Not all 16-year-olds make detailed plans for life after high school, but Lauren Petronella and Jaxon Carpenter know exactly when and where they will go next.
Petronella, who lives in Ohio, has taken her passion for honeybees to start earning a master beekeeping certificate. Her longer-term goal is to get a Ph.D. in entomology.
Meanwhile, Carpenter in Arkansas is taking college courses to earn his associate’s degree in welding, with plans to set up his own shop and become a welding inspector.
Both teens used homeschooling’s built-in flexibility to help them set such goals so early.
“Homeschooling has allowed me a flexible schedule to study what I’m interested in,” said Petronella.
‘More out of my education’
Petronella’s parents decided to switch to homeschooling about six years ago, which gave them more opportunities to encourage her specific interests at her own pace.
“My mom wanted me to get more out of my education,” Petronella said.
Unlike some common, untrue stereotypes, homeschooling helped her develop her social skills more effectively through interactions with her 4-H club, which was organized for homeschool students.
“I was actually very shy in school,” she said. “I’ve become more social, a lot more confident [homeschooling].”
Her interest in honeybees began when she was 12 and a beekeeper offered her a hive of bees he had captured. When she agreed to try beekeeping herself, he mentored her as she set up her hives, now on a separate property from her family’s home.
“He’s the reason I stayed in beekeeping,” Petronella said.
Beekeeping requires her to check her hives at least once a week, monitoring the insects’ health and honey production. That’s how she learned about the Varroa mite, a threat to the hive that she battles with various strategies.
In fact, her research into the mites helped Petronella win her second 4-H blue ribbon at the Ohio State Fair this August. She earned her first blue ribbon for a collection of 50 insects in 2021, most of them from her own backyard.
“I’ve always found bugs to be misunderstood,” she said. “They’re really beautiful creatures.”
‘With homeschooling, the sky’s really the limit’
Like Petronella, Carpenter used his childhood years to hone various skills into real-life vocations. When he was 13, he earned his master diver’s certificate, which required him to complete 50 scuba dives.
“Homeschooling really helped,” said his mother, Shelly. “He studied hard, but he also got out there and dove.”
Carpenter’s father runs an underwater salvage business, which has benefited from Carpenter’s advanced diving skills to identify and recover submerged watercraft and other objects.
“We raise a lot of bass boats, jet skis, and smaller objects,” he said, adding he’s helped recover even larger finds such as a crane and airplane.
In addition to diving, the teen has stoked other interests during his high school years – including welding.
“We didn’t think that as a 10th grader, he could even take college courses,” said Shelly, recalling last semester when Carpenter asked his parents whether he could take welding classes at National Park College.
However, once his parents discovered he could, he finished the semester with 12 credit hours and straight A’s in all classes.
“It’s therapeutic,” Carpenter said of welding. “I pull on my hood and play my music, and I get to focus on what I’m doing.”
When he’s not diving or welding, Carpenter stays busy with other hobbies and activities. He completed training in his local firefighting company’s cadet program, where his father has also served for years.
Additionally, he’s taking guitar lessons and planning to play basketball with his homeschool co-op.
“We always want our kids to know they can shoot for anything,” Shelly said. “With homeschooling, the sky’s really the limit.”