Learner Spotlights

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Learner Spotlight: Victoria Mason

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For iLEAD Exploration learner Victoria Mason’s family, homeschooling is a way of life. Other than a quick stint in a brick-and-mortar school to see what the other side of the coin was like, Victoria has homeschooled her whole life and wouldn’t have it any other way. She wouldn’t have the chance to develop her many hobbies and passions without the flexibility that homeschooling offers. From equestrian vaulting (gymnastics on a horse) and aerial silks to musical theater and modeling/acting, Victoria enjoys very busy days. While quarantine put a damper on things, she still managed to be a part of two online theater productions this year. Before then, she was a part of 15 different productions at the wonderful South Pasadena Young Stars Theatre.

Victoria has always had big goals and works hard to achieve them. She has the mind of a writer and likes to analyze her books in a deep way. This year she has asked to start learning about philosophy, which has opened up so many amazing questions to ponder. She is an animal lover and has managed to convince her family to fit nine animals into their lives, from tiny praying mantises to her awesome dog, Lulu.

An artist at heart, Victoria loves to draw, paint, customize dolls and make wonderful clay creations. While in quarantine, she also started a YouTube channel, where she shares her passion for mythology. Victoria and some of her best friends are also starting their own rock band. She is very excited about all the fun that will come in upcoming years, when Zoom rehearsals are a thing of the past. Dungeons and Dragons is also a favorite hobby, as Victoria loves creating worlds and adventures as a Dungeon Master, leading her friends to their certain doom or glory.

Victoria is always quick to try something new and loves learning about people and meeting new friends. She is a fearless learner and thrives in multiage situations, which the family has always focused on. Learning that way has also helped her to be the absolute best big sister to her little brother, Jack, who has Down syndrome. She is his biggest cheerleader and helps teach him in fun ways that help him laugh and grow.

High School Spotlight: Julianna Longhenry

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Julianna’s interests in environmental causes, social justice, and music have led her to participate in many activities. She has enjoyed leadership positions in Scouts BSA, where she has led groups in various outdoor skills activities combined with support for a local free diner for her Eagle project. She has participated in the National Children’s Chorus (NCC) since fourth grade and will graduate from the program after singing with the most advanced ensemble in the chorus for the past three years. In addition to vocal ensemble performance opportunities, her time with the NCC has included music theory, composition, and conducting instruction, as well as opportunities to sing with other groups, including the LA Master Chorale and Tonality, a local social justice-driven chorus. She has also sung with and performed as a soloist for the Commonwealth Community Chorus, a local social justice-driven children’s chorus.

While enrolled with iLEAD for the past six years, Julianna has been able to explore her passions in an academic setting. She has been able to take advantage of concurrent enrollment at West LA College, where she has majored in sociology and will complete an AA shortly after her graduation from iLEAD. The flexible schedule in hybrid homeschooling has at times allowed her to work with children in casual babysitting as well as professional teacher’s aide environments. Julianna has enjoyed participating in the Associated Student Body (most recently serving as regional president), the Creative Writing Club, and the National Honor Society.

Julianna will further develop her interests as she heads off to Beloit College this fall. She has been awarded a music scholarship and plans to sing in at least one campus choir. She has been awarded merit aid and will participate as a Human Rights & Social Justice Fellow (including opportunities for undergraduate research and study abroad) while completing her BA in sociology.

Congratulations, Julianna, for all you have accomplished. We are proud of you and thankful to have been able to be a part of your journey at iLEAD.

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Learner Spotlight: Lusineh Nasrollahi

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iLEAD Exploration learner Lusineh Nasrollahi cares deeply for the Earth and the animals and plants that live here. She is a member of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. She uses Earth-friendly products, recycles, donates items she no longer needs, and tries to not buy things she doesn’t need. Lusineh is also hoping to start composting soon. One of her goals for the family is to create as little trash as possible. In the summers, a portion of Lusineh’s backyard turns into a kind of butterfly farm for monarch butterflies. This summer, Lusineh plans to provide extra help to the butterflies, giving them milkweed, water, and possibly some extra protection.

If Lusineh is not working on a flower garden, she’s working on a vegetable garden. She takes care of fruit trees in the backyard and is now working on growing flowers and turning the family’s backyard into Descanso Gardens.

Lusineh has a wonderful imagination and sense of humor. She is very creative, and she “sharpens her saw” by doing craft projects, sewing, gardening, reading (especially Magic Treehouse, Flat Stanley, and graphic novels), drawing and modeling (especially Pokémon characters), and taking care of her pet bird. Art and animals inspire her to write more creative stories.

Lusineh participates in many different extracurricular activities for fun. Initially her family turned to extracurriculars to offer her an opportunity to develop her communication and social skills. Many of the activities have become a part of Lusineh’s life, and she has continued doing them for years. She exemplifies zest with her interests and passions.

Lusineh loves to dance. She started dancing when she was four years old. She usually dances ballet, jazz, and tap. Her favorite dance style is tap, but she also wants to learn flamenco, tango, salsa, and Irish step dancing. The family has lots of dance parties at home. Lusineh brings out the disco ball and puts songs on her mom’s phone, while she and her little five-year-old and three-year-old sisters dance until they are covered with sweat. Lusineh loves to be funny and to make people laugh. Improv (theater) class, which has been via Zoom so far, has been a great outlet for her.She is the youngest one in her class.

iLEAD Exploration learner Lusineh

Lusineh also enjoys singing in a choir. She started by singing in a small church choir. She has sung a few solos for the church congregation and has performed a solo with the adult choir. She was invited to record a tiny bit of a solo at a private recording studio. She was awarded a singing scholarship last year. With the pandemic, choir meetings have not been allowed for a year, but as soon as things get back to “normal,” Lusineh will definitely start singing again. Lusineh is now also singing in a community choir. Other artistic activities Lusineh enjoys for fun are musical theater, martial arts, art classes, and piano lessons. Recently, Lusineh has started experimenting with making her own songs on the piano.

