Both Sides of the Narrative – Olivia Hussey’s Story

Olivia Hussey

Welcome back to the flipside, dedicated readers (you know, probably just my mom. Hi mom!). After a quick hiatus for midterms, we’re back with another story, but this one is different than stories I’ve told so far. Until now, most of the educational stories I’ve shared have been quite positive, but now it’s time for some contrast. This week’s blog post is about Olivia Hussey, someone whom I have known for many years. We met through a homeschooling teen group, but we could have just as easily met on walks around the neighborhood as we live about 1 mile apart. She and her family were staples in the homeschool group I was lightly involved with throughout my teens, and I was able to see Olivia grow into a remarkable young woman as we attended QVCC together. I was very glad when Olivia agreed to do an interview with me, because I knew that she had a unique story to tell, but I had no idea just how unique until I actually sat down to talk with her.

 

Olivia was homeschooled from the start of her education, and she and her older brother began schooling with a fairly structured routine. However, as more time went on, she gained 4 more siblings and her curriculum became more relaxed, as she and her siblings followed an approach that was more unschooled. They still covered a lot of basics, such as reading, math, history, and science, but “you get to the point when you’re like 11, 12, 13, and you’re like ‘okay, I realize that I’m supposed to be putting effort into this, but I don’t know how.’ People are driven to start to feel like ‘what am I doing?’ when they’re still a little too young to be able to accomplish it,” and this was the catalyst that pushed Olivia to start looking into more traditional schools.

 

After exploring some of her options, Olivia decided to go to New Hope Academy, a small Baptist school in Northeast Connecticut. It was very small, having only about 6 kids in the entire high school educated by one teacher (who was also the principal), and 20 children in the elementary and middle schools taught by 3 teachers. When I asked Olivia how she felt about her first year at New Hope she told me that she thought it was a normal schooling experience initially, but she had nothing to gauge it against because she had never been enrolled in school before. In retrospect, she could say – “one teacher, one room, six high schoolers… It was phenomenally awful,” but at the time, she just thought it was a generic schooling experience. She learned a lot, and was able to discover that she thrived in a more traditional academic situation.

Following her first year at New Hope, Olivia took a year off. She really didn’t know what to think of her experience. Her siblings were all leaving, so she decided to join them back at home, but as she didn’t do much schooling during that year, she began to feel anxiety about her education again. This is when she decided to enroll in her second year at New Hope – when things really took a turn for the worst. “I’ve honestly repressed a lot of this, I’ve spent a lot of effort trying to forget it just because it’s not enjoyable to remember.” While there are many specifics that made Olivia’s time at New Hope traumatic, there is a broad theme of manipulation and verbal abuse that would scar even the toughest child. Olivia didn’t realize that in high school it wasn’t normal to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with one teacher  – especially when that teacher was mean and emotionally manipulative. Olivia was often called “snarky” and was constantly told that she could “do better.” In addition, keep in mind that this school was Baptist, so the principal also abused Olivia’s relationship with her faith. “She [the principal] would conflate school with religion, which I guess is what you’d expect out of a religious school, but there was the ‘you can always do better’ and she conflated it with ‘if you don’t try hard enough, you’re not doing our best for God.’ For a 15 year old kid, it was [really harsh].. I’ve had to spend a lot of time putting that aside.” Aside from horrible interpersonal relationships at New Hope, Olivia’s education was also severely neglected in several areas, especially when it came to Spanish and math. She told me that her Spanish teacher was the principal’s husband, who didn’t even speak the language. He couldn’t help Olivia beyond the scope of what was in the book and couldn’t answer her questions, so it was very frustrating for a student who just wanted to learn. She also didn’t have access to a math teacher. She was expected to teach herself algebra, and at 15, had a very hard time understanding the subject matter. If she had questions, she would have to go downstairs to the elementary school and wait behind several elementary school students to ask the elementary school teacher her questions.

