Ask the Grad
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Ask the Grad – Heather Hartkopf

This week we hear from Heather Hartkopf, a nursing graduate assistant at Pensacola Christian College.  I met Heather through a great friend here in Texas.  Heather is unique in that she is one of the few homeschool grads of our generation to be home educated all the way through.  Back in the 1980s, homeschooling was not only much more limited, but even persecuted actively in many states.  Resources were hard to come by in the pre-internet era.  Heather’s parents showed great courage, faith, and determination in pursuing their spiritual and educational goals for their children.  Here is her story.

I was blessed to grow up as the oldest of three children in a wonderful Christian family. My sister, brother, and I were all homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. Each of us have graduated from high school and have gone on to college. We like to joke that each of us graduated at the top of our class, and also at the bottom.

Heather Hartkopf, middle, with her brother and sister

My family’s decision to homeschool resulted from my parents’ desire to provide each of their children with a good education. Despite this, homeschooling was an unusual choice for my parents. Both attended public schools, both had heard horror stories about parents arrested for homeschooling during the 1980’s, and both had no experience with homeschool curricula. I am so thankful that the Lord led my parents to consider homeschool in the face of these obstacles.

The choice to homeschool came in stages. As a small child, I wanted to read so badly that my parents decided to put me in school. Because my birthday came after the cut-off for our area public schools, my parents began considering alternatives. They remembered a homeschooling family that they had met. Meeting and talking to this family gave my parents the confidence to try homeschooling. My mother purchased a kindergarten curriculum and began working with me every day. By the end of the year, I was reading! My parents decided they would homeschool me until the end of third grade to make sure that I knew everything that I was supposed to know. When my younger sister and brother become old enough, my parents began homeschooling them as well. All of this was done with the intention of placing us into a public school in fourth grade. After the first couple of years, my parents realized that homeschooling was a good fit for our family. The flexible hours and easily tailored curriculum helped to meet each of our needs. We continued to homeschool through middle school. When we began to look at options for high school, it was clear to us that homeschooling was the best choice. The anti-Christian curriculum of public schools and the high cost of Christian schools solidified our determination to homeschool through the end of high school.

Throughout my time as a homeschooler, my family used a structured curriculum and a traditional schedule. When I was little, my school day was short and structured. My mother worked with me individually for each subject. As I got older, the school days got longer and I was able to be more independent. Even with the longer days during high school, most of my schoolwork was done before dinner. I did my schoolwork in my bedroom or in our family room. We went to school Monday through Friday, August through May. The best part was being able to rearrange the schedule around sickness, family trips, or church events. My mother was the primary person who homeschooled me, but my father has always been very involved with each of us.

My family used primarily A Beka Book materials throughout our homeschooling. We also used Alpha and Omega workbooks to supplement Bible classes during elementary. For part of middle school and all of high school, I used the A Beka Academy distance learning program. Because this program consisted of videotaped classes along with A Beka Book textbooks, I was able to take courses such as Spanish and French that I would not have been able to take otherwise.

Overall, homeschooling was a very positive experience for me. Looking back, it is funny to think that my family started out homeschooling with no intention of continuing through high school. As the years have passed by, we have all become very vocal advocates of homeschooling. One of the benefits of homeschooling has been my relationship with my parents. My parents have always known what was going on in my life. Another benefit was having the time to explore my interests. I have always loved reading. Being homeschooled gave me extra time to read thousands of books that have added much to me. In addition to these, another benefit was the strong Christian education that I received. More than anything else, this Biblical foundation is the thing for which I am most thankful. As I have become more aware of the trends in education and educational philosophy over the last two decades, I have come to realize how truly blessed I am to have been homeschooled. I am a single woman at this point, but if I ever have children, I would definitely want to homeschool them.

Even though homeschooling was a positive experience, it was not easy. One problem was not knowing many kids my age. We were never able to get involved with homeschool groups or other homeschool families because there really weren’t any in our area. Although we played with kids in our neighborhood and at church, it was not always easy to find common ground. Over the years, we encountered many uninformed and prejudiced people. This brought my family closer together, but also caused frustration. Another problem was lack of motivation. There were one or two school years that extended into the summer because I did not finish all my schoolwork. Trying to get all the work done was a trying experience for both me and my parents. If I ever have the opportunity to homeschool, I would try to make each school day more structured to prevent problems like this. Overall, the main problems that we experienced were simple day-to-day difficulties. Family tensions, sickness, or stress all affected our schooling more than if we had been in a different type of school. Homeschooling is definitely a total family commitment.

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After graduating from high school, I enrolled at Pensacola Christian College. In 2009, I completed my bachelor’s degree in nursing and became a registered nurse. My education prepared me academically for my college work. My high school biology, chemistry, and algebra were very helpful. College projects and tests were not difficult because I had done many similar tasks in middle school and high school. One thing that I wish I would have known was how to take good notes. I was used to being able to rewind a video if I missed something. The hardest part for me was adjusting to living away from home. Meeting new people and getting involved in campus activities helped a lot with homesickness.

Currently, I am working on a master’s degree in nursing education at Pensacola Christian. I hope to continue to further my education with a goal of becoming a nurse practitioner and working as a medical missionary. I believe that homeschooling has had a large part in my decision to seek higher education. Being homeschooled fostered my love of learning and my drive to do my best. Coupled with the influence of my wonderful parents, homeschooling was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

And now for our reader-submitted “Ask the Grad” question!

Jenny H. asks,

When you were in it {homeschooling} , what was the worst thing?
Now that you’re done, what was the worst thing?

During my homeschooling years, I would have probably told you that the worst part of being homeschooled was not having a lot of friends. I don’t remember knowing any other homeschoolers until I was in middle school. It was tough when people just assumed I was antisocial or weird just because I didn’t go to a “normal” school.

Now that I am done homeschooling, I think the worst part was missing out on some of the typical parts of going to school. I had the same teacher for all of my elementary years. I missed most of the school fads. I didn’t get to be involved in many extracurricular activities such as debate teams, yearbook, or school plays. I am told that I didn’t miss much with school lunches, though.

You can ask Heather your own questions or get to know her better when you write her by email.

Do you have a question for a homeschool graduate? Would you like to know what it is really like to grow up home educated?  Have you wondered how being raised counter-culture impacts one’s life, thinking, and choices? Here is your chance! Submit your own inquiries below for an upcoming “Ask the Grad” feature!

1 Comment

  1. Hi Heather,

    I’m another homeschool graduate who loves to read. My birthday also fall after my state’s cut off, and I begged my mom to teach me to read the fall before I turned five. She eventually decided to let me try, never thinking that I would actually stick to it, but I did.

    My parents also told relatives (teachers) that they’d homeschool through third grade before thinking about sending us to public school. It was apparent to us all long before I reached third grade that homeschooling was the way to go for our family. I’m sooo glad to have been homeschooled for thirteen years!

    Thanks so much for sharing your story.


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