Lusineh absolutely loves animals, especially birds. Lusineh has a pet cockatiel whom she brought home when he was only a baby. She named her pet bird Feathers and has taught him some words, songs, and games. Next, Lusineh wants to have an aquarium, and she definitely wants some neon fish and a suckerfish in there. She wants to have a farm with different animals but will settle for a chicken for now.

When it comes to academics and extracurricular activities, Lusineh’s family does not encourage competitiveness. They just want Lusineh to have a wonder-filled childhood in what they perceive as a fast-moving, pushing-children-into-adulthood world. At home, they encourage an awareness of values (and value differences between people or families) and the need to live by one’s values (and to accept and to love others whose values may be different from theirs). Lusineh’s family strongly believes that joy and happiness come from having good values and from living by those values. The amazing thing about homeschooling is that it gives Lusineh the opportunity to explore the world and herself, to fill her life with things that bring her joy, and to understand her values.

Homeschooling was not something Lusineh’s family considered. However, year after year, Lusineh was being bullied at school. When her parents found out more about the situation at school, they turned to emergency homeschooling. That changed everything, and now Lusineh has been with iLEAD Exploration for the last two years. Having had a taste of homeschooling with iLEAD and with the support of an amazing educational facilitator, Lusineh’s family has decided that homeschooling is a kind of dream come true for them, and not only for Lusineh, but for all their children.

Learner Spotlight: Oscar Morales

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iLEAD Exploration third grader Oscar Morales has been homeschooling since kindergarten and loves it. The thing he likes most is being able to learn through real-life experiences. He and his family spend a lot of time outdoors exploring nature, hiking, swimming, fishing, and gardening.

When Oscar is not doing schoolwork, he spends his time sharpening the saw by reading, drawing, and playing games with his friends online.

Oscar has a zest for learning new things, and he immerses himself in whatever he is learning. He especially enjoys learning about animals. His favorite places are the zoo, the farm, or the beach. He likes making connections to what he’s learning by visiting new places, trying new things, or eating new foods. With homeschooling, Oscar sees every day as a new adventure!

Oscar is learning to play the ukulele. He enjoys fishing, kayaking, and drawing. He loves to read, especially the Warriors series. He also enjoys memorizing and reciting poetry.

Learner Spotlight: Hannah Sterman

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iLEAD Exploration learner Hannah Sterman, 13, embodies zest in her enthusiasm for her academics. This year, she set a goal for herself to take learning into her own hands; she has chosen to spend free time researching and learning about things that interest her rather than just completing what is assigned to her. For example, Hannah recently had a friend diagnosed with epilepsy. Instead of simply asking an adult what epilepsy is, she did a full research report on the topic and learned for herself. This demonstrates that Hannah has a zest for learning. Every time she meets with her EF, Hannah shows her excitement and enthusiasm toward all her work.

For a seventh grader, Hannah is balancing a great deal. It is admirable how self-aware she is; she recognizes when she is near burnout and is taking on too much. When that happens, Hannah takes time for herself. She does this by watching Gilmore Girls with her mom and talking with her friends. She also has a personal goal for herself this year to get outside and stretch more often. Whether it’s watching TV, chatting with friends, stretching or taking walks, Hannah ensures that she spends time grounding herself in personal activities that fill her cup when academics and extracurriculars become overwhelming.

Hannah has been homeschooling for the past two years. She and her family were drawn to iLEAD Exploration because Hannah prioritizes both academics and extracurricular activities. The flexibility in schedule is a great benefit for Hannah because she takes hours of dance class, engages in dance competitions, and studies Hebrew on a weekly basis. With homeschooling, Hannah has time for both her academics and her extracurricular passions to be prioritized and well-balanced in her schedule.

Hannah has been dancing since she was in preschool. Although she has learned and practiced many forms of dance, tap has become her true passion. Hannah is on a competitive dance team. During competition season, Hannah spends her weekends performing her tap numbers in competition with other dancers in the state. Hannah truly lights up when she is onstage! Additionally, Hannah attends Hebrew school, where she learns to read and write Hebrew. She is currently preparing for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Hebrew has been challenging for her, especially because you read it from right to left! After getting a tutor, she got the hang of it and now genuinely loves learning this new language!

Meet a DreamUp to Space Team Member: Grace Stumpf, Team Adzuki

iLEAD Exploration learner Grace Stumpf collage DreamUp

DreamUp to Space is a project that challenges young people to understand and explore the impact that microgravity has on matter. Through a partnership with DreamUp, iLEAD learners in grades 5-12 are inspired to develop the skills and knowledge to design, develop, and propose an experiment that could be run on the International Space Station.

In July of 2020, two teams from iLEAD Schools were selected for flight in the 2020 DreamUp to Space Virtual Mission & Experiment Design Challenge. Currently, learners from across the network were selected and are now collaborating on these two “Launch Teams” — Team Carrot and Team Adzuki — in preparation for a spring launch of their experiments to the International Space Station.

Each learner has unique interests, strengths, and goals to bring to each team. We’d like to introduce you to our team members! Today we’re introducing Grace Stumpf!

Meet Grace Stumpf, Team Adzuki

Grace Stumpf reading booksGrace Stumpf is a 13-year-old 7th grader at iLEAD Exploration. She enjoys reading, science, and the great outdoors. As a member of the iLEAD DreamUp to Space Launch Team Team Adzuki, she will participate in experimentation optimization in preparation for the upcoming spring 2021 launch.

