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A Practical Guide to Aiming High in High School

  • Kim Lundberg Contributing Writer
  • 2008 18 Apr
A Practical Guide to Aiming High in High School

In my last column, I discussed how important it is for our homeschooled teens to discover their real passions and then to set long-term goals centered on those very interests. Exciting goals are bound to motivate our students throughout their high school years to deeper study and greater accomplishments. Some of the aspirations I suggested were ambitious: studying at the US Air Force Academy and becoming an astronaut, competing in the Olympics, working in Third World countries, writing and illustrating children’s books, building a dream home, medical research, and more. However, finding a passion and writing down long-range plans are only the beginning steps of the high school journey.

How will our homeschooled high school students actually achieve their lofty dreams? What can they do over the four years of high school that will lead them consistently to their desired destinations?

The answer is: plenty!

The key for students to remember is to focus most of their work and play on their main goals. The majority of what our students do should in some way relate back to their stated interests.

If your son is consumed with learning all there is to know about marine animals, the evidence should pile up over the years. He should not find himself in November of his senior year, struggling to write an essay for his college applications describing his real interest in marine biology when his transcript shows a fascination with foreign language and descriptive linguistics instead. College admissions officials will have no problem seeing the truth even if your son doesn’t yet realize his quandary.

To help us visualize what a four-year plan leading to the accomplishment of high goals might look like, I will talk about three fictional students: (1) a girl interested in music performance, (2) a boy interested in designing and building homes, and (3) a student interested in starting a catering business. Though these careers might be in no way similar to what your own children are considering for their lives, you should be able to take this information and personalize it to suit your teens’ particular leanings.

Plan Academic Studies

Most high school students cover the same basic subject areas, though these subjects are often learned through varying methods and to varying degrees. This exposure provides a well-rounded education. However, it is in the elective subjects that the students’ passions should come forcibly into play. I have listed below some academic topics that would build great foundations for our three fictional students.

The subjects I list are certainly not mandatory. They are only suggestions that would work well for each of these interest areas. Most of these topics can be learned through continued independent study at home, some can be studied in a homeschool class or with a private tutor, and all of them are currently offered at our own local community college.

Some parents are not aware of the offerings of two-year colleges. With the recent modifications to the Advanced Placement Program that now make it difficult for homeschoolers to participate, it is reassuring to know that four-year schools look more highly on excellent grades earned in CC classes than on superb AP scores. In addition, CC classes can also provide a homeschooled student with the objective recommendation letters the college application process requires.

No matter what method you and your students choose to study their elective topics, remember to let the students lead the way. They must understand what needs to be learned and commit to doing so with enthusiasm. These should be the studies that fascinate and energize them!

Music Performance – Music Appreciation; Music History; Advanced Music Theory; Italian; Composer & Style Studies; Composing; Conducting; German.  

Carpentry/Contracting – Geometry; Word Processing/Power Point; Spanish; Advanced Algebra; Three-Dimensional Drawing; Computer-Aided Drafting; Leadership in Business; Residential Electrical.

Catering Business – Nutrition; French; Web Design; Business Communication; Business Math; Safety & Sanitation; Business Law; Time Management.

Participate in Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are at the heart of a passion-driven education. Through such focused activities, our teens can truly learn and grow. Think of extracurricular studies as all of the learning that takes place outside of books. The more of this real-world style of learning we can incorporate into our children’s lives, the better. The key component in our teens’ quest to reach their dreams is to relate their volunteer work, apprenticeships, clubs, and employment directly to their passions.

Listed below are activity ideas that would work well for our three fictional students. These activities demonstrate the students’ long-lasting commitment to their individual interests. Don’t let the lists overwhelm you though. Some of these are weekly events, while some take place monthly, and some would only occur once a year. I am not implying that a student must be involved with this many outside activities in order to develop and prove his or her passion.  

Teens (along with their parents) must determine what amount of involvement works best for them. For instance, students wishing to earn merit scholarships will want to make sure they are involved with several worthwhile activities that shine a bright light on their gifts and emphasize their leadership skills. Alternatively, students heading directly into the workplace might concentrate more on their apprenticeships and related academics. Teens have gained a reputation, perhaps undeservedly, for changing their minds (we adults, of course, would never think of doing such a thing...), but if they have used their high school years to explore and develop their passions through many avenues, they are giving themselves as many options as possible when graduation day arrives.

Music Performance: Instrument Lessons; Youth Symphony; Community or Church Choir; Christmas Opera; Weekly Music Ministry Hour at Nursing Home; Special Ensemble Performances; Easter Musical; Start Homeschool Symphonic Band; Italian Club; Organize Memorial Day Musical Patriotic Pageant; All-State and National Music Contests; Opera Class.  

