At Home on the Hill

 

Homeschooling is solid preparation for Colby, students say

By Anne Marie Sears '03
 

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Mary Ostberg '06 and Francis Orzechowski '06.
Illustration by Fred Field
James Thompson '06 was a bit uneasy when he learned before his freshman year that his future roommate had been homeschooled. "I think almost everyone has a stereotype of a homeschooler in his or her head," he said. "When [Francis] told me he was homeschooled, I feared he would be clingy, socially awkward and extremely quirky. After meeting him in person, my views on homeschooling have completely changed. . . . He's no quirkier than anyone else."

Francis Orzechowski '06 is the oldest of five children, all homeschooled. He arrived at Colby from Newport, N.H., to encounter the prevailing misconception about homeschooled students-that they are all socially maladjusted.

"Some students were skeptical," said Orzechowski, a government major. "Few people understood that to be a homeschooler does not mean that one is divorced from society and that I was in the same boat as all the other freshmen in adjusting to college life."

As his roommate explained, accepting homeschooling is as easy as getting to know a homeschooler. "The only perceptible difference caused by homeschooling is the obvious lack of peer pressure in [Francis's] life thus far," Thompson said. "Because of this, he is true to himself and speaks his mind without fear."

Nor does Orzechowski fit any of the other stereotypes that people apply to homeschoolers. He isn't from the religious right or the antiestablishment left, he said. As another former homeschooler, Mary Ostberg '06, put it, those families who opt out of a formal school system are as varied as the families who go along with it.

Some homeschooling parents want to teach their children from a Christian perspective; some worry about violence in conventional schools. Some are disappointed in their local school system, and some families think they can achieve more at home.

Advocates of home education say the practice recognizes that every student has individual interests and ways of learning. At home, assignments can be tailored to the student and, oftentimes, designed by the student. Ostberg, a sociology major homeschooled through high school, says the experience was empowering. "I had the ability to make my own assignments, make my own goals, so I just had to answer to myself," she said. "I think you feel a lot better when you make a goal and you finish it rather than someone else saying 'you have to do this.'" For many, it's about creativity and freedom. "It's very focused on making everything a part of your education," Ostberg said. "We did tons of field trips to museums. It was nice because we never had to fill out a little sheet with questions, like you do on school trips. We could just talk about it and just . . . absorb it."

Homeschoolers are joining their public- and private-school peers at Colby and at other homeschool-friendly colleges and universities. Think they're ill prepared? Introverted? Think again. Today's homeschoolers are winning national spelling bees and captaining school sports teams. Orzechowski is on four I-Play teams and plays three musical instruments; Ostberg is on the crew team, does photography and plays the piano. Both students have made the Dean's List every semester.

That kind of success is leading more colleges to open their doors to homeschooled students, says Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Parker Beverage. "In building each entering class, we seek to include highly able and interesting students from a wide variety of backgrounds," Beverage said. "Students who have experienced homeschooling add to the richness of this mix."

Admissions inquiries by homeschoolers have more than doubled at Colby in the past five years, and while only a small percentage of the current student population was homeschooled, the numbers are rising. And as the numbers grow, the negative stereotypes fade. "I think, on the whole, most people are realizing that homeschoolers don't just sit at home and do nothing," Ostberg said.

Like all other students who apply to Colby, homeschoolers take the SATs and SAT IIs and submit extensive course descriptions in lieu of transcripts. They send in scores from the Iowa Basic Skills Test, which some states require homeschoolers to take annually, and grades from outside courses.

Ostberg took classes at the Harvard University Extension school; Orzechowski studied ancient Greece at St. Paul's School Advanced Studies Program. They have captained sports teams at their local high schools, taken music lessons and done volunteer work. "I didn't encounter any problems, or questions, from any college to which I applied . . . especially not from Colby," Orzechowski said. "When I contacted admissions officers before beginning the process, Colby was definitely the most flexible. . . . [The] unqualified acceptance, even embrace, of homeschooling is in retrospect probably a big reason why I was immediately attracted to Colby."

Socially it seems that, for these students, Colby is a lot like home. "A lot of the worry over how homeschoolers will adapt to college stems from the idea that we are not well-rounded in the social arena," Ostberg said.

"At Colby I've made some wonderful friends," Ostberg said. Added Orzechowski, "I love the social scene. The close-knit, friendly atmosphere is just what I expected."