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OU students speak about benefits of home-school background

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Alma Cienski

Alma Cienski, public relations and modern dance performance sophomore, sits on a bench on the South Oval Nov. 10. Cienski was homeschooled and never attended public school until college.

Alma Cienski is occasionally asked how she made friends growing up.

People sometimes assume Kirsten Baxter did not have a social life in high school.

When Victoria Bergman meets someone else who was also home-schooled, there’s usually a joke about how “normal” they both are.

For three OU students who were home-schooled, these topics of conversation are somewhat expected. According to the Institutional Research and Reporting office, OU admitted 183 home-schooled students in the spring, fall and summer semesters of 2017, and around 233 undergraduates currently enrolled at OU have a home-school background.

Below, three formerly home-schooled students share their experiences with learning at home and transitioning to college life.

Exploring new worlds

For English literature senior Victoria Bergman, the most memorable part of being home-schooled was sitting in her backyard for hours reading whatever she chose.

Bergman was home-schooled for three years, from second grade through fourth grade. Her mother pulled her out of school because her principal wouldn’t let her skip a grade, even though she found her classes boring, she said.

“My principal had this idea in her head that I would get bullied if I went to a higher grade,” Bergman said. “So my mom said, ‘Okay, that’s fine, we’re just going to homeschool her instead so that she can learn more difficult things.’”

Bergman’s mother gave her a binder at the beginning of each week with all the topics she was expected to learn, Bergman said. If she finished early in the week, she could spend the rest of her time reading whatever nonfiction books interested her most, which centered around topics like ancient Egypt, the voyage of the Titanic and pioneer life.

“I liked reading before I was home-schooled, but I never really had the time for it,” Bergman said. “And once I did have that time ... I don’t know, it sounds cheesy, but I began to realize all the different — you know, everyone says you can travel to different worlds through books? That’s when I first started to realize that.”

Bergman chose not to be home-schooled long-term. She returned to public school after fourth grade because she felt slightly left out of her social circle, she said.

“I had a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out),” Bergman said. “All my other friends went to traditional school, and I would see them at Girl Scouts or soccer, and they would know all the elementary school gossip that I didn’t know about. And I felt a little left out.”

Bergman often wondered whether attending a home-school cooperative might have given her more social connection, since the home-schooled students she knew who attended them stuck with home schooling longer, she said.

Although she returned to public school, being educated at home taught Bergman how to prioritize her interests and study on her own, lessons she carried with her into college, she said. Right now, Bergman is busy applying to law school and hopes to become an attorney.

Bergman has encountered some stereotypes surrounding home-schoolers. People sometimes think there is a religious connotation to home schooling, but she and lots of fellow students she knew were not home-schooled for that reason, she said. In addition, sometimes people are surprised to find home-schoolers are “normal,” Bergman said.

“The most obvious (stereotype) is like the 'Mean Girls' example of, ‘She was home-schooled, she’s a freak,’” Bergman said. “I have found very little truth in that.”

Finding her own pace

Kirsten Baxter plans to build rockets someday, she said. The aerospace engineering freshman credits home schooling for allowing her to learn at her own pace, since math comes more naturally to her than English.

Before Baxter’s mother took her out of public school in the middle of first grade, she was being held back in reading and math, she said.

“I was very stressed in public school because my teacher was very loud, and that scared me,” Baxter said. “And it was a relief going to be home-schooled because I could do what I needed to do and not what everybody else needed to do.”

Baxter was home-schooled through high school. One of her favorite memories is her mother taking her and her two younger siblings out for French toast and pancakes every year on the first day of public school. On Thursdays when she was younger, she attended a day school for home-schoolers where she made art or science projects and played outside, she said.

Learning with siblings was not always enjoyable for Baxter because, as an older child, she was more responsible and got her work done sooner, she said. By the time she hit ninth grade, she set up her own school structure and took dual enrollment classes at a college in her last two years of high school.

Baxter doesn’t regret being home-schooled — she liked the freedom it gave her, she said.