Carpentry/Contracting: Start Woodworking Club; Spanish Club; Join Community Entrepreneur Group; Arrange Apprenticeship w/Local Carpenter; Market Wooden Gift Items to Local Stores on Consignment; Regional and State Woodworking Contests; Volunteer Community Carpentry Work. 

Catering Business: Start “Food for the Mind and Body” Book Club (connecting books w/related recipes); French Club; Collect Recipes and Publish Local Homeschool Cookbook; Local Cake Decorating Classes; Arrange Apprenticeship w/Local Baker; National Baking Competitions; Start and Supervise Annual Homeschool Graduation Banquet; Market and Run Personal Cake Business.  

Plot Valuable Summers

Teens across the country should realize the wonderful resource they have in the four summers that come during their high school years. Certainly summer months are for relaxation and fun, but students must let go of the notion that purposefully designing what they will do with all of that “free” time somehow makes their activities less enjoyable.

Carefully plotting what they will do during the warm days of summer enables teens to accomplish many projects and gain immeasurable experience in their chosen field of interest. Summers do not need to be strictly organized by the hour in order to be productive. Students can choose enriching activities that focus on their specific interests, and their transcripts will soon reflect their ongoing, deep commitment to their passions.

Universities across the country offer highly touted teen programs ranging from codes and encryption to journalism, music, neuroscience and much more. If your teen chooses to participate in one of these programs (and some are excellent), investigate it thoroughly in advance to assure yourselves it will be worth the time and money expended and that it will provide the specialized training your student needs, as well as the overall environment that your family desires. Actually, my oldest children have had no problems following their passions to advanced levels and to acceptances and scholarships at many respected colleges without the benefit of these university programs, so don’t believe all of the experts who tell you they are a “must” for the serious college applicant.

Homeschooled kids will find that some of the best ideas for summer enrichment do not require them to leave home at all. Local stores often advertise special skill classes during the summer. Community colleges offer academic classes taught at a faster pace, while churches and homeschool groups offer many opportunities for service to others, including wonderful mission trips to other countries. In addition, working at a paying job can be quite impressive to colleges and future employers, especially if the job is directly related to the student’s passion. For example, someone who wants to train as a landscape architect would do well to work in a nursery or for a landscape company in order to learn all aspects of the trade.

Challenge high schoolers to think creatively in terms of their long-term ambitions. If your daughter is following the catering business plan discussed in this article, she could offer free cake decorating services for local parties and weddings (charging for materials only) to gain experience and good publicity. She could spend time creating signature decorating designs, photographing them, and compiling a “showcase” book for prospective customers. She could create advertising flyers and business cards and teach herself the nuts and bolts of budgeting.

Your future carpenter/contractor can plan and execute (with professional help only when necessary) an add-on to your home or the remodeling of your garage into a bedroom. Your future musician could use the summer months to organize a homeschool band, complete with auditions and a woodwinds seminar with talented parents and local teachers instructing. He or she could pick out and order music, plan a fund-raiser with the other band players, design performance posters, and arrange performance dates.

Post Seasonal Goals

Posting specific goals in a highly visible place is one of the simple but very valuable tools that successful people use regularly. Your high school students need to begin this habit, too. Every three months, your teens should decide on five to six goals that they would like to reach over the next season. Physical goals should be included as well, for it is difficult to keep our minds focused and alert if our bodies are not strong, and our teens need to be healthy in order to serve God and others with a long, energetic life.

These short-term goals your teens set should vary—some big, some small, some to be accomplished through sheer routine commitment, some attainable only through a large amount of creative effort and time When your high schoolers conquer a goal, celebrate the occasion. Your children should have no doubts when it comes to your support of them and your real interest in their endeavors. Small successes do lead to great ones, and persistence and diligence coupled with passion will pay off for your homeschooled high school students in the end.

Perceive the Highest Goal

Of course, we know that in addition to nourishing their bodies and minds, our teens also need to feed their souls. Encourage your teens in their personal Bible study and prayer time. Rejoice with them as they see the Lord answer their prayers, and do not be afraid of the hard questions that may come at this crucial time in their lives. Keeping the communication lines open with your high schoolers can be hard at times, especially if there are personality clashes. However, we must remember that God placed each particular child with each particular set of parents, and He sees the big picture much better than we do.

As parents, we should be prayer warriors for our children and their futures. They can be the ones who challenge our communities, our country, and our world to turn to God. We must earnestly desire and pray that each of our children leave home understanding the truth that knowing and serving God should be the highest goal in life. If they realize that they can do this in the area that God has gifted them, the area to which He has consistently drawn them throughout their childhood and teen years, they will be prepared, confident, and enthusiastic as they leave us and enter adulthood.

Kim Lundberg is the busy mom of 9 great kids. She and her family have been homeschooling for 16 years, and they make their home in beautiful northern California. Kim enjoys teaching drama, writing, and world history classes, as well as reading mysteries, baking goodies, camping, and listening to her kids talk, sing, and make music.

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit