Sixteen-year-old Millie Ronkainen did a double take when she came home from her job at Perfect Fit Alterations and spotted a letter from the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program lying on the living room coffee table.
She had been waiting to hear from the summer residential program for outstanding high school students. She had applied in January and mid-April had already rolled around without any reply until this day.
“Since I am home schooled, we didn’t know if I had met enough of the requirements mandated by the application, especially those dealing with social functions and leadership, to be accepted,” said Ronkainen who lives with her parents, Diane and Jim, and five siblings off Old Sonora Road.
Her mother saw the letter earlier on that mid-April day when she went to the mailbox.
“I couldn’t resist finding out what it said, but I told everybody in the family not to mention it and to pretend it was no big deal until Millie opened the letter,” Diane said.
The letter contained good news. It said the student with a 3.93 cumulative grade point average had been accepted to attend one of three universities – Bellarmine, Morehead or Murray State – for five weeks of study with her academic focus on astronomy and journalism.
The Ronkainens have home-schooled their children since the parents moved to LaRue County about 18 years ago.
“A lot of homeschoolers might not realize that they are eligible to apply for the Governor’s Scholars Program,” said Diane. “I’ve had a lot of help from Kristi Wright, the guidance counselor, at LaRue County High School, as Millie prepared her application and for other things as well.”
According to a spokesperson for the Governor’s Scholars Program, 15 homeschoolers – (1.3 percent) – qualified to attend the program this summer.
Selection for the program is highly competitive, with an application process similar to that of prestigious colleges and universities. In addition to an academic profile that includes difficulty of course load, GPA, and at least one standardized test score, the application requires an outline of all extracurricular activities, a history of volunteer service and a list of job positions held. The final component of the application is an original essay.
“From six choices for the essay, I described the places in LaRue County I would take a group of foreign exchange students,” the junior said. “Among the sites I mentioned were the Lincoln Museum and Lincoln’s Birthplace, and I included real quotes as though the students and I had conversations about those places.”
She earned points on her application for performing in an honors piano recital (she has taken nine years of piano instruction from local veteran teacher Diana Aubrey) and also performing a solo dance.
Though she learns from her home, Millie’s classes include Latin and AP physics which she takes online through Kentucky Educational Television distance learning.
Being home-schooled, according to her mother, allows her daughter flexibility of schedule, but also means the schedule may change daily, even hourly, depending on pressing needs of the moment.
“There is nothing typical about a so-called typical school day at home,” Diane said. “I may have to take a kid to the doctor or may have to make a run to a store, so we learn to work around those things to meet our yearly goals.”
The home curriculum also allows for innovative lessons.
“A local farm family invited all of our children to visit their farm and try hand-milking and feeding their cows, which we did for one week,” she said. “I adjust what my children study according to each one’s interests.”
As far as curriculum, she follows state laws, takes attendance and posts grades. Millie submits her KET homework online for the course teacher to grade.
The core curriculum for the summer GSP sessions includes a major subject of study, assigned according to scholar preference as indicated on the application; and general studies assigned by staff to challenge the scholars. Courses frequently include service-learning components in the community.
A seminar, a discussion-based small group session, emphasizes respectful debate and discussion. Scholars are encouraged to ask probing questions.
Faculty and staff also invite a variety of speakers and performers from a range of disciplines and pursuits to visit campus. Field trips, special events, and a film series also contribute to the comprehensive educational atmosphere in which scholars are challenged not only to examine, but also to nurture their sense of learning and leadership.
Though she acknowledged the five-week program will mark the longest period she has been away from home, she said that she is looking forward to attending.
Her career goals include attaining a teaching certificate in elementary or high school biology or music.