Learner Spotlights

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Learner Spotlight: Daija Hooker


Daija Hooker is a passionate, courageous iLEAD Exploration 10th grader who always has a positive outlook on life. She sets her goals and works hard to follow through even when things become challenging. She shows true grit in her academics and extracurricular activities.

Daija started her homeschool journey about seven years ago. Homeschooling has allowed her to customize a learning path that best suits her needs and goals. She continues to flourish and excel in her studies and talents. She attends learning center classes and creative classes to help develop her academic strengths and her talents. Demonstrating great resolve, Daija commits to long hours of practice for dance and acting classes each week and still finds time for her studies.

Years ago, she started taking acting, dancing, vocal, and theatre classes just for fun. Now she works in the entertainment industry and appears in television commercials, music videos, and has worked with Disney and Nickelodeon. In her free time she gives back to others by helping serve meals at food shelters, and by reading books and playing with young children at orphanages, Sunday schools, and kids camps.

Daija feels strongly that the consistency in having the same teacher every year benefits her. She loves being a part of iLEAD and appreciates her resourceful, kind, patient and accessible facilitator, who Daija believes plays a big part in her education. In just a few short years, Daija has plans to attend college and study to be a neonatal nurse.

Her motto is “I was born ready!” and she truly is ready for anything!

Learner Spotlight: Cabrales-Goldstein Family


Grit is described as “courage, resolve, and strength of character,” and we can’t think of a family that exhibits these qualities better than the Cabrales-Goldstein kids. Meet third grader Golan, first grader Dada, and kindergartner Michaela!

All three children are excellent iLEAD Exploration learners and hardworking chess champions. Dada is currently ranked number one in the U.S. in “blitz” (fast chess) for girls age seven, and because she recently defeated the “Iron Man” of chess in highest number of games for the year, she was mentioned in Chess Life, making her the “Iron Girl” of chess. Talk about grit!

Michaela is ranked number three in long-game chess nationwide in her category: girls age five. Both Golan and Dada have a big following on YouTube via L.A. Chess Club and Golan’s competition videos have surpassed 2.5 million views. He is also ranked in the top-100 chess players for his age group.

In addition to being chess champions, all three kids are currently learning to play the drums and skateboard as well as pursuing their own interests. Dada loves to design and sew and has endless original one-of-a-kind creative ideas. Michaela loves to draw and do math as well as write. Golan is advanced in several of his subjects and is a scientist in the making. All three kids are devouring their curricula at record speed. They simply love to learn and are determined to give their best to every task, whether it be athletic, creative, academic or anything else they put their minds to.

In addition to all the hard work and determination, this family exhibits compassion, support, and gratitude in their interactions with each other and all who meet them. They are especially grateful to the iLEAD team that supports them and allows them the extra freedom and time to follow their dreams. This combination of character, gratitude, and courage definitely makes this family stand out in a crowd. What a great iLEAD family, exhibiting grit in all they do!



Learner Spotlight: William Wisneskey


William Wisneskey is a 16-year-old senior at iLEAD Exploration. His family relocated from New Orleans, Louisiana, to support William in his training in classical ballet. William is on a full pre-professional ballet scholarship with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Gillespie School at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. He trains at least 30 hours per week in Upper 2, the highest level of training in the ABT curriculum. iLEAD provides the flexibility William needs to both finish his high school diploma and train as a pre-professional dancer in classical ballet.

William started ballet at the age of 12 and quickly fell in love with everything about it. He feels that ballet is the most strenuous and beautiful combination of art and sport. He is happiest while dancing and values every moment in the studio as a precious opportunity to improve, honor, and learn from the dancers before him. William feels there is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a performance and having an audience applaud for you.

In addition to his training with ABT, William is dancing the role of Cavalier, consort to the Sugar Plum Fairy, in the Richter Ballet Academy Nutcracker. This lead role is usually danced by a hired professional, and William is the first trainee to be granted the role in this production. Information on this production is available here.