In the future, Grace would like to be an author of literature for children and middle schoolers. Her favorite book is I Am Malala. Other favorites are The Hunger Games, Keeper of the Lost Cities, and Percy Jackson series.

Grace is also a high-level figure skater. Her other hobbies include flying, painting, and researching Greek mythology.

An interesting fact: Grace was born prematurely at 28 weeks, weighing only two pounds and 12 ounces. She spent 69 days in the NICU. The doctors gave her a 50 percent chance of survival.

We had the chance to ask Grace a few questions!

Q&A with Grace

What is the most exciting thing about this opportunity?

“It’s wonderful to know that I may inspire some other little girl or boy out there to reach for the stars, and that to me is out of this world!”

What is your favorite animal and why?

“My favorite animal is most definitely a wombat because they are just so cute and intelligent. (I also find it very funny that they poop cubes.)”

Who do you look up to?

“I look up to all my teachers. My wonderful English teachers, Mrs. Nancy Kaser and Mrs.Chris MacLeith. My extraordinary history teacher, Mrs. Janiene Bishop. My miracle-worker math teacher, Mrs. Kathleen Crady. My exceptional educational facilitator Mrs. Julie Sato. And last but not least, my awesome science teacher, Mrs. Jill. I would like to thank each one of them for inspiring my love of learning. (And let’s not forget my amazing parents, who homeschool me and let me pursue my passions and read to my heart’s content.)

We look forward to introducing more team members to you soon!

Learner Spotlight: Milana Alexander

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“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Although this quote is traced back to Confucius over 2000 years ago, it couldn’t be more true for iLEAD Exploration learner Milana Alexander today.

For Milana, who has been homeschooling since kindergarten, travel is how she “sharpens the saw.” She has visited 24 countries and 24 US states so far. In September, she became interested in the US National Parks and the Junior Ranger program and hopes to visit all 63 (thus far, she has visited 10). Traveling allows her to explore a variety of cultures, climates, histories and societies. Milana has no fear trying new food wherever she travels. Exposure to diverse food has made her an adventurous eater; currently her favorite foods are sushi, any kind of pasta, and meatballs and mashed potatoes from her favorite restaurant in Sweden. She and her mom have even created a blog that documents their travels and includes tips for traveling as a family, including awesome podcasts and apps.

Traveling helps Milana hit all parts of Habit Seven, sharpening the saw. Physically, she is able to take care of her body by eating nutritious, local food. She walks around new cities and plays at many playgrounds. She gets to rest in comfortable hotels and Airbnbs as well. On a social-emotional level, Milana loves making friends wherever she goes. She is an inclusive child who has grown up playing with children all over the world; even if they don’t speak the same language, they make connections through play. She feeds her mind by reading and learning through programs, such as the national parks program, or visiting museums and even crafting. Finally, Milana fills her spiritual side by connecting with nature. Whether hiking through the Rocky Mountains, stargazing in Death Valley, or snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands, Milana can find the beauty in all of nature.

Milana shows great enthusiasm and energy for everything she does. She is particularly enthusiastic about animals, and when she isn’t traveling, she fosters kittens for a local animal shelter. She bottle-feeds them and showers them with love. She has fostered 38 kittens so far. Her hobbies and interests include traveling, animals, visiting museums (especially science!), Minecraft, reading, playing board games, and making new friends. Her favorite academic subject is social studies. She loves swimming, kayaking, sewing, horseback riding, park and beach days, and taking classes on her Peloton bike.

High School Spotlight: Titus Rehard

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Born a natural engineer, toddler Titus looked for household objects he could subject to his carefully planned dissembling tests. Titus’s success ratio was unusually high, which caught the attention of his parents. Being in a homeschooling family, Titus was determined in kindergarten to free up his time for engineering. He did this by waking up early and consistently finishing all his schoolwork as quickly, completely, and accurately as possible so that he could learn to build complex Rube Goldberg ball contraption machines using wood and Legos. At age 9, Titus’s life changed when his parents found a FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics competition. Titus led the team with his programming and building skills and won the 1st Place Championship and 1st Place Robot Performance as a rookie team! This experience skyrocketed Titus’s passion to become an engineer – just like his dad.

Without a doubt, homeschooling has opened the floodgates of opportunity for Titus to customize his learning in pursuit of engineering. Although Titus loves to learn Krav Maga, ride his bike, swim, play music, basketball, pickleball, and Ga-Ga ball, being surrounded by his six siblings under the guidance of his parents each day is where he truly thrives. Robotics is a family affair and so is working on the tech team at his local church. Titus’s flexible schedule allows him to partake in unprecedented tours, give formal presentations to STEM companies, be highlighted in multiple magazines and newspapers, gain sponsorships, and give back to the community by teaching robotics and chess at local schools and in the community.

Over the course of eight years, Titus has won 36 robotics awards and has advanced to the World Robotics Competition level three times. Titus is now in 11th grade and has been competing in a FIRST Technical Challenge robotics competition throughout his high school years. He works to design, CAD, 3D print, build, and program a robot to accomplish tasks along with thousands of other teams across the globe. His team recently won the 1st Place Championship at their qualifier competition and will be competing in the Southern California Championship at the end of April.

Titus, you are a shining example of someone who uses your gifts to make an impact on the community around you. Keep it up!

Learner Spotlight: Duke and Lila Etherton

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iLEAD Exploration learners Duke and Lila Etherton are a brother and sister dynamic duo who have been homeschooling since day one. The Ethertons believe that people learn best through experiences, so they constantly seek out a wide variety of educational experiences for their children to participate in. From museums to nature centers, presidential libraries, factories, zoos, national parks, monuments, farms, historic sites, botanical gardens, and sporting events, Duke (10th grade) and Lila (6th grade) take full advantage of their homeschooling lifes.

