SPOTLIGHT: Home-schooled students adapt at college

By Rhys Saunders

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

In this photo taken Jan. 26, 2012, Melissa Sanchez studies after class in her townhouse on the campus of the University of Illinois Springfield. Sanchez was home schooled from kindergarten through twelfth grade and is currently a junior at UIS.

The State Journal-Register, Jason Johnson, Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Going away to college after being taught at home wasn't as big of a deal for Melissa Sanchez and Moira Lawless as they thought it would be.

Then again, not every home-schooled child has a certified teacher for a mom. That might explain why Sanchez, 21, and Lawless, 26, learned just as easily in the living room as they did in the college lecture hall.

Sanchez, who hails from the Chicago suburbs, is a student at the University of Illinois-Springfield; Lawless, of Springfield, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California.

The transition isn't always easy for home-schooled, college-bound students who are not used to "traditional" classroom settings.

But home-school students don't seem to have a problem settling in at UIS, which is among colleges that actively recruit them, according to Judy Shipp, director of UIS's counseling center.

"If someone has any kind of transition issues, regardless of the background they've come from, we can help them with those kinds of things," Shipp said. "I can't say that we have something specifically set up for people who have been home-schooled, and I can't say that we've seen those kinds of issues."

UIS does not track the number of home-school students who attend the college, said Leigh Brannan, an admissions counselor.

Similarly, the State Board of Education doesn't have a number for home-school students because they're not required to register with the state, said Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Brannan said UIS saw an opportunity in trying to attract home-schooled students.

"Within the past couple of years we've started an initiative to reach out to those students," she said.

That includes recruiting at the Chicago Homeschool Expo, which gives home-schoolers a chance to meet up with educational vendors and admissions counselors for three days each August.

"There are also quite a few post-secondary institutions that are there to try to pull in some of the high-school age students whose parents might be there to get information," Brannan said.

Another way to connect with students is through the social networking site Homeschool Nation, according to Brannan. It's essentially like Facebook for students who are taught at home.

"Students can get on there, talk to other students who are in the same boat as they are, looking at schools, trying to figure out what their options are," Brannan said. "I actually get on and post general information for students — what to include in a personal statement, what kind of high school courses they need to be taking in order to prepare for college.

"I've also personally reached out to a few students who have expressed interest in UIS and kind of kept in contact with them."

Both Sanchez and Lawless grew up in Catholic families, though their parents didn't teach them at home for religious reasons.

Sanchez was home-schooled in the Chicago suburbs along with her eight siblings because her mother, a former professor, didn't like that the oldest child was being taught sex education in a private school. He was only 12 at the time, Sanchez said.

"My mom said, 'They're too young for that,'" Sanchez said. "She's the type of person who believes that parents should be the ones to teach sexual education."

Lawless' mother taught her six children at home in Springfield after graduating college with a degree in education.

"She really enjoyed kids and thought that she would really enjoy teaching her own," Lawless said.

And for both women, they say the transition from home-schooled life to college was a smooth one.

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