After learning this, I just had to ask Olivia what happened between then and now. If you met Olivia now, the first thing you would notice is her intelligence. She exudes it out of her pores and the second she opens her mouth it’s clear that she is special. I’ve always been impressed by her skills in math (as I watched her go through differential equations at QVCC), but I was honestly blown away with the fact that she was able to excel so much in a subject that she had so little background in prior to college. I asked her how she went from no math background to getting into Wentworth for mechanical engineering and she told me that the key was Denise Walsh. Denise is a math teacher at QVCC and helped Olivia catch up to her peers. As a person, Olivia knew that she wanted to go into something based in math because “I just saw the person I was and decided I just couldn’t be that anymore, it’s just too associated with really unpleasant things. I changed in a lot of ways that I’m still understanding, like what caused what, and I don’t know if that would have happened in a public school scenario. Which leads me to the really awful question of ‘is it better that I went there [New Hope] and turned out the way I am?’ And that’s just a disgusting question to ask myself. I was very artistic, artsy, ‘loved talking about grey moral areas’ type of person. I just looked at that person and was like ‘I don’t want to be this [anymore],’ and I think math was the [opposite] of that person.”
These days, you can find Olivia in Boston studying mechanical engineering at Wentworth; the next stepping stone for her after graduating Magna Cum Laude with her Associate’s Degree in Engineering from QVCC. While I don’t know what the future has in store for her, I know that if anyone will set goals and actually achieve them, it will be Olivia. I have always been slightly intimidated by her outspoken intelligence, and find her presence in a room empowering. For as long as I’ve known her, Olivia has been completely unafraid to say whatever is on her mind. She is transparent, and really, unironically smart. But not only that, she is kind, and helpful, and incredibly resilient. I don’t know of anybody who could overcome an extremely limited math background to the extent where she is now majoring in engineering, but then there’s Olivia, doing what Olivia does, and impressing all of us in the process.

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From Unschooled to UConn – Sydne Andersen’s Story

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Sydne Andersen was one of my closest friends when I was dancing. We had a duo together, spent almost an entire summer together as we switched back and forth between our houses for sleepovers, and regularly enjoyed the deliciousness of her mom’s incredible chocolate chip spread for pancakes (chocolate chip, peanut butter, butterscotch, white chocolate – you name it, Mrs. Andersen had it). We were inseparable – playing manhunt with her brothers in the summer, swimming in the lake where my grandparents live, and bouncing around the beginnings of adolescence together. Being 12 and 13 is a challenging time for any child, and as Mrs. Andersen used to always say – “It’s not always peaches and cream around the Andersen household” – the same is true for growing up. It isn’t easy, learning how to think for yourself, discovering your likes and dislikes… but Sydne was the kind of friend that made growing up easier.

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Sydne and I actually attended UConn together for a year, she was a senior majoring in finance as I was a transfer junior. She told me that the work ethic her parents instilled in her as a child really helped her to be prepared for college, although she doesn’t think that university is something that you can really prepare for until you’re in the thick of it. “Do you know how to read and write and do you know how to study? I didn’t feel unprepared, but I don’t know if you can really prepare for college.” Sydne feels as though she owes some of her college success to the fact that when she was in high school, the material didn’t come easily to her. “So many of my friends didn’t do well in their first semester of college because high school came easy to them. High school didn’t come easy to me because I always felt like I was playing a little bit of catch-up. I guess I was able to succeed because of everything that built up to college.”

 

Now, you might ask me why Sydne said that she felt like she was playing a bit of “catch-up” throughout high school. Well, as you might have suspected (I don’t know if you can see a theme here or not), but Sydne also happened to be homeschooled. From grades 2-8, she was schooled by her mom. Sydne decided to go to public school for high school because she didn’t remember what 1st grade was like and wanted to become more involved in school. She hoped that going to public school would help her be more prepared for college. When she entered the public school setting, Sydne said that she didn’t feel out of place academically, but was taken aback by the atmosphere and culture of the students. She hated how disrespectful her fellow students were in classes, and this took some adjusting to get used to. However, other than some struggles with math, Sydne did incredibly well in high school and graduated as salutatorian in her class (just as her older and younger brothers did).

