Two Hermione’s – Taylor Copeland’s Story

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I only have one sibling, but when I was younger I always wanted a sister. Then I met Taylor Copeland when I was 5. She and her two younger sisters were my best friends for about six years, and it certainly didn’t hurt that we had a lot in common. Our moms were incredibly close and we loved to play with dolls and enjoyed bossing around our younger siblings more than I’m proud of. However, what brought us closest was the shared experience of homeschooling.

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Like my brother and I, Taylor and her sisters were homeschooled from the very beginning. Her mom knew that sending her children off to public school wasn’t something she imagined doing, so their homeschool career began. Just like my family, Taylor was homeschooled in a fairly structured manner, although they never used a set curriculum. “We didn’t really make a plan for every year, but we had structured units to study and would sit down, 4-5 days a week for several hours and do a structured school day,” Taylor told me. Overall, Taylor looks back on homeschooling incredibly fondly and considers herself lucky for never having been to a public school. When I asked her what she enjoyed the most about being homeschooled, she told me that in retrospect, she was grateful for all of the free time she had as a child, although in the moment it just felt like her way of life. However, all of her free time allowed her to explore the side of herself that I strongly identify with – the nerdy side. Honestly, Taylor’s love of learning is something that I have always admired, as I recall she read almost 150 books in a year at one point.  Just like myself, homeschooling didn’t force her to dread learning, and she was able to dive head on into topics that interested her. Two of these topics included the Titanic and the Holocaust, and I remember Taylor at about 10 years old researching and writing about both. When reminiscing on this time period, Taylor told me that “I was able to really get into a lot of different subjects we learned and I would just write essays and stuff for fun. I could explore it in my own way and say, ‘it’s not a terrible homework assignment to write this essay, I just want to learn more.’” Taylor even wrote several novels as a young adult, and was always ready to learn more. Even at the time, I knew that she was an anomaly, but looking back now, I realize that I have homeschooling to thank for giving me such an amazing childhood friend. We connected in a way that I doubt I would have with another person, and being friends with Taylor was what really showed me that it was okay to be a nerd from such a young age. When we were together, it was okay to research Harry Potter spells and memorize them in case we were ever under attack. We were comfortable co-teaching in our make-believe schoolhouse when our younger siblings were still little enough to let us boss them around. We made up a complete code and even invented our own religion, complete with prayers and an altar at each of our houses. Together, we were two of the happiest, nerdiest children you could ever find.

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While this picture seems entirely un-nerdy at first glance, I encourage you to take a closer look at 1) the homemade, Harry Potter themed wand case on my hip and 2) the fire pit covered in tin foil

 

When I talked to Taylor, she told me that in hindsight, she realizes that homeschooling allowed her to find a different worldview. “We had this different perspective on everything – I think that was something I really appreciate having – that different perspective on things – because it shaped the way I look at the world, which would have been different if I had been public schooled. I think the perspective that I got from homeschooling was one of the things I appreciated the most about it.”

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Even while hiking, we must represent Hogwarts. 

As a child, Taylor remembers that at the time she felt like she was missing out on something. “I loved being homeschooled, but at the same time I would think about all the things that I was supposedly missing out on. I guess I didn’t really think too much about the amount of homework or sitting in class and being bored. I didn’t really think of the negatives, but I always liked hanging out with people.” She was always a very social child, and saw how attractive the positive social interactions in a school could be. However, as an adult, Taylor is glad that she never went to school. She realizes now that she didn’t miss out on anything. As a homeschooled teenager, she was able to get involved with more activities such as a homeschool teen group, science fairs and several school dances, so she was never without friends.

As she got older, Taylor and her family drew away from the structured style of schooling they had followed as children, but that didn’t stop her from going on to study for her GED when she was 17. Shortly afterwards, she decided to try taking classes at the local community college, Quinebaug Valley Community College. Going to QV was a logical decision for her, because it was close and affordable. Since she had never been in a classroom before her first semester in college, Taylor was nervous about how she would fit into this brand new setting, but her homeschool background proved to be a perfect starting point for college classes. “I got there and it was like I’d always been there. I settled in so quickly it kind of surprised even me. I think that the structure I got – I got a pretty well rounded education.. But whatever it was I do feel like I was really well prepared. I was able to keep up and do well so I think I did get a very good foundation.”

 

She has now been at QVCC for several semesters and loves the environment that is fostered by the small community college. “I don’t know if it was because I was homeschooled, and in a smaller environment, but I love that it is smaller and can be more personal.” At QVCC, Taylor has been able to get to know her classmates and professors very well, and that’s something she really appreciates and feels as though has enriched her college experience.