When he has time, William enjoys playing the game Magic: The Gathering. Last fall, he won a drop-in tournament in Anaheim. He also plays the piano, and Chopin is a favorite. Until ninth grade, William attended French School in Louisiana and participated in a student exchange program where he studied at the International School, Colège Cèsar, in Roque-Fort les Pins, near Nice. He is fluent in French and holds three French National Language and Education diplomas.

William is clearly an extremely accomplished and amazing young man with a very bright future. We are very proud of you, William!

Learner Spotlight: Everett Stanchfield

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iLEAD Exploration learner Everett Stanchfield is a kindergartener whose exuberance and enthusiasm can be seen and felt as soon as you meet him. Full of life and energy, Everett is the epitome of this month’s SLO: ZEST! He is endlessly curious and spirited and he carries these characteristics throughout all of his learning.
Everett loves the outdoors and is the happiest when he is out and moving. He loves learning about nature at Santa Clarita Adventure Play and exploring different National Parks and earning his Junior Ranger badges. He loves hiking the local trails with his family and friends, especially when there are streams to play in. He loves learning about outer space, the planets, and interplanetary rovers, and is so excited when he has the opportunity to visit his father’s workplace, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to learn more. He loves that homeschooling encourages him to learn in a hands-on way instead of sitting at a desk. Everett prefers to complete his lessons outdoors with games that let him move, and he would rather use sidewalk chalk than pencil and paper.
Everett also loves to be creative! He constructs amazing LEGO creations using his LEGO Education WeDo kit and enjoys programming them to light up and make noises. If you give him something with batteries, lights, and gears, he will happily sit for hours to turn them into something new.

Not surprisingly, Everett’s favorite subject is PE, a perfect fit for this zesty boy. He loves parkour and is looking forward to his sixth birthday, when he can start taking classes at a local gym. His current favorite place to log active hours is at the local trampoline park, where he can practice the Ninja course and leap into the foam pit. Everett also has a more calm and mindful side; he is learning to meditate and enjoys yoga with Cosmic Kids Yoga on video. When he grows up, Everett wants to become a firefighter and use his boundless energy to fight fires.

Learner Spotlight: Joshua Bird

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Homeschooling was not the plan for iLEAD Exploration 9th grader Josh Bird, but by the end of 7th grade it was clear to his mom, Mary, that he was not thriving in his brick-and-mortar school, and something needed to change. “He was so unhappy, with behavior challenges, and just sad,” Mary remembers. Josh enrolled with iLEAD Exploration in the 2018-2019 school year and celebrated 8th grade promotion with a huge smile on his face! Now in high school, he has the best grades he has had in a long time and is engaged, joyful, and confident again. December’s theme of “zest” fits Josh perfectly, as he faces new challenges with curiosity and energy and is always eager to share his enthusiasm.

Josh has a diagnosis of ADHD, and it can be a challenge for him to stay focused on the task at hand, especially in difficult areas of study like writing and literature. He has greatly benefitted from the focused environment of homeschooling. At times, he still has moments of frustration, but with a difference. “He can have the feelings and then process them and understand, one-on-one with me,” says Mary. “In conventional school, he would just miss the entire lesson.” Along with academics, Josh is learning a lot of social-emotional skills that he needs to thrive in life. This invaluable learning is furthered in sessions with iLEAD’s student support team.

The flexible model of homeschool has also allowed Josh to engage more with his passions. Josh eats, sleeps, and breathes fish and any kind of marine life. His goal is to pursue the field of marine biology. At every opportunity (after finishing schoolwork), he helps his dad work on their boat and enjoys fishing. Before visiting a particular fishing destination, Josh will research the exact bait, lures, and rods they will need, and he independently sets up all the gear and bait for himself and his two younger siblings. Josh also loves riding dirt bikes and going shooting with his family, and he recently got a new quad. He has a contagious zest for outdoor life.

Now Josh and his mother, Mary, who works as a nurse, are almost a year and a half into their homeschooling journey. One goal of Mary’s is to help Josh never see his learning differences as an excuse, and she works hard to support Josh in staying accountable and rising to the challenge of high school. Josh is taking one class at a learning center and several through iLEAD Online, and he is doing well!

