometimes maybe – but I wanted to hear what you’d say – is there a physical element to that? They just need to be digging ditches or something? Just to expend the energy?
M: Yes – literally – have them dig ditches! We had a place on our property – it was adobe – which is what they made houses out of in the old days. And one day both of my sons got shovels and they started digging. So it started off a little hole and the hole ended up almost half the size of this room, even though it was like digging cement. And it would be literally like this: "Where are you going, son?" "To dig." "Great! bye! Have a great time!" They would go out there and just dig, dig, dig, just to do something. And we have all these stories about it and they always had so much fun. If you don’t have land you can’t really do that. But they need to do something to let off steam, something totally physical. Women can sit around and read books – you know some of us are physical – but guys have to move. One of the great tips that I got was memorization and walking with boys. Want to memorize a poem or something? Go for a walk and memorize it while you’re walking. The brain, and the walking, and the memorization go together. That is also how I got the boys to memorize poetry – by moving and walking. Moving is very important.
J: Oh, we’re supposed to actively engage our 14 year old boys? Whoops!
Interviewer: Any one else have any advice?
G: I felt like grades 7 through 9 were much harder with my boys than high school.
M: We had all these great papers I find like, "Should we homeschool next year? Give me 8,000 reasons why." And then he had to give me one reason, why would I do this again. Yeah, I have the cutest papers.
Audience: I’m not sure if you mentioned this, but I've heard some people would just take the California high school proficiency exam at 16-years-old so they’re not finishing all the high school credits when they’re taking the tests. This is the California CHSPE.
G: It’s so they can go full-time in junior college without graduating from high school.
Audience: Or they have to take the high school credits?
Interviewer: The state recognizes the CHSPE as the equivalent of a high school diploma, so if you pass the CHSPE as a minor, you can begin enroll in junior college full time as a minor without unit restrictions, and it also enables you to work as minor without needing to get a work permit. If you do NOT take the CHSPE, you can attend junior college as a minor but you are viewed as a high school student in 'dual enrollment' and you are limited to usually 2 classes and 10 units per semester. Also, if you have not passed the CHSPE you are required to get a work permit to be employed and your school principal determines the number of hours you are permitted to work. We’ll discuss all this in greater detail in another presentation tomorrow.
G: I wanted to throw in something I forgot to say earlier. I tried to get my kids to take a gap year between high school and college. Not all of them wanted to do that, but the ones that did, I think it was really good for them.
Audience: Quickly, did anyone have problems with their kids filling out the FAFSA and having huge blunders?
G: We made so many mistakes with that. It’s a nightmare.
E: I did all my kids’ and now I’m down to 7. I just didn’t feel that they were ready to do it themselves--an 18-year-old and potentially $20,000. I’m not going to take a chance.
M: The first time around it’s overwhelming. But once you do one it gets easier.