“I didn’t want everyone telling me what to do because I felt I was mature enough to decide by myself,” Baxter said.

This maturity helped Baxter in her transition to college, though moving to campus was still an adjustment because it was so big, she said.

“I’m not used to so many people being in my way and pushing me off the sidewalk — and just all the talking,” Baxter said. “And no one looks where they’re going, so you have to watch out.”

However, Baxter feels less stressed about studying than many of her peers, she said. She utilizes study tactics like reading through the lectures, completing practice problems and writing sentences on key points — strategies she learned because of the hard subjects she took while home-schooled.

In the past, people have misjudged her and her peers because they were educated at home, Baxter said.

“A lot of people seem to think that home-schoolers home-school because they are not very well-socialized, and that’s very wrong,” Baxter said. “I went to soccer, and I had friends, and just because I wasn’t around people my own age all the time doesn’t mean I wasn’t socialized.”

Challenging ideas

Alma Cienski appreciates the critical thinking skills her parents instilled in her and her four siblings with their home-schooling methods. The public relations and modern dance performance sophomore was home-schooled all her life and was taught to look at ideas from all different angles, she said.

“They made sure to teach us everything and then make sure to tell us why they came to this conclusion, which I think is an excellent way to teach,” Cienski said.

At times, Cienski still wanted to go to a more traditional school. She would sometimes research how to get into different private schools in her spare time. But, in the end, she’s grateful she was home-schooled all her life, she said.

“I’m very happy with how it turned out,” Cienski said. ”Even if 10-year-old me really wanted to go to private school, I’m glad that 18-year-old me stuck with it.”

Cienski’s father is a pilot, and the freedom to travel was a deciding factor in her parents’ decision to home-school her and her siblings, she said. She also got to spend more time with both her parents — her dad would work for about three days at a time, then come home and be able to spend time with them, she said.

Because her oldest brother is 14 years older than Cienski, she was primarily educated with her closest brother, who is six years older. Despite the age gap, they would sometimes learn the same subject at the same time, she said.

“My mom would do history with us, and we’d be learning the same things, but he would have like a three-page paper, and I would have like a one-page paper,” Cienski said.

Besides learning at home, Cienski also attended a home-school cooperative that met once a week, where her mother was administrator. The cooperative offered classes that parents didn’t have enough expertise to teach themselves, such as higher math, science, theater and art. It was broken up into seven or eight periods, similar to a traditional school (“so I hear,” Cienski said).

Although she didn’t attend public school, Cienski was still able to have “normal” experiences like going to prom with her boyfriend at the time, who was not home-schooled. An amusing misconception is that home-schoolers attend prom with their siblings, she said.

“My personal favorite is that you go to prom with your siblings, which is so weird, but I think it’s funny,” Cienski said. “I’m like, ‘No, I went to actual prom.’”

Home schooling gave Cienski more freedom to dance, which is a time-intensive pursuit, she said. Between challenging courses and dance classes, though, she was still able to have time to relax and recharge.

“Thinking back on how I was raised and school and everything, I’m like, ‘Wow. I got to eat lunch and watch TV? That was so nice,’” Cienski said. “I don’t get that now.”

Although she’s not entirely sure whether she will dance professionally or pursue a public relations job after college, Cienski has always dreamed of being a Rockette. She is also interested in musical theater and taking voice lessons next semester — so she can be a “triple threat,” she said.

Even with a double major, Cienski was able to survive the transition to college thanks to dual credit classes in high school and her mother’s high education standards. She is able to stay on top of her work and even go above and beyond because of the foundation she received, she said.

Cienski also has a very close relationship with her mother because they saw each other every day, and they still talk frequently, she said.

“I even text her and call her all the time, like, ‘Thank you so much for making me do my work,’” Cienski said.

Correction: This article was corrected at 4:12 p.m. Oct. 12, 2018, to reflect that Alma Cienski was never asked if she went to prom with her siblings. Cienski is also now an A&E reporter for The Daily, but was not when the story was written.

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