 

While it might not be surprising that a former homeschooler was able to do so well in the public school and collegiate settings, what might surprise you is the fact that Sydne was not only homeschooled, but unschooled.  She told me that “my mom always tells us that she taught us how to learn and not what to learn.” Her mom still focused on some history, math, and science, but overall they didn’t follow any structured curriculum. As far as socialization is concerned, it should already be clear that Sydne didn’t have trouble making friends. She was able to dance because of how flexible her schedule was, and when I asked her the hypothetical “socialization” question, her answer was very fitting. “That’s such a stupid question. I think, maybe if you were in a very religious home those [children] maybe tend to be more sheltered, but I did go to Hebrew school on the weekends. I did theatre and dance, so I think while you could be socially awkward at first, it’s really not hard to break out of that after a while.” More than anything, homeschooling helped Sydne gain some of the skills that have lasted her for years. Her parents were able to instill a strong work ethic in her and her siblings, and Sydne was able to gain “a better relationship with my family, overall. I think homeschoolers tend to be a lot closer to their loved ones, so that was a big gain.”

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As we got older, I remained homeschooled; Sydne went to public school and stopped dancing, and slowly we grew apart simply because of geography.  As the years passed, we fell out of touch, but as I had hoped, when I got together with Sydne for this interview, it felt like we picked up right where we left off. Sydne will always remind me of adolescence and how it felt to start to discover who I really was as a person. Our friendship ran deep and was one based on a love of dancing, enjoying life, and a mutual distaste for Saxon math. Sydne is very much an overachiever (very similar to myself), and I know that she is the kind of person who will soar as high as she wants if she just puts her mind to it.

It’s A Small World – Seth Beecher’s Story

Seth Beecher

I met Seth Beecher during my first math class at QVCC. He was in pre-calculus with me, and I remember being slightly intimidated by his math skills. I knew he was an engineering major, but not much more until we ended up walking out of class together on a cold fall night. Somehow it came up that I was homeschooled, and that’s when he shared that he, too, had been homeschooled for 12 years.

 

Seth was homeschooled because his parents didn’t like the public school system or the influence it was having on his older sister. He loved having been homeschooled, because he had so much freedom with the curriculum. Seth told me that they didn’t stick with a specific time line – if something took him longer to understand they could take their time, and if he got something really fast they could move on. He had the ability to get up early and get all of his school work done, so he could have freedom to have his afternoons to himself. While he was homeschooled, Seth was also able to forge long lasting family ties that he is very thankful for. He has a good family relationship, and feels as though he can thank homeschooling for a lot of that. When I asked him if there was anything he disliked about having been homeschooled, he told me that he really liked it. He didn’t feel as though he missed out on anything other than school drama, but he’s glad that he managed to miss that part.

 

When Seth was homeschooled, he was active in a homeschool group that got together a lot, doing things like gym class, sailing, and even archery class. He also attended church every week, and got together with family members often. He had a group of friends that he played airsoft with every week, and even went to 4H camp several years in a row. He told me that he never had trouble findings friends – “I mean, I live out in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t live under a rock.

 

After high school, Seth started attending QVCC and felt very prepared entering the collegiate scene. He made a lot of friends and enjoyed learning from different professors. He likes to think that he was very knowledgeable prior to entering QVCC, but he knows that the school really did help him grow as a person. “As much as I’ll deny it, my mom says I actually have learned quite a bit. It changes the way you think, not so much how much you actually know, but the way you think.” Throughout the classes he took, Seth found the liberal arts classes easy, but that was simply because he was well prepared for the curriculum. These were classes that his peers would spend time complaining about writing papers for, but Seth didn’t mind. He did find the math and engineering classes very challenging, but succeeded in graduating QVCC within 3 years. He made the decision to take three years to get his Associate’s Degree because he wanted to have a life outside of school. While he was attending community college, Seth had an active life outside of school, doing anything from sailing to square dancing, engine work and hanging out with friends, as well as keeping a job.

 

These days you can find Seth on the UConn campus studying mechanical engineering. For a quick round of “It’s A Small World,” I actually ran into Seth on campus recently, as he was getting out of a class in the same classroom that I had a class in. Out of all the buildings, and classrooms, and seats (he was the only student I could see through the door) he could have been in – what are the odds?  Apparently QVCC alumni attract!

Good Friends Are Like Stars – Adam Greczkowski’s Story

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There are few people in this world that I consider real, true friends. People with whom you can have 1:00 a.m. car talks, and who will then go hiking with you the next day or go searching through racks of ridiculous 90’s cloths at a thrift shop with. Unadulterated, pure friendship is rare, but I have that with Adam. I’ve known Adam for at least 10 years, and in the past 4 years he has grown to be one of my very best friends. He is the kind of friend who will support me at my highest moments, (like at my graduation from QVCC), and who will be there to help me pick up the pieces when I need it most (like the emergency 7:00 am chocolate chip pancakes he made for me on one of my worst days). No matter what, I can count on Adam to lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a few words of advice if that’s what I need the most.