Duke is an ambitious 10th grader who enjoys playing guitar, producing music, gaming with friends, reading about politics, and playing and watching football, basketball, and baseball. Duke has been a batboy since he was eight years old. He started at the collegiate level, then the minor leagues, working his way up to being the head batboy for Major League Baseball spring training games. Lila is a creative 6th grader who enjoys art, movie making, stop-motion films, digital art, sewing, crafting, cooking, playing ukulele and keyboard, songwriting, and musical theater. Duke and Lila love homeschooling! The personalized education that homeschool offers allows them to dive deeper into their areas of interest and passion while collecting memories of unforgettable experiences along the way. Homeschooling gives them the ability to keep their curiosity alive and zest for life growing!

Duke and Lila are successful with homeschooling because they put first things first. Every morning, they are actively a part of their family meetings where each member prioritizes his/her to-do list for the day. For Duke, this means completing assignments for his concurrent enrollment courses at Saddleback Community College before anything else. Duke’s strategy helped him become a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the world’s most prestigious honor society for two-year colleges. Lila is an early riser! She wakes up at 6 a.m. and has her own copy of her ILP. She takes this early morning time to look over her ILP and decide what assignments she’s going to focus on for the day. Lila succeeds in all subject areas and goes above and beyond grade-level expectations.

School assignments aren’t always easy and enjoyable, but Duke and Lila fight through the mundane and dig down deep to persevere and show true grit. Duke makes an effort to learn from his mistakes. When he gets an answer wrong, he writes down the question and later researches the answer. Duke doesn’t just want to get the answer right, but rather, he truly desires to learn. Lila demonstrates grit in her own unique way. She understands where her strengths and weaknesses lie. Lila recognizes that she learns best through creative outlets. When she comes across an assignment that she’s not thrilled about or struggles to understand, Lila finds a way to incorporate art into it. Creating a PowerPoint, making a stop-motion film, or painting about the assignment helps her learn and grasp the concept while making it more enjoyable and fun.

Through their hard work, determination, grit, and ability to put first things first, Duke and Lila Etherton have a successful and bright future. Watch out for this dynamic duo, as they will definitely conquer and positively impact the world!

Meet DreamUp to Space Team Member Quentin Gauge

iLEAD Exploration learner Quentin Gauge DreamUp

By iLEAD Exploration learners Grace Stumpf & Raegan Brown

DreamUp to Space is a project that challenges young people to understand and explore the impact that microgravity has on matter. Through a partnership with DreamUp, iLEAD learners in grades 5-12 are inspired to develop the skills and knowledge to design, develop, and propose an experiment that could be run on the International Space Station.

In July of 2020, two teams from iLEAD Schools were selected for flight in the 2020 DreamUp to Space Virtual Mission & Experiment Design Challenge. Currently, learners from across the iLEAD Schools’ network were selected and are now collaborating on these two “Launch Teams” — Team Carrot and Team Adzuki — in preparation for a spring launch of their experiments to the International Space Station.

Each learner has unique interests, strengths, and goals to bring to each team. We’d like to introduce you to our team members! Today we’re introducing Quentin Gauge.

Meet Quentin Gauge, Team Adzuki

Quentin Gauge Team AdzukiQuentin Gauge is a 6th grade learner at iLEAD Exploration. He is the principal investigator (a fancy way of saying he had the original experiment idea and proposal) of Team Adzuki. In his spare time, Quentin enjoys building Legos and making stop-motion animations. Quentin also likes to read biographies and autobiographies and is a Harry Potter fan. He likes to cook for his little brother and frequently helps his parents in the kitchen. His favorite food is Mongolian dumplings, because he is half Mongolian and loves to celebrate his culture. We were given the opportunity to ask him a few questions!

Favorite book and why?

“My favorite is the The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan because it is a mythology-based book, and I love how Greek mythology stories show important morals and have fun, exotic stories.”

What do you want to do when you get older? Do you have a dream job?

“I have many interests right now. I could see myself as an astrophysicist and a professor at CalTech. I could become a singer like my grandfather, or a doctor.”

Who do you look up to?

“One person I look up to is my grandpa, who used to be a famous opera singer in Mongolia. I look up to him because I love to sing and because he always helps me and always pushes me to become a good singer.”

How does it feel knowing you are getting an opportunity very few people have ever had: to be part of a team sending an experiment to space?

“I feel extremely lucky to be part of such an incredible opportunity. It is a rare thing for a twelve-year-old to be sending an experiment to the ISS. It is even an unheard of and unimaginable thing to go anywhere in the world, or even to other parts of the United States, and that is why I feel like the luckiest kid in the world.”

We look forward to introducing more team members to you soon!

Learner Spotlight: Olivia Armstrong

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iLEAD Exploration learner Olivia Armstrong has been homeschooled for about six years. She started with early preschool curriculum at two and a half years old and is currently working on completing 3rd grade at age 8. The family was drawn to homeschooling because it enables them to provide one-on-one, focused instruction for Olivia in all her subjects, to customize her curriculum, and to empower her advance at her own pace.

Olivia loves to dance. She dances competitively throughout the year with the dance company Project 21. She spends 16-20 hours or more per week dancing in various styles, including ballet, jazz, ballroom, contemporary, musical theatre, and more. Some of Olivia‘s favorite things about dancing include attending conventions and master classes, learning from her teachers at Project 21, and working hard alongside her friends. Olivia also really enjoys being an ambassador for the dance wear brand Tiger Friday. As a TIGERCUB, she has had the opportunity to meet so many amazingly talented dancers from around the country and to learn from teachers she may not have otherwise had the opportunity to take class with.

