- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

David Kearns still hears the "rocket scientist" jokes.

The 18-year-old from Hershey, Pa., was intelligent and shy throughout his elementary school years, a combination that frequently leads to ridicule on the playgrounds. So when his father, Joseph, asked him and his three siblings if they would all like to be home-schooled after his fourth-grade year, he says he didn't care or think about it much.

"It wasn't like I had a whole lot of friends after the fourth grade," David Kearns says. "Most of the friends I had at that time were the same friends I had at the end of first grade."

Today, seven years later, he is still intelligent and shy. This fall, he will enroll at the University of Maryland as an aerospace engineering major.

According to university officials, Mr. Kearns will be a rare breed, because the university has only a handful of home-schooled students right now. But that will likely change in the coming years. The National Center for Home Education, an arm of the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va., estimates that 1 million home-school students will enroll in colleges and universities over the next 10 years. About an estimated 200,000 home-schoolers were enrolled last year.

In fact, the new Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va, will be almost totally comprised of home-school students, including Fairfax County's Jeremy Sewall and Kerry Medaris.

So what is this traditional rite of passage like for a home-school student and his or her family? It turns out that for the Kearnses, Sewalls and Medarises, it's not a big deal at all. All of them say they feel prepared for their big leap.

The rocket scientist

David Kearns applied to only two schools Penn State University and the University of Maryland. He chose Maryland because it offered him scholarship money and admitted him into the honors program. Plus, he says he already knows some of the people he'll be going to classes with and has already found a local church he's comfortable with Covenant Life in Gaithersburg.

"The only other schools I really thought about that had my major were MIT and Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.]," he says. "MIT had a 35-page application. My dad printed the whole thing out, and I said, 'No, I'm not doing that.'

"Embry-Riddle said all they do is aerospace engineering, and I'm not 100 percent sure right now I want to do that all the way. That left Penn State and Maryland and Cal Tech, and Cal Tech's all the way across the country, and I didn't want to airlift all my stuff. Maryland gave me $3,500, $4,000 a year, something like that, and invited me to the honors program. The deal just seemed a little better."

And like many home-schoolers, he is already ahead of the college game. He took 17 credits in math and physics at a local college, Lebanon Valley College, while his parents home-schooled him last year, and got a 3.8 grade-point average. He could have received a 4.0, but he admitted he "slacked off a bit" at the end. So he figures he'll be ready for whatever workload he'll encounter at Maryland.

"I'm excited about learning finally what I want to learn instead of what my parents make me learn," he says. "I'm getting to choose my own courses and put my interests where I want to. I'm a little nervous about the roommate thing. I'd probably say I'm excited and nervous. We'll see exactly what happens."

Joseph Kearns says he and his wife, Barbara, are a little worried about their son finding the right fellowship and friends, but they're confident he'll be able to handle the workload.

"We're hopeful he adapts to the requirements of a larger system," the elder Mr. Kearns says. "We're a Christian family, and we're a little concerned about him getting fellowship. But he has made some connections on his own that he likes, and he's found some people and a church down there already."

'Time to test his wings'

Jeremy Sewall is asked if he's nervous about going off to college.

He smiles through his braces and chuckles. Not really.

First of all, college for him won't be until early October, when the dorms at the new Patrick Henry College are expected to be ready. Also, he's already corresponding with his future classmates via e-mail.

"I've thought about it a lot," he says. "I'm really excited about it. It's a thrill to talk to the other kids."

His parents, Kathleen and Richard Sewall, say they'll miss having the 18-year-old around the house this fall, but it's time for their oldest of four children all of them home-schooled to "test his wings."

"Jeremy and I occasionally butt heads, but those times have been rare," says Mrs. Sewall, who split the home-schooling chores with her husband. "He's been a blessing, really. We'll miss his levelheadedness about so many things. But it's time. It's time for him to test his wings."

Richard Sewall says he'll miss the piano music the most. His son plays the piano and the bagpipes. Jeremy Sewall may be the only college applicant in the metro area who put a program in bagpipes on his list of criteria for college. And sure enough, he found one he liked Lyon College in Batesville, Ark. He considered Lyon, along with Washington & Lee and Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., before settling on Patrick Henry.

"Jeremy will be sorely missed," Richard Sewall says. "He loves to just sit down and play the piano. It was very refreshing. That's one aspect I know I'll miss."

The Sewalls say 16-year-old David, their second son, will probably miss his older brother most of all although their other two children, Michael, 10, and Susanna, 5, will miss him, too. The two older boys are very close, almost like best friends, Richard Sewall says, and David has already said, half-jokingly, that he's jealous of his brother being part of the first graduating class at Patrick Henry.

The young Republican

Like many young people her age, Kerry Medaris took a year off after finishing high school. Unlike most of her peers, though, she didn't spend the year traveling, lying on a beach or "finding herself." She spent it working full time. And she says she wasn't avoiding the inevitability of college. In fact, she's looking forward to it.

"It's exciting in a way, starting out on my own," says the 19-year-old from Fairfax Station. "It was a great experience to have a year off and work full time and enjoy some of my experiences as a working girl. It was real world experience."

Miss Medaris spent the year working for the Leadership Institute in Arlington, which helps establish and maintain conservative educational foundations on college campuses. She has worked for two years for Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, starting out by working one day a week in his office and arranging her schoolwork into four days to accomplish that. She attended the recent Republican National Convention as a youth delegate.

Miss Medaris says she developed her love for politics only recently after participating in TeenPact, a national organization that seeks to build passion in home-schoolers for government and politics. Up until then, she was seriously considering a career involving horses, one of her first loves.

Her work for the Leadership Institute, and her commutes to and from Capitol Hill working for Mr. Paul have naturally paved the way for her move to Purcellville in October.

"It will be exciting, being part of a new school and new staff and new curriculum," Miss Medaris says. She is particularly excited that Mike Farris, president of the college and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, also in Purcellville, has been so personally involved with getting Patrick Henry College off the ground.

"You can see how passionate he is when you talk to him," she says. "You can tell he really is working hard to make the college a success and that government and politics are important to him."

Miss Medaris considered attending George Mason University and even visited the campus but said the honors program there was "too PC" for her. She said she didn't like the "indoctrination" that goes on in public schools and the way many public school systems try to mold students into one way the politically correct way of thinking. She also felt discipline another lacking quality in public school education, in her opinion was another strong reason for being home-schooled.

"Public school is such a laboratory for social engineering," she says. "Who wants to be an experimental project like that? My mom has a degree in elementary education, and she provided pretty strong discipline. I thought that was important in education."

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