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Adam began his schooling in a semi-traditional setting, having attended St. Mary’s school from kindergarten to 8th grade. He attended Putnam High School for one semester before deciding that it wasn’t for him. He was having health issues involving undiagnosed food allergies, and felt as though he was taking a step backwards because he had already completed much of the curriculum they were using. His mom decided to try homeschooling him after he complained about school every day during his first semester.

 

When I asked Adam what he enjoyed about being home schooled, he told me that he could “build my life around my education, and my education around my life. I could study things that were relevant and important to me, as well as expanding my own world view. Whereas in public school, generally you’re given your information on a platter, and it’s not quite as free.” Adam’s homeschooling routine was different than mine, because he attended a co-op and spent at least one day a week at one of his homeschool friend’s houses doing work. It was interesting to me to talk to him about these variances from what I did when I was homeschooled. He really enjoyed the days he could go to co-op and his friend’s house, because they always had a structured day and he knew what he was going to study. The co-op he attended was in Massachusetts and his “grade” (sophomore in high school) consisted of 10-12 students. There, he got to take a class in Latin roots for English words, as well as English, poetry, creative writing, and art expression.  He even got to be a member of their yearbook committee.

 

As I have been doing with all of the homeschooled students I interviewed, I asked Adam how he was socialized when he was homeschooled – because it is still one of the most common questions I get asked to this day. His response to this hypothetical person legitimately wondering how he was socialized was “how were you socialized? Just because I was homeschooled doesn’t mean I was locked in a cellar, given a book, a scrap of food and a towel for a blanket.” Adam was very involved in community theatre, as well as a youth community service group, and even tried karate at one point.  He always had friends pulling him into different activities. Socialization was never an issue for him, if anything, “I might have prioritized socialization sometimes over my actual education.”

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When Adam was 17, he received his GED and then continued his education at QVCC. He was originally a little nervous going into a collegiate setting, but said that his English class at the co-op prepared him quite well for his first college English class, boosting his confidence. As he gained experience at QV, he felt prepared and began to feel more comfortable in college. Adam majored in General Studies, and graduated from QVCC in 2014. When I asked him whether or not he found QVCC classes to be inherently easy, he said that “anyone who calls these classes inherently easy can take my managerial accounting class.” Adam echoed the opinion of several other students I interviewed, as he felt that the reason why a lot of people find it easier to succeed at a community college is because you’re spending more one-on-one time with your professor, which isn’t a luxury that is an option at a 4 year school. “Your teacher gets invested in you and wants you to learn, and you get to know them and you don’t want to disappoint them, so you work a little harder. If you’re in a 200 person lecture hall, it’s easy to just feel like a face in the crowd and your actions are inconsequential.”

After graduating in 2014, Adam took a little time off from college but eventually decided that he wanted to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at Eastern. He knew that he needed a few more prerequisites before he enrolled in Eastern, so he returned to QVCC to take a lab science, a higher level math, and a year of language. Much to his surprise, this year of language introduced him to a new love of Spanish, and he is now at Eastern – double majoring in marketing and Spanish. When he graduates from Eastern, Adam is thinking of working in the PR field for international charities. He is hoping that his background in Spanish will help him land a job in this field, because he’s always loved working with people and is very creative when it comes to solving problems.

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When Adam and I were both attending QVCC, we got to spend an abundance of time together, and while we’re currently at different schools and are astonishingly busy throughout the semester, we are still able to maintain a beautiful friendship. We both tutor at the QVCC Learning Center, so without fail we get to check in with one another every week and see how things are going. Sometimes that’s all we get, but no matter how busy we become, I know we’ll always make time to grab lunch at Heirloom or have a gluten-free baking night. Adam is one of the rare people I have found who is as mature and wise as I can be, and it is so enjoyable to see how our friendship grows the older we get. It’s wonderful to have a friend who has known you for so long and has seen all of the failures behind your successes, and yet is still your steadfast supporter.