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.

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