The strains of Ravel's "Alborado del Gracioso" echoed through the Kennedy Center as eighteen-year-old Melanie Hadley's hands moved swiftly across the piano keyboard. One of the winners of the Presidential Scholar of the Arts award, Melanie and other arts scholars had the chance to perform during their visit to Washington, D.C. in June, when they were honored by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.
In order to become a presidential scholar in the arts, the White House Commission looks at ACT or SAT scores, essays and school transcripts, leadership and character, and excellence in the arts. Out of the millions of high school seniors in the country, only 141 high school seniors nationwide were honored as presidential scholars this year. Of that 141, only 20 were honored as Presidential Scholars in the Arts. Melanie achieved this highest honor given to high school students for her excellent academic capability (she scored in the top one percentile in the country on her high school equivalency exam) and her talent in music (she has performed internationally on the piano). Not bad for a home schooler.
Home schoolers across the country are not only "keeping up" with their public school peers, in many ways they are rising to the top levels of academic, artistic, and athletic achievements in the country. Melanie Hadley, from Ozark, Missouri, is not the only home schooled student to be honored for her achievements. Home schooling parents contact HSLDA quite frequently with stories of their children's success. If we were to print every story of home school achievement, the list would be virtually endless. However, we have chosen a few students who have achieved special honors in the past year as an example of the success home schoolers have reached nationwide.
When most people think of measuring academic achievement, they think of standardized tests. One test that most colleges look to as the standard for admissions and for scholarship awards is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), produced by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey. Seventeen-year-old Kirk Johnson of Colonial Heights, Virginia was one of the millions of high school students who took the SAT this past fall. He took the practice test the night before to familiarize himself with the format, but other than that, simply relied upon what he had learned throughout his education to help him answer the questions. He wasn't shocked but was "pleasantly surprised" when he received his test score: a perfect 1600.
Kirk, who has been home schooled for the past seven years, is planning to go to Wooster Polytech this fall on an air force scholarship to study aerospace engineering. "Home schooling has given me a better education all around," Kirk said. "It has helped me live up to my full potential, and helped me to set my sights high when I was taking the test and choosing a college."
For those who question home schoolers' ability to succeed in high school and go on to college, Kirk Johnson is proof that home schoolers can compete at the highest levels of education. Jay Marshall of Newport News, Virginia is another home schooler who puts to rest fears that home schooling will not prepare students adequately for higher education. For the past year, Jay, who is only sixteen, took math and science courses at Thomas Nelson Community College, including the highest level of chemistry offered at the school. He received a 4.0 in that class and has a high school average of 3.90.
Jay's academic success was awarded by the USA Gymnastics association this year when they gave him their Academic All-American award. The award Jay received is given to those gymnasts who are not only top athletes but also have above a 3.86 GPA.
In the spring of this year, Jay was busy preparing for the Virginia gymnastics championships. In 1994 and 1995, he had placed second overall in the state. He was hoping to come out on top in 1996 but twisted and broke his ankle a week before the state competition. "At the state championships, I watched my teammates compete," Jay said.
His ankle didn't keep him out of the regional competition, however. A month after the state competition, Jay wrapped up his ankle and performed well enough in the regional competition to qualify to go to the USA Gymnastics national competition in California in the class one division, the highest division for USA Gymnastics, the organization that runs the Junior Olympics. While at nationals, Jay was given the All-American award.
Although he has not finally decided what he is going to do after high school, Jay has started talking to some college gymnastic coaches and is considering the University of Michigan, Penn State, or the Naval Academy. He hopes to pursue a degree in political science with an emphasis in far eastern studies.
Home schoolers who are in the elementary grades and in junior high are also meeting with success in several ways. Many have been involved in National Geographic's geography bee and in the Scripps-Howard newspaper service spelling bee. This year, several home schoolers went to the national competition in each event.
Nathaniel Carr, a fourteen-year-old home schooled student from Luray, Virginia, went to his state's geography bee for the fourth year in a row. The first three years, he didn't make it into the top ten at the state level. However, 1996 proved to be his year. He won the state competition and then broke the final ten at the national geography bee in Washington, D.C., making him the top-finishing home schooler by placing sixth overall. "I was really excited to be a part of the nationals. I get really nervous at competition, so I try to take mind off it by thinking about other things," Nathaniel said. "It shocked me when I won state and when I got in the final ten at nationals."
Chris Martin was another home schooler who joined Nathaniel at the national geography competition. His parents began noticing his love for geography when he was a toddler. "As a two-year-old, he'd put together US puzzle maps and knew the names of all the states," his mother, Lisa Martin, recalled. "He could read when he was only three." This year, when Chris was twelve, he won the Arizona state geography bee and went to the national competition. Although he didn't break the top ten, he is determined to try again. He said he learned that at the national level, it is very important to get every question right. "Now I know that I can win it," he said. "I'm hoping I'll be able to get back to the nationals again next year."
However, Chris didn't leave the national competition empty-handed. Crystler Corporation, one of the sponsors of the geography bee, had a dream vacation contest in conjunction with the geography competition. Each contestant was asked to design a ten-day vacation and to submit their design before the competition. Chris won the contest with his custom-designed California vacation, which he and his family will be enjoying at the end of July.
At the same time the geography champions were preparing for their national tournament, students across the country were busy memorizing words for the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. Like the geography bees, these contests proceed through several levels-local, district, and then state-before reaching the national level.