With a very demanding schedule, Olivia has learned to “put first things first” by prioritizing her tasks, creating routines, being consistent in her work ethic, and establishing and focusing on what needs to be accomplished day by day in order to get everything done and meet her goals.

Most importantly, Olivia has learned to continually put in the required work each day and do what’s needed, even at times when she doesn’t feel like doing it. Olivia embodies the idea of grit by balancing a full schedule with all of her work for school and dance, especially at times when things don’t go as planned or when additional tasks are added unexpectedly.

Olivia particularly enjoys reading and writing, as well as learning about other countries and cultures. Olivia began reading the Harry Potter series this past fall. She is learning French, and in January she started working on 4th grade language arts and science. In addition to dance, Olivia also likes to draw, paint, and craft. She loves her two chihuahuas and all things Disney. Olivia is responsible for a backyard kitchen garden, where she grows many things throughout the year, from kale and lettuce to broccoli and tomatoes. She is also learning how to cook and bake and was able to help prepare food for the whole family at Christmas.

Learner Spotlight: Emma Weisenberger

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To dance “on pointe” is the ultimate goal of serious ballet students, and it is the same for iLEAD Exploration learner Emma Weisenberger. The Weisenberger family has been homeschooling for five years. Homeschooling has given the family more time to be together to pursue passions like ballet and to complete schoolwork at their own pace.

Since it is her “first thing,” Emma sets a specific amount of time weekly for schoolwork and for ballet practice. She has a full schedule and knows that hard work and discipline are required for her to accomplish her goals. Emma also displays perseverance and doesn’t give up easily. She will practice her little heart out until she has successfully navigated her studies and learned her ballet routines.

Emma dances with American Ballet Theater Gillespie School (ABT) in their children’s division. She asked to take ballet at age four and has been twirling around ever since. Her favorite ballets are Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, and ABT’s Of Love and Rage. One of her favorite memories is getting to dance onstage at Segerstrom with the ABT company and “falling asleep” on her favorite dancer’s lap in The Nutcracker.

This hardworking 4th grader also loves to create crafts, hike, spend time outside, and hang out with her friends. Emma has also been able to participate in the American Ballet Theater summer intensive in New York as well as the Joffrey Ballet summer intensive. Someday Emma hopes to be a professional ballet dancer in New York with the ABT company.

Learner Spotlight: Mailee and Keoni Wun

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The Wuns are a family who play together and learn together! Meet iLEAD Exploration learners Mailee (8th grade) and Keoni (6th grade)!

The Wuns have been homeschooling for the past three years. They describe choosing to homeschool as the best decision they have made. Mailee and Keoni are so much happier and learning at their level with their preferred learning style. This was not always the case. Even though their mom, a 20 plus-year veteran of private and public school teaching, had always wanted to homeschool, their dad wasn’t so sure. He was hesitant because of the old “homeschool” stereotypes. After talking to an experienced homeschooling friend about all the amazing resources available, he became willing and excited to give it a try.

Even though both Mailee and Keoni excel at learning at home, math lessons had become a bit of a challenge. Both learners were complaining, saying they didn’t like math. Well, this didn’t fly with their math-loving mama! Since both learners were strong in math, she knew she just needed to find out how to make it more enjoyable for them. The family was able to choose teachers, curriculum, and other activities to best fit each learner’s personality and learning style. It turns out, making math the first lesson of the day (putting first things first), made a huge difference in their attitude and success.

Mailee has been working hard at ballet and just moved up a level. She is so proud of herself! She also loves gymnastics, art, and music. She has shown a lot of grit by sticking with ballet classes via Zoom, which is not easy. She was able to participate in an online dance show highlighting what she has learned and worked so hard to achieve.

Keoni loves baseball and is really good at it. He recently tried out for a competitive travel baseball team. He made the team but didn’t have a starting position due to not being in his top shape. He knew he had some hard work ahead of him to earn a starting spot on the team. He strove to put first things first with baseball. He exhibited such grit in achieving this goal: exercising with ladders and cones out back, cardio workouts on YouTube, and daily fielding practice. After a lot of difficult training and determination, Keoni has gotten back in shape for baseball and even earned a starting position in his last game this season. He played hard and did a great job! He saw firsthand how putting first things first and demonstrating perseverance can pay off.

Aside from baseball, Keoni enjoys sailing and robotics, while Mailee is drawn to ballet and acting. Overall, Mailee and Keoni have been more curious in their learning since the family began homeschooling. Since homeschooling is flexible, they are able to travel more and do school on the go at times. This has initiated new curiosities and questions about the places they visit and new things they see. A perfect example is when they recently traveled to Lake Havasu, Arizona, for Keoni’s baseball tournament. They were able to take a hands-on learning approach while visiting lakes, dams, windmills, and the London Bridge in field-trip style.

Mailee and Keoni have attended the OC Learning Studio for the last three years and have made good friends and learned so much. They love their teachers and have grown in their leadership skills, working with other learners on projects and book discussions.

Learner Spotlight: Mateo and Quinn Garcia

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iLEAD Exploration learners Mateo and Quinn Garcia have been homeschooling for three years. Originally, they began homeschooling to have more time together as a family after a particularly trying year. They had planned to return to brick-and-mortar school after the first year, Quinn to the Waldorf school for 6th grade, and Mateo to a local public high school.

After one year of homeschooling, both learners discovered they enjoyed the rigor of homeschooling. They decided to continue so that they could pursue their outside interests. Homeschooling has allowed them to dive into the topics that interest them most and to focus on independent projects.

