From a school of one to a campus of 24,000

Students discuss their social and academic transitions from homeschooling to campus

Students who were homeschooled in childhood transition to university classrooms.
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When Kori Altenpohl walked into CHEM 112 three years ago, she had classmates for the first time.

Before that, Altenpohl’s only fellow student was her brother. Like roughly 30,000 other school-aged kids in Ontario, she was homeschooled. 

While post-secondary education doesn’t always appeal to the unique mentality of those who grew up homeschooled, Altenpohl’s parents supported her decision to go to Queen’s.

According to Queen’s official Home Schooling Policy, the University will consider home-schooled applicants as long as they can provide proof of an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, or another recognized high school graduation certificate.

Meanwhile, University Admissions in Canada defines a homeschooler as a student without a recognized high school graduation diploma. 

To be eligible to apply, Altenpohl, ArtSci ’20, started online classes towards the end of high school. 

With her Grade 12 classes online, Altenpohl had her first glimpse of post-secondary education’s online blended model. Entering first year, she was already comfortable with self-directed learning—which can be challenging to some first years. 

“As far as living in [residence] went and coursework, it was an easy transition just because I had been at home self-motivated and self-led for the last couple years,” Altenpohl said in an interview.

As a child, Altenpohl made friends through after-school activities. By high school, she had a boyfriend and a solid group of friends who she visited at their school during lunch hour.

“The only thing I feel like I missed out on not being in high school was the drama,” Altenpohl said. “I’d watch them and I’d be like, ‘This is a mess.’”

Altenpohl is proud of her homeschooling experience, and would take the same approach if she has children. For one, she enjoyed childhood longer than her peers—which was one reason her parents chose to originally homeschool her.

She was independent. Her choices and interests were never the result of peer pressure. Nonetheless, she knows what homeschooling seems like to an outside perspective.

“People think of homeschooled kids and they think, ‘Extremely reserved, antisocial, socially awkward, kept-in-a-closet-and-hit-with-a-Bible’ types,” Altenpohl said. But for her, this doesn’t ring true. 

“Everyone asks me: ‘If you’re homeschooled, why are you normal?’”

Jessica Knelson also felt the stigma around homeschooling—especially when others learned about her past. Her peers were quick to assume that she’d be different because of her schooling.

“People always go, ‘Oh, you’re so normal,’” she said. “It makes me kind of sad, though, because people only have one view. I feel like no one really knows homeschooled kids.”

Knelson, ArtSci ’19, began her traditional education in high school. But getting her start in homeschooling inspired a lifetime of curiosity.

“I was allowed to learn about whatever I wanted to as a little kid,” Knelson said. “If I was really interested in dinosaurs, for example, I could make a school project out of it. So I feel like now I’m more curious.”

At Queen’s, Knelson found that other students were competitive and eager to compare themselves to others. Since she spent less time around peers as a child, she now finds herself less caught up in the social comparisons common in high school and post-secondary. 

“I didn’t grow up with any perception of what’s cool,” she said.

While she’s grateful for that, Knelson is sometimes blindsided by pop culture references, and often uses the language of her parents’ generation. They’re tiny quirks, but they can make her feel “dorky,” she said. 

Like her choice of slang, her academics departed from students’ experience in traditional schools. She chose the books she read for English class, and most of her other schoolwork involved reading. 

The only thing she resents about her schooling was its approach to math. Without a strong foundation, she often struggled in the subject. She ultimately met the educational gap and began pursuing a Certificate in Business, but she would’ve appreciated the early experience. 

Socially, Knelson is comfortable but still notices differences in her classmates.

“I still feel very different from my peers sometimes and I always wonder if it’s to do with [my homeschooling],” she said. 

For Joel Hamersley, Sci ’22, academics were also heavily self-directed. 

He grew up in an isolated community in British Columbia where homeschooling was common. He spent his days year-round learning subjects like math, history and English alongside hands-on skills like gardening, fishing, and wood trapping.

His older brothers made their way into high school and eventually university. Admiring their lives and discovering the uniqueness of his own community, Hamersley realized he too longed to see more of the world.

“I think all three of us knew pretty early that we love our parents and they had a fascinating, incredible life that they lived, but I don’t want to live that way,” Hamersley said.

When Hamersley left homeschool and entered a classroom for the first time in Grade 10, he began to notice some inconsistencies in the history he was taught at home. 

The events weren’t different—his parents’ perspectives were.  

“In history, there were just very different focuses on what we would learn [in homeschool],” he said. “I’m not sure [my parents] were ever completely wrong. I would say it was just different interpretations on the same event.”

Like most kids, Hamersley wasn’t discussing history with peers, and was surprised by the lessons in Grade 10 social studies.

“History was changed a little bit,” he said. “I’d [been] taught that 9/11 was a more complicated thing than [how] the world looks at it now. Obviously it was a horrifying terror attack and everybody saw that. [But] my parents saw it more as an oppressed group trying to make a statement.”

When it came to other historical events discussed in classes like law or history, Hamersley raised his hand and proudly voiced his parents’ views. 

One time, he ended up in the principal’s office for questioning how much power the Prime Minister had in stopping terrorism.

“My parents were very proud of me that I had stuck to my guns,” he said. “Now, obviously, I see it in a very different light.”

After being sent to the principal’s office for voicing his parents’ opinions, Hamersley began to question his upbringing more. Currently, he sees more than one sides to any issue.

Despite some focused lapses in his academic childhood, Hamersley isn’t resentful. 

“They really did give me a good life growing up,” he said. “I don’t think I would do that to my kids. But for me, personally, I don’t think it’s impacted me negatively at all.”

“On the counter end, I do that [at university] as well. I’ve learned to never take one side of the story. I’ve learned to try to get as many views as possible before I make a decision. I think lots of people just take the first one they hear.”

Although his education was unusual, Hamersley, like other homeschooled kids, was easily inspired and has always been anxious to learn. He saw school as an adventure rather than a burden.

“As a kid, I never stopped learning.”

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