Mary sums it up this way: “He has grown by leaps and bounds in everything. It has been a huge effort for the whole family, but we are getting there, and the progress is unbelievable. His confidence level is so different, and he is so happy! Days do not always go as planned, and I get frustrated, but then I look at what he’s learned and how far he’s come, and I am so proud.”

Learner Spotlight: Aunchalee Olguin


Since becoming a homeschooler with iLEAD Exploration in 2017, 8th grader Aunchalee Olguin has blossomed into a happy learner who lives a life filled with zest and wonder. She takes great interest in learning and approaches her schoolwork with great excitement. Aunchalee is especially interested in science and history, with math coming in at a close third. Her reading has improved greatly since she joined iLEAD Exploration, enabling her to enjoy the world of science even more than she did before.

Aunchalee loves animals (with humans coming in at a close second). She currently has five cats, two pigs, and two dogs, all of whom she raised from infancy. Aunchalee also loves art and paints with oil paints, watercolors, and pastels. She always has an art project in progress.

The outdoors are a big part of Aunchalee’s life. She enjoys skateboarding, rollerblading, and bike riding on rugged desert trails. She is passionate about horseback riding and is currently preparing for an equitation horse show. Aunchalee is also learning to sail with her father and is beaming with excitement about their first sailing voyage.

Aunchalee always finds time for off-roading with her desert buggy, which she finds thrilling. As part of her busy schedule, she always manages to squeeze in drum practice and relaxes while crocheting and playing the piano. Clearly, Aunchalee (and her family) relish all the flexibility and support iLEAD Exploration provides. She is thriving in this program while also exploring her varied interests.

Learner Spotlight: Mary Miller


Mary Miller is a senior in high school, and she has been enrolled with iLEAD since 10th grade. She is very involved in her community, and she just might have a future in politics!

Mary is in her final year of Girl Scouts and just completed her Gold Award, for which she organized a teen resource fair for her community. She also started the Model Legislature and Court team for the Antelope Valley Family YMCA. As a part of this team, she has traveled to Sacramento to participate in a mock election, and she has run for office there.

She is a board member of the Antelope Valley YMCA, and she serves on several committees, including the Teen Committee, which she founded. She was awarded the regional Excellence in Teen Leadership Award from the Metro Los Angeles YMCA, where she gave a beautiful acceptance speech. Mary has also represented her community as Junior Miss Lancaster and Teen Miss Lancaster. Those positions led her to become a junior ambassador to the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce.

Mary has also become involved in school activities offered by iLEAD. She has been invited to join ASB, and she is the president of the iLEAD National Honor Society. On a more personal side, Mary is a talented artist, her favorite television show is The Office, and she loves her cat, Olly. iLEAD is proud of all that Mary has accomplished and is excited to see what her future holds!

Learner Spotlight: Shayna Hewitt


iLEAD Exploration 8th grade learner Shayna Hewitt has the perfect motto to bring gratitude front and center in her life: “Not every day is a good day, but there’s good in every day!” Bravo, Shayna, for finding a way to be thankful even on the crummiest of days.

Shayna is truly thankful for the flexibility and freedom homeschooling allows her to pursue her interests and passions on a deeper level. Her hobbies include drawing and painting, studying nature, enjoying nature walks, cooking and baking with her chef mom, and acting in Shakespeare plays.

Shayna adores all things Japanese. She loves anime and manga, sushi, Japanese culture, artwork, fashion, and language. She is currently learning to speak and write in Japanese, and her chef mom is teaching her to make Japanese recipes. They recently made sushi together. One day Shayna hopes to visit Japan.

Shayna enjoys hanging out with friends and family and is a voracious reader with a huge library of favorites that include the Harry Potter series, Pride and Prejudice, Shakespearean drama, Greek mythology, and the Warriors series.

Other interests of Shayna’s include gymnastics, piano, guitar, ukulele, learning French and Spanish, helping with younger kids at church, babysitting when she can, and earning money with jobs around the house and for others.


