a division of Home School Legal Defense Association
June 22, 2000

Home Schoolers Making Headlines

On June 1, 2000, 12-year-old home schooler George Abraham Thampy won the 73rd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. In 1998, George represented Missouri in the National Spelling Bee and tied for fourth place; he tied for third place in the 1999 bee. This year, his perseverance paid off—literally—as he received, among other honors, a $10,000 cash prize for accurately spelling through 15 rounds during the contest. A week before his spelling victory, George came in second at National Geographic’s 2000 National Geography Bee, winning a $15,000 scholarship.

Ever since Rebecca Sealfon, of Brooklyn, NY, became the first home schooled student to win the spelling bee in 1997, home school spellers have swept a myriad of regional, state, and national spelling bees. This year’s national champion George Thampy was not the only home schooled speller in the spotlight: second and third place finishers Sean Conley of Newark, CA, and Alison Miller of Albany, NY, are also educated at home. Interested in mathematics and computers, 12-year-old Sean belongs to local chapters of Math Olympiad and Mathcounts and has completed college-level computer programming classes. He also studies Spanish and plays the piano. Alison has many interests, too, including ancient Greek, poetry, ice skating, and drama. She recently ranked first in the New York State Mathcounts competition.

“Home school students tend to be disproportionately represented in national contests where academic skills are being tested,” said Home School Legal Defense Association president Mike Farris, “[because] home school parents emphasize traditional learning rather than feel-good, self-esteem methods.” Home schoolers participated in record numbers at this year’s National Spelling Bee, accounting for nearly 11 percent of the bee’s contestants.

In 1999, David Beihl, a 13-year-old from Saluda, SC, became the first home-schooled student to win the National Geography Bee, after which he also competed in the 1999 National Spelling Bee. For his victory in the geography bee, he received a $25,000 scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to Australia.

Home school achievements, however, are not limited to spelling and geography bees. Marian Braaksma was recently elected “governor” at Arizona’s Annual YMCA Youth Model Legislature, becoming the first home schooled student figurehead for Arizona’s Youth and Government Program. Besides presiding over the YMCA Model Legislature, Marian’s duties as “governor” include attending the five-day National Youth Governors Conference in Washington, DC, and the Conference on National Affairs, an event attended by prominent Youth and Government delegates from across the country.

Also this year, five home schooled students from Richardson, TX, were recognized as winners at both the state and national levels of the NASA Seeds II Science Fair. Under the supervision of home school mom and teacher, Stacy Smith, these students wrote, directed and starred in a five-minute production designed to fit this year’s topic of space research in the classroom as an educational embarkment of the International Space Station. Each of the winners was congratulated with a $100 savings bond, and their teacher received an all-expense-paid trip to a science conference.

Seventeen year-old Garrett Young won the Glenn T. Seaborg Nobel Prize Visit Award in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Detriot, May 12, 2000. Garrett, a home schooled student from Branchburg, NJ, won for his physics project titled “Isolating Plasma Species Initiating Internal Electrostatic Fields for Plasma Heating.” In his project, he found a way to more efficiently increase the temperature of plasma, a process which may make energy from fusion more accessible. Garrett’s award includes an expense-paid trip to the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Sweden in December 2000.1

This spring, home schooler William Schleifer of Jackson County, GA, won the National Federation of Music Club Composers Contest for the third time in a row. William, 17, and his brother Robert, 14, have studied piano under Keith Jefcoat, director of preparatory music at Brenau University and both boys have competed in the Georgia Music Teachers Association’s Spring Auditions at the University of Georgia. In addition to his musical pursuits, Robert is a serious student of geography and has represented his state in the last two National Geography Bees.

Another home school student making her mark in the music world is 11-year-old Brighton Goode of Madison, Mississippi. Though she has not had her own school choir or orchestra to perform in, Brighton has excelled as a singer and pianist. In March, she represented the Children’s Choir of Mississippi as she performed songs in French, German, Japanese, and English with the American Choral Directors Association’s Southern Division ACDA Children’s Honor Choir in Orlando, Florida. A recipient of many state and national awards for singing, dancing, and acting, Brighton hopes to pursue a career in the performing arts.

Home schoolers are doing well in more unusual competitions as well. Two years ago, Chris Mayernik, a 12-year-old home schooled student from Fairfax, VA, won the national 1998 Lego Deep Sea Challenge Build-a-thon. Home schooler Paul Griebenow from Tazewell, VA, is a national champion in flying battery-powered, 6-to-8-foot-wingspan aircraft. Later this year, he will represent the United States at an international competition in Greece.

Not only do home schoolers win state and national academic competitions, but they also score 67 points above average on SAT college entrance exams.2

The home school movement is attracting more and more families with motivated students who desire to pursue their studies farther than traditional schooling allows.

Home schooling offers students and parents the flexibility to focus on the subjects of their choice and to incorporate students’ special interests and talents, such as music, computer programming, creative writing, geography, spelling, or even LegosTM into their school curriculum.

In spite of—or perhaps because of—their specially tailored education, home schoolers have proven competitive right through higher education. For example, in the fall of 1999, Stanford University accepted 27 percent of home schooled applicants, nearly double the university’s overall acceptance rate.3

With an estimated 1.7 million children currently home schooled in the United States, and that number growing yearly, it seems that many parents are finding home schooling to be the best way for them to be involved in their children’s education. And judging from the headlines, they're doing a great job.

2 Wall Street Journal , “Class of Their Own,” page A-1, February 11, 2000.
3 Id.