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Taylor is currently working on her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences from QVCC. She is trying not to plan too far ahead and instead focus on more immediate goals, but once she’s done her Associate’s Degree she is considering pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish, as she had such a positive experience studying Spanish with Elkin Espitia-Loaiza at QVCC.  While Taylor is still keeping her options open, I do know one thing. No matter what Taylor decides to do after QVCC, I know that she can, and will, accomplish whatever she decides to do. While we have drifted apart through the years, I still consider Taylor one of the people that has impacted me the most throughout my lifetime. I think having been homeschooled and growing up together has taught both Taylor and I is that it’s okay to be different. We are two of the nerdiest people you will ever meet, and I believe that we are both old enough now to embrace that part of our personalities.  With her passion for knowledge and learning, I know that no matter what she does with her future, Taylor will go on to impact many more lives just as she has impacted mine.

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A Balancing Act – My College Story (so far)

Balance.

 

This magical land where work, friends, family, hobbies, physical activity, eating healthy, and time for relaxation all manage to fit into a 24 hour period of time.

I am not good at balance. That’s the first thing I learned when I started taking college classes.

Dedication? I’ve got that in spades.

Determination? Definitely not lacking.

But balance? It’s almost laughable how bad I was (and sometimes still am) at finding this Narnia-like land where I can be in school AND be happy. But I’m working on it.

My study skills, my test scores, my 103% average in biology, my role as graduation speaker, my acceptance into UConn, and then into the dietetics program – it can all be traced back to my lack of balance.

In January of 2013 I began taking classes at QVCC. Going to QV made perfect sense for me. It was a stepping stone to a larger university and a way to take college credits at a fraction of the cost. I could live at home, and my commute was only 15 minutes down the road. Even better, I felt at ease in that glorified hallway. I fit into the school like a slightly distorted puzzle piece. There was very little disconnect from my homeschooling past to my English and Movies classes, and none of my teachers could tell that I was homeschooled (a fact that I’m still proud of). I was working hard, and my grades reflected that. I was still slightly baffled by the classroom experience, but my teachers were kind. They supported me, gave me guidance, and I was able to prove to myself that what I was doing finally counted. I had validation from people that weren’t biased in my favor, and for the first time in my life I really felt like I was smart. Of course, in retrospect I realize that my mom would never have allowed me to get away with anything less than the best when I was homeschooled, but for those 12 years I wasn’t quite sure where I fit in academically with my public school friends. Whenever we would compare test grades from pre-calc or chemistry, they would always tell me that my homeschooled 98 didn’t count, and eventually that took a toll on my educational self-esteem. But those first few classes I took at QVCC were what helped me start to realize that maybe, just maybe, I actually was smart.

The more classes I took, the more I surprised myself. I passed my first 6-week summer class with flying colors, despite that being an intensely horrible time in my personal life due to the sudden death of an aunt and uncle. I signed up for five classes my next semester, and proceeded to shock myself by not only enjoying biology, but getting the highest grade in my class.

I worked hard. Harder than anyone I knew. Harder than I needed to. Harder than I wanted to. And it wasn’t because I was that driven. I mean, anyone who knows me knows that I can be abnormally single minded in terms of school at times, but this was a new level of dedication. The more A’s I got, the more pressure I put on myself to continue succeeding. I felt like I was standing on top of a pile of precariously stacked chairs. Each chair I added was one higher than I’d ever been before, but each time I made it a little bit higher, I felt like I had that much further to fall.  I lived in fear of a moment that never came – an exam where I knew nothing. A speech that I forgot. A short answer question that I couldn’t fully answer. A question in class that I didn’t have the detailed explanation to, whether or not I raised my hand. So while I continued to excel at school, the pressure I was putting on myself to succeed was making me miserable. I knew I was capable of a happier life. I knew balance existed, but I just hadn’t found my way there yet.

 

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Here is me, being astonishingly bad at balance. It’s easy to only show the end product of my hard work, but unfortunately I have way more pictures where studying has rendered me entirely useless than of me with scholarships in my hands.

 

Skip ahead to March of 2016.

I was wandering through the blue carpeted hallway in the east wing when a poster caught my eye. It was calling for people to audition to be graduation speaker at my commencement ceremony. I was only a few weeks away from graduating, but I had always been TERRIFIED of public speaking. (Like in an “I almost dropped French 1 when I had to present to 13 people. In English” kind of terrified). In retrospect, I could say that this is when a flip switched. This was the moment that I found the road sign to a “Happier Life”. But in the moment I couldn’t tell you what made me decide – I was just going to do it.