Learner Spotlight: Montalvo Family


The Montalvo learners count their blessings on both hands. First and foremost, 12th grader Andrea is thankful for her family. She describes her family as “always being there for each other.” She goes on to say, “They are my number-one fans; they encourage and support me in everything I do.” One of sixth grader Danny’s favorite things to do is hang out with his family. He is so thankful for the close bond they have. Danny says the greatest thing about his family is that “We are loving and caring, and we do everything together. I especially like our dinnertime.”

Andrea is grateful for all the opportunities presented to her in life. She enjoys and appreciates being homeschooled because it gives her time for her extracurricular activities. Andrea is a gifted musician and plays bass in her church’s band. In Andrea’s free time, she likes to paint and listen to music. Something Andrea does well is baking, and she especially enjoys people’s reactions when they try her food. This school year she is learning two new skills: photography and guitar. Andrea’s favorite food is a Mexican delight called mole. This sweet and spicy sauce is usually poured over chicken, but Andrea prefers to eat it wrapped inside a tortilla like an enchilada. Andrea is enjoying learning how to play ukulele and memorizing some of her favorite songs. One day Andrea hopes to be a business owner.

Sixth grader Danny is thankful for being homeschooled. He loves that he can make his own schedule and review work that he didn’t understand the first time. This is Danny’s second year with iLEAD Exploration. Since he began homeschooling, he has been able to dramatically improve his math skills. He also enjoys all the science experiments he gets to do with cool subscription boxes. Like his sister, Andrea, Danny is a great musician. He loves playing the drums and hopes to be an amazing drummer when he grows up. He also wants to be a computer engineer and a professional artist. When Danny has free time, he likes to play video games with his friends and build with Legos. Danny is a really good dancer and artist. Danny enjoys his Jr. Robotics with Legos class he is taking and will soon be a master at coding!

Learner Spotlight: Duran Family

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Gratitude is a crucial aspect of every learner’s educational environment. When the Duran family made the switch from their neighborhood school to homeschooling, they found out just how much an attitude of gratitude affected not only everyone’s learning experience, but also their days together.

This dynamic family is always on the move with their creative third grader, Jalseen, who is always dreaming up stories or making crafts, acting as the leading lady in musical theater, and reading. First grader Julian, the engineer and builder, always has a new idea for an invention or LEGO creation. Jade, the littlest Duran, is not quite old enough to join iLEAD Exploration, but she is always participating in the adventures and learning.

Some of the ways that the Durans have kept gratitude as a focus have been through the creation of a kindness chart. This chart allows them to reward each other by showing gratitude to one another for choosing kindness.

This lovely family also enhances their handwriting and writing practice by sending thank-you notes to family and friends. They love to encourage and show gratitude for the people in their lives by creating art and giving away toys to friends and neighbors who will enjoy them.


The Durans have learned that giving presents isn’t the only way to say thank you to friends and family. They know it is also important to be cheerful and to give others a feeling of happiness. Making others feel special has expanded their thinking to even more creative ways to show gratitude! The Durans have shared that this focus on gratitude has really impacted every aspect of their homeschool day.

Learner Spotlight: Camila Aguirre


Camila Aguirre is a 5th grade learner who is in her second year of homeschooling with iLEAD Exploration. Camila is multilingual and speaks three languages. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Chinese.

Name: Camila Aguirre

What languages do you speak?
I speak Chinese, Spanish, and English.

What is your favorite saying in your native language?
My favorite saying is “Ahi nos vidrios!” It is slang for “See you later!”

What is a family tradition that you enjoy?
During Christmas, my family and I buy gifts for each other and guess who gave what gift.

What career would you like to have?
I would like to be an interior designer. I think being able to speak Chinese, Spanish, and English is going to allow me to have more clients.

What is your favorite subject?
Math. I love math. It makes life so much easier.

Has being multilingual allowed you any special opportunities?
Yes! I am able to communicate with a lot of different people. I learn so much from speaking their language.

What is your favorite hobby?
I love to ice skate. I just started last year when I began homeschooling. I had my first ice skating competition, and I won first place! I feel like I’m flying when I’m gliding.

What advice would you give to someone trying to learn a new language?
Start with the basics. Try to listen to the language as much as possible. I watch movies in Chinese to hear the language. Also, practice, practice, practice, and practice, and don’t be afraid to say things incorrectly!

