Homeschooling Gives Mason Honors Students Unique Perspective

Posted: November 29, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

While dorm life might give many Mason students a home at school for the first time, eight General Honors Program students are used to taking tests and learning subjects at home. With various degrees of homeschooling under their belts, Margaret Giragosian, Anna Maurer, Julie Moscato, Eleni Vagias, Mary Gamble, Angela Panayotopulos, Stephen Smith, and Heather Thompson have learned that sometimes parents are the best teachers.

Now freshmen at George Mason, these students have a little hindsight on their home-school educations and say they appreciate the choices their parents made. With hometowns from Fairfax, Va., to Las Cruces, N.M., several of the students were educated at home their entire lives, others for a year or two. Many have brothers and sisters who were also homeschooled, and family life and education intermingled so much that it was hard to tell when the learning stopped.

Parents had different reasons for homeschooling their children. For global affairs major Thompson, homeschooling made sense because her father’s job entailed several moves around the country.

Other students say their parents used homeschooling as a way to accommodate difficult schedules and allow them to explore different interests. Dance major Giragosian says that if she had gone to a regular school, she would not have been able to pursue dancing so passionately. “In high school, I was heavily involved in dance on a schedule that involved about 36 hours of practice a week and a two-hour commute,” she says. “Public schools would not have wanted to deal with a schedule like that.” Homeschooling also gave Giragosian the flexibility to take as long as she needed to master subjects.

Vagias also needed to accommodate her extracurricular activities and took two homeschooled courses in addition to a full course load at her high school during her junior and senior year. Immersed in ballet, volunteer work, and an honor society, she enjoyed having independence and control over her own learning and schedule.

Flexibility seems to be a common reason for homeschooling. Maurer, whose family is very active in its church, was able to spend time volunteering at her church during the day. “For my family, our schooling was much less structured,” she says. “We did our school work whenever we had time around all our other activities. When my grandfather was sick a couple of years ago, we were able to pack up our books and move the whole school.”

For many of them, having brothers and sisters who were also educated at home allowed for company and study buddies-as well as lots of fond memories. “My mom used to dress my younger sister and me alike in ‘uniforms,’ and pretended like we were in private school,” laughs Moscato. Giragosian remembers teaching her little sister how to read very early on-“To this day, she is a grade ahead!” Thompson admits she sometimes went to school in her pajamas, but Panayotopulos says she didn’t because “pajamas in the daytime make me feel like I’m sick.”

Maurer says, “I have a great family, and I loved being homeschooled.” Having been taught at home her whole life, she says that now that she is away at college she realizes how much she misses spending time with her family. “We often had really great discussions about many different subjects.”

Whatever their degree of homeschooling, these honors students say they have no regrets. Gamble, who was educated at home from preschool through seventh grade, says that she was part of a home-school group of about 20 girls her age. “We did a lot of things together-French Club, art, cooking, and field trips-so I never felt like I missed out on anything,” Thompson echoes that sentiment. With friends in public and private schools, she says that if there were any typical high school things she wanted to do, she could. Panayotopulos, who was homeschooled for two years during high school, says, “I missed the bustle and hustle and laughter and chatter of normal school life, but I actually learned so much more through homeschooling.”

Adjusting to college life hasn’t been a problem for these honors students. All are heavily involved in all kinds of activities and organizations on campus-from University Scholars, to the symphony, to Catholic Campus Ministry, to intramural sports.

“I enjoy the social aspects of Mason so much,” says Gamble, who lives on campus. “I love my dorm mates. Mason basically provided me with a bigger family. It’s awesome.”

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