Everyone thought I was crazy. But after two failed rough drafts, one amazing mentor, two auditions, and one phone call, I did it. I was chosen to be the graduation speaker.

As I prepared for graduation I practiced my speech every night. I had to get on that stage and be as prepared as humanly possible. I had to get on stage and have the speech memorized forwards, backwards, and upside down. I had to know that speech in the dark, without notes, and while fighting in a zombie apocalypse. I was teetering on the highest chair I had ever been on and I thought that these 5 sheets of paper with my ramblings of a speech were what was going to send me careening to the ground.

So I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced.

And suddenly I was standing in front of the podium, looking out at hundreds of people sitting on the lawn. They were all staring at me. That’s when I expected to feel the fear take over. My stomach would jump into my throat. My anxiety would knock my knees together while my sweat glands would go into overdrive. But nothing happened. When I started speaking, I didn’t need my notes. I really did have my speech memorized every which way from Sunday, but for the first time in a very long time, it was just me. I spoke, and reminisced on the growth I achieved while I was working through Chemistry II in my night class. I thought back to my early public speaking days, and all of the blood, sweat, and literal tears that were now memorialized in my diploma (to be mailed at a later date, of course). I think that’s when I decided to try to embrace balance and to let let go of the stress, the anxiety and the tears. I just wanted to hold onto the lifelong study skills, dedication and determination that I learned during the two and a half years spent at QVCC. (See below for a link to my graduation speech).

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May 26th, 2016  – the day that I finally graduated from something. I couldn’t have done it without my family. 

Entering UConn, I realized that there’s something about a lecture hall class with hundreds of students that washes your slate clean. It’s terrifying and overwhelming and impersonal, but it gave me a blank scale to start learning how to balance. My first semester at UConn was gut wrenchingly lonely at times, and I called my mom almost every day I was there just to have someone to talk to. However, my community college classes prepared me beautifully for UConn, and I reveled in surprising my advisors with my success in my classes. The courses were no more difficult than the classes at QVCC, and at times were even disappointingly easy. (I do realize that I am one of the only people on the planet that wished their Organic Chemistry class was harder, but what can you do? Instead of blood, nerdiness flows through my veins). I finished my first semester with all A’s, and even managed to escape my second semester with nothing less than an A- in Biochemistry. I must say, that class was grueling, intimidating, overwhelming, and terrifying, but I escaped and lived to tell the tale. (If I let you in on a little secret, I actually liked the information and tutor it for fun now. I know, slightly sadistic, right?) I worked part time and made time for my friends and family. Even though it was challenging, I have started to find some balance. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bi-quarterly freak outs where I look at my planner and the weight of weeks’ worth of studying/presentations/papers/reading/research crashes down on me, but that’s when my mom very calmly points out the outcome of my last freak out. (Surprise – it turned out just fine).

So that brings us to now. I am proud of who I am. My dedication, work ethic, and drive are some of the core pieces of me.

I have spent countless hours at my kitchen table; studying, memorizing, writing and re-writing. I have come from a class of two to a class of two hundred. I navigated the ups and downs of relationships, friendships, and lasting ties with teachers that I will never forget.

I am not just smart – I work hard. And while it hasn’t been an easy road to where I am now, that winding pathway and teetering tower of chairs has taught me more about myself than I ever expected.

 

My story is unique, but then again, whose isn’t? That’s why next week I’ll start sharing stories from other students who have taken alternative pathways. I’m a woman of science at heart, so just like any good research paper, I couldn’t just have one source. I admit, I might be a little biased, but I hope that you are willing to stick around and follow the stories of the incredible people that I have had the opportunity to talk to.

 

The One With An Abundance of Pictures – My Homeschooling Story

I loved being homeschooled, although I won’t pretend that any part of this installment of my journey is earth shattering. I wasn’t unschooled,  socially deprived, or locked in a closet. My schooling wasn’t crazy religious and I wasn’t part of any co-ops. I had friends and hobbies, and my family went on fun vacations together. Other than being homeschooled, I was remarkably unremarkable growing up. If I’m being honest, I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes trying to come up with a good hook for this blog post, but I don’t really know where to start. It’s not that I wish my story is more shocking or horrifying, it’s just that the whole thing stands out in my mind as being entirely lovely (despite a few teenage angsty moments, but when your mom is your teacher, that’s to be expected). So I guess the best place to start is really at the beginning.

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When I was almost five years old, my parents sent me to preschool two days a week for a school year. And until I was 17 years old and sitting in a college English class, that was the last time I ever sat in a classroom. If all you’ve ever known is the typical “8 hours a day/ 5 days a week/180 days a year/12 years in a row” education system, it might seem impossible that I was able to get an amazing education at home, from the comforts of my kitchen table, being taught by a parent who had never taken an education class in her life. But I did.

