A-Head of the class

Published 7:06 am Monday, August 4, 2014

Kelsi Polson (left) poses with her mother, Beth, at their home in Hertford County.  Polson not only graduated from high school two years early but she also took dual credit at Chowan and will enroll at the university this fall as a sophomore. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Kelsi Polson (left) poses with her mother, Beth, at their home in Hertford County. Polson not only graduated from high school two years early but she also took dual credit at Chowan and will enroll at the university this fall as a sophomore. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

ST. JOHN’S – Focus.

That’s something Kelsi Polson never had a problem with growing up, first in Suffolk, and later here in Hertford County. Whether it was maintaining that focus with her education or in her workplace.

Now the 17-year-old has finished her high school education thanks to homeschooling; and even better, will enroll in nearby Chowan University this fall majoring in Biology.

She will even have a leg up on the freshman class because – thanks to dual credit – she will be a college sophomore.

And, she also works a job of more than 20 hours a week at her family’s business.

Polson, her mother, and two siblings, moved to the area from nearby Suffolk, VA.  She attended Northeast Academy in Lasker for her 8th and 9th grade education, but her mother says her daughter wanted more.

“Kelsi was a little more advanced than my other two at that age and she was ready for another challenge so we pulled her out of Northeast and started homeschooling with her,” says Beth Polson.  “We felt she still wasn’t getting the challenge she needed so I called Chowan University regarding dual-credit classes and she fit right into the criteria and finished her requirements for high school through that.”

Dual credit is generally an agreement between high schools, universities and community colleges whereby a high school junior or senior enrolls in a college course and simultaneously earns college credit and high school credit for the course at the same time.

Kelsi did her homeschooling while Beth was at work and she achieved the grades necessary for dual credit through the ‘Switched-on-Schoolhouse’ (SOS) program.

“Everything was so easy for her,” Beth added.  She’s headstrong with the book knowledge and she was driven.  She had the grades and was able to graduate two years early from high school and she’ll start Chowan later this month.”

Lest one think homeschooling allows time to sneak in television watching, a morning and afternoon nap, obsessive snacking, or even a chance to slip away to frolic, Kelsi was quick to point out that in general – and especially for her – that was not the case.

“(The program) has what you need to do every day, and it lets you do the next day if you want too,” Kelsi says. “If I was bored I’d just do the next day, and the next, and the next, and so forth; so that kind of helped when it came to boosting me forward.  I spent a majority of the time doing the (lessons) I hadn’t done yet.”

The computer-based program allows the student first select the grade level, then to put in the classes they’ve already completed and finally it gives the curriculum that’s needed to finish the credit hours necessary to finish and graduate from high school.

“We started out ‘book-based’ where she would do the work and take the test and I would grade the papers,” Beth declared. “But that didn’t work well with me because of my work schedule and because she was so far ahead and I was so far behind.”

Since she wanted her daughter to remain on pace, Beth says she switched to the computer-based program because it graded the assignments, gave the tests, graded the tests and then gave a score.

“All within five minutes,” Beth says with a smile. “So that worked out well.”

Interscholastic activity is limited in some cases with homeschooling, though some students like former University of Florida and ex-NFL quarterback Tim Tebow – who was homeschooled – are the exception.

“She was in the junior Beta Club and would have been inducted into the senior Beta Club the year before she left Northeast,” Beth adds. “She also plays recreation league softball in Ahoskie and Aulander.”

While some teens wisely use their time for extra-curricular activities, Kelsi opted to use hers for work. She devotes eight hours daily on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays working in the restaurant of The Corner Shop, her family-owned deli and convenience store located in St. John’s.

“I started out part-time when I was just 15 but I’ve worked a lot of full-time hours in the past two years,” Kelsi says.

“She also helps me in getting her brother and sister to school and from school (at NEA) and to practice, and still have time to go out with her friends,” Beth adds.

Kelsi also participated in another rite of passage for high school teens: attending the prom at Northeast.

“It’s still a lot of high school memories,” says Beth, “just not going to school there every day.”

There’s another reason Kelsi wants to fast-track her education.  She realizes her future field of study will require not only a strict regimen of discipline, but also many hours – even years – of concentration.

“What I want to be is going to take a while for school,” she says modestly. “I just figured if I finished high school early I could go ahead and start and finish college.”

Kelsi took the SAT test for college admission in the winter of 2012 before beginning college courses in the spring of that same year.  Now she has completed two full semesters and at Chowan she has received the Leadership Scholarship and has qualified for work-study on the Murfreesboro campus.

Kelsi wants to be an oncologist when she gets out of college after studying biology.  The hope and desire for that cause was fueled by the untimely death of her father, Alan, to liver cancer when Kelsi was just a young child.  The loss also motivated her family to re-locate from Tidewater to the Roanoke-Chowan 10 years ago.

“She was headstrong on that ever since her dad’s diagnosis,” Beth adds. “She stuck with it and I’m very proud of her for it and that’s what she wants to do; she wants to make a difference.”

Kelsi’s life won’t be all work for the remainder of the summer.  She’s taking a leave for the first three weeks of August to not only prepare for college, but to just be a regular teenager again.

“We’re doing a big party to celebrate,” she says with a huge radiant smile, “we just don’t know when right yet.”