Home schoolers get creative en route to higher education
Kate Cayley got into a Halifax university on the strength of an essay explaining her love for a 495-line poem. David Piechnik was accepted into art school in Vancouver after submitting a portfolio that included posters he designed for his church.
The duo is among the nation’s growing number of home schoolers who have knocked on the doors of post-secondary institutions to convince them that kitchen-table classrooms are prime training grounds for higher education.
And the institutions are listening. Many schools that wouldn’t look twice at home-schooled applicants a decade ago are now crafting policies to accommodate them, ranging from the rigid to the welcoming. “I never really assumed I wouldn’t get in,” said Piechnik, a 22-year-old from Surrey who entered a formal classroom for the first time last year when he enrolled at the Art Institute of Vancouver. “But, I didn’t have transcripts, so I had to go meet with them.”
A college committee approved his application, making the art school one of two post-secondary institutions that accepted Piechnik. He was also accepted for business studies at Kwantlen University College in his hometown after writing an English exam that “wasn’t exactly the hardest test I’ve ever had.”
Cayley says she was the first home-schooled student to be accepted 10 years ago at the University of King’s College in Halifax, after she wrote a 20-page essay on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Adonais and mailed it off with several reference letters.
Although firm numbers are sketchy, there are an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 home-educated children in Canada, representing less than one per cent of the student population, according to the Home School Legal Defence Association.
Sherri Piechnik, president of the B.C. Home Learners’ Association, said approaching a post-secondary institution with a good attitude and some documentation is important for a home-schooled student.
“What I recommend home schoolers do is put your transcripts together and get dad to write a letter. And if there’s an employer you have worked for, get him to write a letter as well on your behalf.”
See what university officials themselves have to say, said Piechnik, who has brought up five children with home schooling. Taking an online college- or university-level course to prove your abilities can also be a good step, Piechnik said.
On the Internet, she points to www.ontariohomeschool.org — the website of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents — as a valuable resource for post-secondary information “from a home-school perspective.” Her association is just starting the process of putting that sort of information on its site, she said.
Piechnik said B.C. has just over 2,000 students being educated at home. She said they are distinct from those who are schooled at home through “distributed learning”, which is run through school districts but allows students to do most of their learning outside the school environment.