Homeschooled Nebraska senior tallies perfect SAT, ACT scores

Home-schooled Nebraska senior tallies perfect SAT, ACT scores
By Joe Dejka / World-Herald bureau

LINCOLN — You’ve heard of forty-niners, who struck gold in California.

Now meet the Nebraska thirty-­sixers, who hit paydirt on their college entrance exams.

Fifteen graduating seniors in the class of 2014 were honored Thursday for scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT.

One of the students, Anna Meckel, who is home-schooled, earned a perfect score on both the ACT and SAT exams.

Acing one exam is extraordinary, two exceedingly rare.

“I feel proud that as a home-­schooler I’ve been able to accomplish so much,” said Meckel, 18, of Lincoln. “I think it really helps dispel some of the misconceptions that maybe home-schoolers aren’t getting a good education, they don’t really measure up to everyone else.”

Gov. Dave Heineman called the students’ accomplishments “absolutely incredible.”

“As I say frequently, they won the national championship for academic achievement, and we ought to be very, very proud of them,” he said.

Heineman credited the students’ teachers and parents. “The first, best and most important teachers of our sons and daughters are their parents,” he said at an event honoring the students in Lincoln Thursday morning. He appeared at a similar event in Omaha later in the day.

Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of graduates who take the ACT get a 36. The state average for the graduating class of 2013 was 21.5. The national average was 20.9.

About one in 3,400 SAT-takers nationwide gets a perfect score of 2400. The average score last year was about 1500.

Four of the students attend Lincoln East High School: Eric Holmberg, Sam Kohler, Anna Fair Matthes and Akshay Rajagopal.

Two are from Westside High School in Omaha: Emma Johanningsmeier and Naomi Samuel.
Two are from Millard North High School in Omaha: David Fu and Jeffrey Wang.

The others are: Edward Berry, Elkhorn South High School in Omaha; Zebulon Cooper, East Butler High School in Brainard; Ryan Goding, Omaha Central High School; Jeremy Goossen, Omaha Christian Academy; Matthew Magee, Creighton Prep in Omaha; and Jennifer Peterson, Omaha Duchesne.

Susan Cassata, the principal at Lincoln East, credited her district’s curriculum for pushing students and teachers to think creatively and at a higher level.

“A lot of the young people you witness today have been able to take courses that range from differentiated anatomy and physiology and AP chemistry to varsity orchestra.”

Meckel is the daughter of Susan and Dr. Clyde Meckel of Lincoln. She has a sister, Natalie, 16, and a brother, Jonathan, 15. All are home-schooled in what her parents dubbed the Meckel Classical Academy.

Susan Meckel began home-­schooling Anna in kindergarten after reading “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.” The book provides step-by-step instructions on how to teach a rigorous, comprehensive education from preschool through high school.

The classical education approach seemed right for her daughter, a very curious toddler who taught herself to read at age 3, she said.

“It’s very language-focused,” said Susan Meckel, who had no experience teaching. “It’s ordered to lay a foundation of knowledge early on through memorization of facts, but then as the child gets older to build on those facts by connecting them together, learning logic, Latin and so on, and then in high school focusing more on expression, with elegance, and fluency and persuasiveness.”

Susan Meckel saw home-­schooling as a way to share her passion for learning, music, math and other disciplines with her children.

She has been the kids’ first and primary teacher, but they’ve also been taught in home-school cooperatives by experts in their field — for instance, a retired chemist teaching chemistry.

Anna Meckel scored a 35 on the ACT in the fall of her freshman year and a 36 the following summer. Her perfect SAT came last fall.

She said she loves to read. Some of her favorites are Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” the works of English novelist Jane Austen and the Harry Potter series.

She participates in home-school choir and takes piano lessons. She started her own English country dance group in Lincoln.

“It’s a form of folk dance that originated in England. It was kind of popular in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and then up to around 1800,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing you might see in a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ movie.”

Anna Meckel said home-­schooling allowed her to develop as an individual.

“You can tailor a curriculum to a child’s needs, to a child’s interests, and you can just allow them to develop as a person, without being afraid of peer pressure or other people’s opinions,” she said. “You can allow them to grow. It’s a very nurturing environment.”

Meckel is familiar with one of the other honorees. She and Matthes started their education together at a Montessori preschool before Matthes headed to public schools and Meckel went the home-school route.

Both girls share an interest in Austen and both will attend Hillsdale College in Michigan next fall.

Matthes urged students to start taking the ACT test early.

“You definitely want to be familiar with the test,” she said.

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