The essence of synergy is to value and respect our differences, build on strengths, and compensate for weaknesses. Through family time, friendships, and other outside interests, the Garcia Family has been given the opportunity to practice this habit to build and reinforce a mindset that says, “I get along well with others — even people who are different from me.” For curious learners like Mateo (11th grade) and Quinn (7th grade), it is less important to have the “right” answers and more important to create an environment where questioning and learning can occur.

Eighteen-year-old Mateo has many active hobbies; he enjoys surfing, skating, and snowboarding. He is also an accomplished musician. He plays bass and guitar and studied music at Los Rios Rock School in San Juan Capistrano with a Grammy-winning musician as his mentor. He plays in the advanced live group at his rock school, performing at multiple venues around Orange County, including House of Blues and Coach House. Mateo has worked with the younger and less experienced students at his school, volunteering as a junior instructor. Mateo played bass on a re-creation of The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album through Los Rios, which was a final contender for a Grammy nomination for 2020. He is currently in a band that plans to release an album of original music soon. Mateo has taken community college courses in music, in addition to his regular curriculum load through iLEAD. Mateo is particularly interested in music technology and production. Mateo also really loves the ocean. He often cleans our local beach, which he can walk to, after rainstorms or high surf. He is conscientious and diligent. Mateo is very good at balancing his work and leisure activities.

Quinn (7th grade) is as accomplished as her brother. She enjoys reading, writing, creating, and surfing. Quinn is a multitalented young lady and never has trouble filling her time. She is nearly always writing or creating something. Her mind is full of imagination for stories and drawings. When she isn’t creating new work, she is reading. She hopes to become a published author at a young age. She loves to recommend books to other people and likes to say that she is a “book doctor,” giving a prescription to cure what ails you. Quinn is currently creating content with the intention of either publishing a blog or hosting a website for her fan fiction and fan art. She is a member of South Coast Repertory Theatre’s Junior Players ensemble, which is a select group of young actors that participate in paid performances at the theatre. In addition, Quinn performed in A Christmas Carol at South Coast Repertory as one of the Cratchit children. She also participates in musical theatre classes. Since COVID-19, Quinn has acted in two radio plays, and she wrote a play that was performed virtually through Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, CA. Most recently, she won Drama Notebook’s contest for Best Original Monologue. Lately, Quinn has enjoyed making videos of her science experiments.

High School Spotlight: Heather and Hope Hemsley

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We are the Hemsley twins. Not only are we sisters, but we are also best friends. We share so many interests: musical theatre (acting, singing, and dancing), piano, volleyball, traveling, and serving others (through our church, camps, food distributions, etc.). We are very similar and sometimes our identity is linked to one another being twins, but we assure you we are two distinct people! Our differences confirm our uniqueness and point us toward our own future dreams.

I, Heather, am a writer. I find fulfillment in expressing myself through the written word, and this results in short stories, novellas, and drafts of books and TV scripts. I am passionate about writing content for future generations that is inspiring, encouraging, and challenges them to discover who they are and establish their beliefs. I have won a Sweepstakes Ribbon for my creative short story at the L.A. County Fair, have edited and published a children’s book, and have written and published two historical fiction novellas. Editing and composition are also passions of mine, which I practice while creating newsletters. In addition, I enjoy helping others with their struggles. In the future, I hope to become a motivational speaker and/or a mentor.

I, Hope, am an artist. My two biggest passions in life are helping others and expressing myself through artwork, both of which I hope to do in my future as an art therapist. I love art of any kind and have worked with almost every medium, including watercolor, acrylic, oil, pastel, charcoal, etc. One of my new favorite mediums, however, is digital media, in which I use a drawing tablet to paint on my computer. I draw inspiration from the world around me, whether it is nature, music, or movies, using it to paint scenery and characters. Like my sister, I have entered some of my drawings into the L.A. County Fair, and have received multiple 1st place awards and sweepstakes. I continue to sharpen my gifts by practicing new styles and entering into art challenges, as well as creating character concept art for an L.A. director (who happens to be my cousin!). I hope to not only spread light and joy through my art in my future career but in my everyday life.

We continue to develop our gifts and passions through the flexibility of being learners through iLEAD Exploration. Our schedule allows us hours of time for rehearsals, shows, recitals, tournaments, writing, and art. We are excited about our futures and hope to make a difference in our world through our gifts. We understand that getting the most out of life isn’t about how much we keep for ourselves, but how much we pour into others.

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Thank you, Heather and Hope, for sharing your stories with us! We are so proud of you and grateful to have you as part of our iLEAD family!


Learner Spotlight: Elisabeth Sur

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Luggage + Library = Elisabeth the Book Lover! 💜

The Sur family started with iLEAD when Elisabeth was beginning her educational journey as a budding kindergartner just last fall. They chose homeschooling because they knew these foundational years were important and wanted her learning lens to see the good, the true and the beautiful! Mom was also excited about the chance to learn alongside her, not wanting to miss any part of this childhood phase of curiosity and wonder.

Elisabeth enjoys being a daughter, sister, cousin and looks up to the older friends who play an important part in her young life. She rotates well between the relational roles of a confident leader to the littles who look up to her and learning from older friends. Elisabeth’s ability to see multiple perspectives helps her synergize in a wide range of relationships.

Elisabeth is a curious first grade scholar. She delights in the exploration of questions, such as “What are Kingdoms like?” “What’s involved with going on a quest?” Even the idea of a time travel and how to create a time machine is on her exploration checklist.