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Whenever I mention that I was homeschooled, a very common question is why I was schooled that way, and until I started this project I had never really asked my mom why, because it was just the way of life that we all loved. At the time my mom and dad decided to homeschool me (and eventually my younger brother), they chose this lifestyle because they wanted the close family ties that homeschooling fostered. They wanted us to be able to learn based on our interests and our speed of learning without the pressures of standardized testing. While they knew it was important to educate us in the goods and bads of the world, they wanted us to be able to avoid actively living as many of the ugly realities as possible, for as long as possible.

During my elementary and middle school years, homeschooling was standard fare for my group of friends. Among one of the many activities my mom involved my brother and I in was Story Hour at the local library, and there we met a family of homeschoolers that we were close with for years. This family of three girls and their three cousins became our closest friends, and together the eight of us reveled in our homeschooled freedom. One of my favorite things about having been homeschooled when I was younger was the freedom to learn wherever we went. Even though we spent four or five hours most days working on school at home, home was most certainly not the only place that we ever learned. Looking back, that is one of the things that I am most grateful for now. When I was young, I wasn’t conditioned to dread learning. Having been homeschooled, learning was around every corner. Family vacations, outings to the movies and baking were lessons in history, finance, and chemistry. I am somewhat of an anomaly now, because I am a college student that not only does well in school, but actually, legitimately loves to learn, and I have no doubt that I can trace this back to my homeschooling roots.

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As I got older I started to dedicate more time to my school work, but even this was a fraction of the time that my peers spent in school. Having been a dancer since I was 3 years old I was now able to go to the dance studio during the day and work on my routines, instead of being stuck in high school. I continued playing piano and French Horn, (two hobbies that my musician parents started me with very young), and was even able to play in a high school level honors band once. While I grew away from some of my childhood friends, socialization was never a problem as I found new companions at my dance studio. I grew up dancing with a group of girls and we became extremely close in high school, as we saw each other about 5 days a week. We had sleepovers for everyone’s birthday and are still in touch, getting together every Christmas to reconnect. I met another homeschooled family through my younger brother and even went on to have a boyfriend before I reached college. Suffice it to say, when I entered the college world, I wasn’t lacking for any social skills and still take pride in the fact that revealing my homeschooled past often yields shock on the part of anyone I meet.

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Anyone want to play a round of “spot the homeschooler”?

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On stage with my family, it didn’t matter how different we were. Dancing connected all of us.
Recently I’ve been doing more self reflection, and the more that I look at who I am as a person now, the more I realize that if I hadn’t been homeschooled, I would be a completely different person today. I feel like most of the values I associate most closely with have come from being homeschooled. Avoiding public school instilled many values in me, and entering college I have found that independent learning has been very valuable. My mom was always around to help me if I needed it, but when I was in high school I would often just take my pile of work downstairs next to the woodstove and would read my lessons and do my work solo, and then later we would review all of my work together. This helped me embrace time management, how to learn independently, and not to rely on someone monitoring my every move in order to get my work done. It is also not a secret that being homeschooled automatically makes me different, but I feel like this experience has also given me the confidence to stand out. I have never felt shy or embarrassed about my past, and honestly revel in being different. Something else that is important that I didn’t even realize I had gained from being homeschooled until recently is the ability to resist peer pressure. Having been in college for several years now, I have witnessed many interactions between my peers in which someone has been swayed by peer pressure. This is something that I’ve never struggled with, because homeschooling has taught me it’s okay to be different, and I don’t mind being that person who says “no” at a party, who says “no” to drinking and driving, or who says “no” to anything that I don’t want to do (despite how uncomfortable it makes everyone else).

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I don’t feel as though I missed out on anything having been homeschooled. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing 12 years spent with my family – learning and growing into a person that was able to transition into a functioning adult (although I’m still working on the “adulting” part. If anyone has that figured out yet, let me know). Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about how I have been educated so far, and I think that’s pretty amazing.

 

The Backstory

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Elementary school.

Middle school.

High school.

College.

Full time job.

Apartment.

Marriage.

House.