On the morning of the Colorado State Spelling Bee, Brittany Holmes sat down with two hundred and seventy-five other district spelling bee winners to take a written test. The test would determine the top twenty-eight students who would go on later that day to compete in the oral competition. Brittany not only made it into the oral competition. She did so as the top scorer on the written test. Not surprisingly, she also won the oral competition, earning the privilege of representing Colorado in the national competition in Washington, D.C. this June.
Although Brittany did not make it through the first round at the national level, she said she enjoyed the trip to Washington, D.C. "It was a really special time. I particularly enjoyed being able to meet other Christians and home schoolers and touring various historical sites in Washington, D.C." she said.
All of these students agree: home schooling aided them in their success. The benefit they most often mentioned was the flexibility and freedom to pursue individual interests that home schooling afforded them.
Melanie Hadley was thankful that she was home schooled because it allowed her to pursue her musical interests. "I did not have to spend any more time than was necessary on my school work, which left the rest of the time for practice. I didn't have to squeeze all of my studies into nine months. I could take a whole year. I could work seven days a week. Home schooling for an artist gives a very necessary, quiet environment in which to learn."
Brittany Holmes, who is thirteen, enjoys word etymology and foreign languages and the freedom home schooling gives her to pursue her interests. "Through home schooling I can focus on the things that will help my spelling in particular," she said. "It's been a good experience to be able to focus on my own particular needs and how to prepare for the spelling bees. Also, I can move at my own rate and stop on the words I'm having trouble with."
Chris Martin noted that home schooling provides "the flexibility of time" to pursue his education at his own pace. "In regular school, if you know this stuff already, the teacher still has to teach the other kids. It just takes up time," Chris said.
Echoing Chris, Nathaniel Carr said, "In a school, you have a lot of kids. The teacher has to wait on the slower students and can only work with everyone as a group. The Lord has blessed me with a good mind, and I can work quickly. Home schooling gives me a lot of time to work on extracurricular activity."
Nathaniel also mentioned that his teachers are always there to work with him, "particularly my dad, who would get together a lot of lessons on geography."
With more than sixteen hours a week spent in the gym, Jay Marshall is also grateful for the extra time home schooling has given him. "Home schooling has definitely helped my training schedule. It makes it possible to be at this level of competition which would be really difficult to achieve had I not been home schooled." Jay, who was home schooled since second grade, also gives his parents credit for preparing him well academically. "My mom and dad have done an excellent job in teaching me the basics," he said.
These students also felt that home schooling prepared them socially, not just academically. For Melanie Hadley, she chose to discipline herself to pursue a career in music. "Socially, I really made the decision when I was about twelve that music was the career that I wanted to have. I knew it would be difficult. My parents always reminded me that I had chosen a very disciplined and focused career." Home schooling allowed her to keep that focus and reach the level of musical capability she has today.
Several of the home school students mentioned that they enjoyed meeting the other home schoolers involved in the geography and spelling bees. Brittany Holmes' mother told of the unique bond that the home schoolers felt when they met each other at the national competition, especially compared to the public schoolers. "The funniest thing in the course of these national competitions is that the home schoolers were more social than the public school kids," she said, laughing. Many of the critics of home schooling fear that children who stay at home will not be able to socially relate to their peers. However, Brittany's mother said, "The public schoolers didn't know what to do-they didn't know anyone, but the home schoolers hit it off right away because they had something in common. It was the height of all irony."
Nathaniel's mother, Joy Carr, also mentioned the chance the national geography competition gave her to "talk to myriads of people about home schooling. It was a really good opportunity to answer people's questions. People were quite interested-after Nathaniel made the top ten they were even more interested. They couldn't really say anything bad about home schooling!"
Nathaniel said he was thankful for the opportunity the geography bee provided for him to "get out and meet new people" and to learn how to cope with pressure situations and competitions.
Brittany Holmes also mentioned that going to the national spelling bee helped her grow as a person. "In the process, God has taught me a lot about perseverance and patience and hanging in there when it gets tough." Her mother added, "God used this experience as a vehicle for character development. We had to take a hard, cold look at why we were doing this when nationals didn't go how we thought that they would. We weren't expecting for the doors to shut quite that quickly. In the end you realize that the Lord is in control. It all becomes fertile ground for life lessons. It has for our whole family."
Several other parents mentioned that they have turned their child's interest into a learning experience for the whole family. Joy Carr said, "We've been asking geography questions at breakfast for the last four years. My husband has been interested in geography for a long time and has a lot of resources-books, encyclopedias, and maps. It's been a family project for us. From the time our two boys were little, my husband would get out a globe whenever we read a story to look and see where the country was located." She, too, has learned a lot from the boy's interest in geography, although she laughingly admits, "I still don't know as much as the boys do!"
Home school groups have provided the means to get involved in some of these national competitions. Joy Carr said that one of the mothers in their local home school support group saw an ad in National Geographic for the geography bee and called to find out if home schoolers were eligible. "National Geographic said they welcomed home schoolers," said Joy. "You only have to have seven or eight home schoolers in the group to be able to do it."
With a lot of old-fashioned hard work, a network of support from home school groups, the dedication of their parents, and the blessing of the Lord, home schoolers are succeeding in ways that prove home schooling not only works, it is one of the best ways to educate your child. HSLDA praises God for allowing these students to glorify Him through their accomplishments!