Her endless thirst for more knowledge has led her to a strong love for literature. She has a broad reading range and wonderful stamina for sitting with a stack of books to explore and absorb! Elisabeth loves books so much that her mom has to take rolling luggage to the library to haul all the books home! Elisabeth is also excited by the idea of creating her own library of books and is currently writing and illustrating several little readers for her younger sister to enjoy.

iLEAD’s independent and flexible learning model has empowered Elisabeth to thrive in her quest to become a budding children’s author. We can’t wait to see your illustrated works on shelves someday, Elisabeth!

Meet DreamUp to Space Team Member: Raegan Brown, Team Carrot

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DreamUp to Space is a project that challenges young people to understand and explore the impact that microgravity has on matter. Through a partnership with DreamUp, iLEAD learners in grades 5-12 are inspired to develop the skills and knowledge to design, develop, and propose an experiment that could be run on the International Space Station.

In July of 2020, two teams from iLEAD Schools were selected for flight in the 2020 DreamUp to Space Virtual Mission & Experiment Design Challenge. Currently, learners from across the network are collaborating on these two teams — Team Carrot and Team Adzuki — in preparation for a spring launch of their experiments to the International Space Station.

Each learner has unique interests, strengths, and goals to bring to each team. We’d like to introduce you to our team members! Today we’re introducing Raegan Brown!

Meet Raegan Brown, Team Carrot

DreamUp Raegan BrownA 14-year-old freshman at iLEAD Exploration, Raegan has a passion for everything creative and loves to express herself through graphic design, art, and science. Among her many dreams and aspirations, Raegan would like to get into marketing and graphic design. She’s currently taking AP psychology, and in her spare time she loves to act and participate in theatre. Right now she has an LA agent and has been able to do commercials and audition for popular series and movies for major networks like Netflix, Nickelodeon, ABC, Disney, Warner Bros. Pictures, and Fox. When she gets the chance, Raegan loves to bake snickerdoodles, scones, and anything strawberry flavored!

We had the chance to ask Raegan a few questions!

Q&A with Raegan

How does it feel knowing that you have an opportunity that very few people have — to be part of a team sending an experiment to space?

“It feels great to know that I’m participating in such an amazing production, and I’m ever so grateful to have this opportunity to participate with such an incredible team and talented members.”

What’s a fun fact about you?

“I love everything Marvel! I’ve seen all the movies and television shows, I have merch, and I’ve recently gotten into the comic books!”

In what ways has this experience influenced or inspired you?

“After badging up with the DreamUp to Space program, I now can look at science in a way I’ve never looked at it before: Science is now very fun for me. It used to feel like another chore, and it is now one of my favorite subjects in school.”

We look forward to introducing more team members to you soon!

Learner Spotlight: Sebastian Buckhalter

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Energetic. Curious. Athletic.

iLEAD Exploration 6th grader Sebastian Buckhalter encompasses all that is wonderful about homeschooling. This is his second year with iLEAD Exploration, and he has been enjoying the flexibility to learn, explore, and follow his passions.

Sebastian has been a dedicated ice hockey player since the very early age of two. His family decided to look into alternative education options that would allow him the freedom to find a healthy and sustainable balance between hockey and his education.

Although most children are naturally curious about the world they live in, Sebastian takes it a step further. He loves project-based learning and dives into concepts. Sebastian’s curiosity has driven him to a love of science and, in particular, marine biology. He hopes to one day become a marine biologist. It is not uncommon for him to show up to learning period meetings with huge displays, dioramas, field trip pictures, experiments, and projects. Always eager to learn something new, Sebastian explores his creative side through art and music as well.

A bonus to homeschooling is that Sebastian and his family explore and adventure together!

Learner Spotlight: Juan Munoz “Jr.”

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What is your favorite saying in your native language?

My favorite saying is “Que si” because it’s very funny when I say it to my dad when I play around.

What is a family tradition that you enjoy?

Every year in December, we go to this place called Candy Cane Lane. We go with the family to see the lights and walk while we’re drinking hot chocolate.

What career would you like to have?

I would like to have a job making video games or toys.

What is your favorite subject?

I like science because you can see cool reactions and experiments.

Has being multilingual allowed you any special opportunities?

No, I don’t think so. I get treated the same as others.

What is your favorite hobby?

My favorite hobby is to build Legos, look at science experiments on YouTube, and puzzles.

What advice would you give to someone trying to learn a new language?

There’s help everywhere. It will get hard, but it will get better. Don’t worry—you’ll get it.

How long have you been homeschooling?

Almost a year.

What do you like about homeschooling?

I get to stay at home and be comfortable. And I like the classes given to me because I like the kids in my class.

Learner Spotlight: Olivia Edwards

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iLEAD Exploration kindergartener Olivia Edwards lights up a room with her smile and enthusiasm about her studies. She really does embody optimism, and her family loves to make learning fun, engaging, and memorable.

Two years ago, Olivia’s family became interested in homeschooling because it would allow them to spend more time as a family. They appreciate the flexibility it gives their days, the outside time it allows, and the ability to focus on their kids’ strengths.

Olivia is always so eager to learn! She is constantly asking questions and is proactive about learning the new things presented to her in creative ways, such as memorizing songs to help her learn states and capitals, repeating chants to memorize parts of the body, and adding hand movements to help her remember key information about her studies. Olivia is a great collaborative learner! She loves to synergize within her homeschool group and really enjoys working with others. Her extroverted nature goes perfectly with this month’s focus.

Olivia is not only eager to learn; she is genuinely excited about it! She is optimistic about everything and excited to share all that she has learned with such passion and joy. She always has a good attitude about her coursework and is having so much fun learning! Olivia is such a curious learner! She is always wanting to learn more. She engages in everything with a sense of excitement and wonder. She loves to ask questions and search for answers.