Kids.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? Or at least, that’s the stereotype. White picket fences, a school teacher mother, a lawyer father, and two perfect children. Starting at the age of 4 – sometimes even younger – locking kids up in a brick building for 8 hours a day until they’re 18, then expecting them to choose a path for the rest of their lives. Sending them off to another institution and expecting them to have magically acquired the skills to lead an adult life – cooking and feeding themselves, managing bills and jobs, going to class and having friends. In my experience, the focus often ends up slightly skewed so students end up fluent in the languages of frat parties and Thirsty Thursdays, but perhaps not so familiar with car insurance and lines of credit. It’s so predictable, this formula that society has told us is “normal” – the only “correct” way to live a meaningful life.

What if I told you that was a lie?

What if I told you that you didn’t have to be a slave to homework for 12 years before heading off to college?

What if I told you that you could live a fulfilling, enriched, meaningful life, even if you skipped a few steps on that list?

What if I told you that I skipped several steps on that list, and yet here I am, a functioning 20 year old adult. I manage a part time job, go to school full time, and even have time for my friends and hobbies.

And then, what if I told you that I was homeschooled?
Homeschooled students don’t grow up to be normal, do they??

Now you’re sitting there, trying to come up with everything you know about homeschooling. I’ll help you out with a few stereotypes here, in case you can’t come up with them on your own.

Uber religious.

Children in abundance (probably 8 or more).

Denim skirts for the girls; overalls for the boys.

Sweeping farm lands behind the house.

Teenagers with the worldly experience of a tree stump, and the social skills of a poorly trained house cat.

Abusive, manipulative, controlling parents.

No internet.

No TV.

No Harry Potter/dark magic/Disney.

“Gosh darnit” being considered harsh language

Garbage-scrounging children with no supervision (often how homeschooling is portrayed on TV)

Shall I go on?

If you feel heat rising up your cheeks in embarrassment after reading several of your homeschooling ideas on that list, please don’t click away. The vast majority of people have no contact with homeschoolers,  and there’s often no place to experience the world of homeschooling unless you’re neck deep in it yourself.

This is where I come into play, and is exactly why you’re reading this post right now. In my life, I have already skipped several steps on the list of pre-approved life choices, namely:

1) Elementary school

2) Middle school

3) High school

And believe it or not, I have even attended

4) College,

though in a slightly unconventional manner.

This all leads me to the big question here –

What is this blog all about?

Well, to answer that question, I need to tell you a bit more about myself. I was homeschooled for 12 years. When I graduated, I started attending QVCC, a local community college. I graced the halls with my presence for two and a half years (insert a sizeable dose of sarcasm here) before I graduated again, this time with an Associate’s Degree. I now commute to UConn, hiking around the campus while dragging my computer, stacks of books, and an umbrella, (because of course the only days I’m on campus are the ones it will start downpouring) while I work on a Bachelor’s Degree.

I think that the idea for this blog has been festering for years, revealing a slightly more concrete edge here and the corner of a foundation there, after every judgy question I heard – questions like “how were you socialized?”, “how can you do high school level work at home?”, “how will you ever be ready for college?” and “did you do school in your pajamas?”  However,  there were two main catalysts that really rocketed this blog into existence.

Experience 1:

I’m shadowing a Cardiology Physicians Assistant when I find myself talking to another PA staff member. He’s older (in his 60’s), and seems very worldly. He appears open-minded and polite, so when I mentioned being homeschooled I was floored by his response.

“If you were homeschooled, how did you learn to respect other adults that weren’t your parents?”

I’ve been asked many frustrating questions about homeschooling throughout the years, but this question took the cake. I was infuriated. I was angry. I was so blown away by the ignorance of the question that at the time, I could do nothing but stutter my way through a half hearted explanation of my years spent socializing through dancing. And with that comment, I just knew that I had to educate people about being homeschooled. I didn’t know how, or when, or in what format at that time, but I just knew that I couldn’t be passive in perpetuating the ignorance many people have about this valid alternative educational choice.

Experience 2:

I’m meeting with my UConn advisor. I’m a junior, with one semester at UConn already under my belt and 83 credits transferred to UConn from my community college. I’m applying for a competitive program in Dietetics which only accepts about 18 undergrads per year, and we’re discussing the aspects of my transcript and resume that would help me get into the program. My advisor is complimenting me on my A in Organic Chemistry, and said that four straight A’s in my first semester at UConn was really very critical for my acceptance into the program because…

“You need experience at UConn. Sure, your grades were very good at QVCC, but they weren’t ‘UConn A’s’. The committee needs to see how you function here before they’ll even look at you, so it’s a good thing you didn’t just try to get in straight from community college.”

I was infuriated. Me and my 3.98 GPA from QVCC stormed out of her office together, knowing that now I didn’t need to just talk to people about homeschooling, but also about community colleges. That night, on my hike to my car, I called my mom and told her I wanted to start a blog.

And now you’re all caught up.