Olivia has many hobbies and interests. She loves drawing, making up stories, playing with her American Girl doll, reading, and painting. She also enjoys riding her bike and swimming and is looking forward to playing basketball and swimming more this summer.

High School Spotlight: Amy Baldwin

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Hey, I’m an Aussie who moved to Los Angeles almost 5 years ago as my brother is an actor and musician.

I have always loved sports. At one time, I was even pursuing professional soccer but, I didn’t really have the passion for it. However, about a year and a half ago, I decided on a career in stunts. My brother and most of my friends are actors, and while I’ve never had any interest in acting, stunts are something that fill me with so much excitement. I knew right away that stunts and I were a perfect match.

So for the past eighteen months, I have been studying taekwondo, wushu, trapeze, silks, sword-fighting, bo staff spinning, parkour, and tricking. I have made some great relationships with stunt coordinators and met people that are featured in the Avengers, Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey movies, and many more. The one thing they all tell me is, “You are so lucky to start so young.”

Being a student of iLEAD Exploration has allowed me to work all these lessons into my existing academic curriculum to be able to train with industry professionals on their timetables. I’ve found it’s been a great balance to do a couple of hours of physical work and then a couple of hours at my desk. I am so very grateful to iLEAD that it has allowed me to dedicate many hours to my career, giving me a head start in a competitive and physical industry.

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The high school team at iLEAD is so proud of you, Amy, and we look forward to seeing you and your awesome moves on the big screen someday!

Learner Spotlight: Fiona Zoss

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When 3rd grade iLEAD Exploration learner Fiona Zoss first started reading, it was tough for her to finish one chapter of a book. Since then, she has developed a love for reading and reads every moment she can. She recently wrote her favorite author, Ellen Miles, who penned The Puppy Place series. Surprisingly, Ms. Miles sent a lovely card and wrote her encouraging words to continue with her love of reading. Fiona definitely took Ms. Miles’ advice and is currently reading an average of four books per day.

Fiona’s other passion is dance. Due to the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to train in the studio, but she has embraced other ways to stay inspired and continue doing what she loves. Despite all the changes, Fiona remains optimistic and is currently preparing for her first solo. Dance gives Fiona joy, and it gives those around her joy to watch her perform and grow her talent.

Every month Fiona sets goals and achieves them, whether mastering Stack the States, preparing for a virtual spelling bee, conducting a new science experiment, or just trying something new. She is a joyful example of a thriving 3rd grader.

Fiona and her family enjoy traveling, and although they haven’t been able to go very far lately, this past month Fiona went on a little field trip to tour Fox Studios. She learned a lot about the history of the Fox Lot and got to see some of the studio’s cool sets. She also enjoys hiking several times per week. Fiona is a talented artist and incorporates art projects into most of her units of study.

Overall, Fiona has had a successful first year of homeschooling!

Learner Spotlight: Ethan Datt

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Have you ever met a ninja warrior who is also a dodgeball champion? Well, look no further: We would like you to meet iLEAD Exploration learner Ethan Datt!

Ethan, age 10, has been homeschooling for four years now. His family decided to homeschool so that their children would have an education based on the values of their family. They wanted to put an emphasis on leadership, growth mindset, finance, morals, and values. They also wanted their children to get the attention they needed while providing an individualized learning environment.

Ethan does his best to be proactive by making sure he completes work ahead of schedule. He is a positive and fun person to be around. He shows optimism daily in various tasks and as he communicates with others. Ethan shows his optimism for his future by always talking about the life he will live as an adult. He aspires to own a gas station “because people will always need gas” and so his business will thrive. He also plans to be married and have a family.

Ethan loves to boogie board at the beach, skateboard and travel. Last year he won Jr. American Ninja Warrior for the city of Santa Clarita. He was also featured in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper for his donations to the children in the ER. A fun fact about the Datt family is they have won two first-place trophies from the Canyon Country Recreation Center for family dodgeball.

Ethan enjoys entertaining family and friends with his sense of humor. He is extremely confident and can make friends anywhere he goes. He is certainly the light in any room.

Learner Spotlight: Tyson Olivieri

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iLEAD Exploration learner Tyson Olivieri is a four-time jiu-jitsu world champion. This talented 8th grader is also a top-ranked athlete for Sports Jiu-Jitsu International Federation in both Gi and NoGi.

It’s easy to see that Tyson acts daily upon this month’s habit from the 7 Habits: “Be proactive.” He trains up to two hours every day at his dojo and puts in extra time at home. He is always eager to learn new tips to better himself as an athlete. Despite the fact that there are currently no competitions, he trains hard daily to keep his skills sharp so that he will be ready when competitions resume. Tyson is an excellent example of being proactive even when things are difficult.

Tyson, age 13, began his homeschool journey four years ago when some learning challenges led his family to seek options outside of the traditional classroom. They found that homeschooling allowed Tyson to learn in a way that works best for him. It has turned out to be the best decision for Tyson and his education.

During his years homeschooling, Tyson has shown optimism while working through many challenges, including dyslexia and ADHD, to become a successful learner. iLEAD has helped support Tyson by giving him the tools and resources he needs to be successful in his education. Jiu-jitsu has also helped instill optimism in him and has given him the confidence he needs to keep working hard in school.

Tyson is a friendly, positive, and outgoing kid. At jiu-jitsu competitions, he has been nicknamed the Social Butterfly of the Bullpen. While he waits for a match, he likes to chat with his opponents about common interests, such as video games and surfing. Aside from jiu-jitsu, Tyson enjoys surfing, skateboarding, video gaming, reading, and playing the guitar. He has long aspired to own a business, so last year he started his own sticker business called Stick Sticky Stickers and makes unique and custom stickers.

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