Learner Spotlight: Ruotolo Family


The accomplished and active Ruotolo family keep themselves busy in all areas of their lives. Twins Tye and Kade are eleventh graders at iLEAD Exploration, while younger sister, Nya, is in the fourth grade. The family has appreciated the flexibility of iLEAD Exploration’s model for two years because it allows them to school on the go with their busy schedules.

Tye and Kade know hard work and effort are sure to pay off, and they work toward growth in their sports, academics, and pretty much anything they become involved in. These dedicated young men drive from Huntington Beach to San Diego several times a week to train for jiujitsu and travel worldwide to compete. They are among the top jiujitsu competitors in the world, and their necks loaded with medals show that they have won many competitions. They remain committed to training because they know with hard work, they can always improve.

Kade and Tye love to surf, fish, and travel when they’re not doing schoolwork or training in their sport. A desire to teach and support other kids has led them to spend time teaching anti-bullying seminars for kids at their jiujitsu tournaments. They’ve also taken an interest in learning Portuguese this year to help them when they travel around the world for their many tournaments in Portuguese-speaking South American countries.

Like her brothers, Nya is always eager to learn new things. She is a very hard worker and ambitious with her passions. She has followed her brothers into jiujitsu but also loves gymnastics, skateboarding, and horseback riding. She has really enjoyed learning how to ride and care for a horse this semester. She’s interested in being a veterinarian or physical therapist in the future. Nya also models and performs in commercials in her free time.


Learner Spotlight: Camilo Whitfield

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Camilo Whitfield attended a charter school until fifth grade; however, brick and mortar was not a good fit, so homeschooling was his best option. From an early age, Camilo excelled academically. As a toddler he read prolifically, and his love for reading has continued into his teens. He skipped the first grade and finished sixth and seventh grade in one year. As a fourteen-year-old 11th grader, his goal is to graduate this June and attend college next fall. In the future, Camilo wants to obtain a bachelor of science degree in game development and design. As a learner with high functioning autism, Camilo has faced any challenge life has brought with passion, grit, and drive.

Camilo has always been strong. Born two months early and having lived in the NICU for awhile, he has always had an iron will. He is now six months away from becoming a black belt in martial arts. Not only does he train four days a week and teach younger kids two days a week, he also choreographs with the demo team.

In addition to spending time at the martial arts studio, Camilo also loves to give back to the community. Along with his family, he volunteers with Heal The Bay, cleaning the dunes and beaches. He also volunteers as an art assistant at ARTree, helping kids who need extra assistance. During the winter he spends time at the library helping kids with their homework.

Camilo’s favorite subjects are physics and animation. He has also taken an animation class and a game developing class, merging these two skills to create fun and eventful moments. Camilo created his own original game and is working on his second. We are so excited to share the link to his first original game: Camilo’s Game.

Camilo has grown up with his parents saying to him every day, “You can do it.” He has proved them right. Camilo’s parents are so grateful for the special people and family in his life who have helped him deal with the challenges of having high functioning autism. Support from those who care and understand Camilo, along with therapy, consistency, and routine have helped him achieve his potential. Camilo and his family are also thankful for the opportunities that iLEAD has given him and for their educational facilitator, Erin Wade, for making a difference.

Camilo, iLEAD and the high school team are extremely proud of your incredible determination and hard work. Way to go, Camilo! We are cheering you on!

Learner Spotlight: Judah Barr


iLEAD Exploration learner Judah Barr has a favorite quote: “Fight the fine fight” and to him it exemplifies how we should approach struggle in our lives. When faced with difficulties, you may want to give up but if you stick it out, you come out stronger and better equipped for challenges that may be ahead.


Embodying both the spirit of his motto and the growth mindset, Judah is hardworking and dedicated to his school work. He is always looking for ways to prepare himself for his future. He has developed his own car washing business and has done a great job building his clientele. Judah is also gifted musically and has chosen to develop his talents further by taking acoustic and electric guitar lessons as well as voice classes. This really has really helped him become a better all-around musician. For fun, he plays music with a group of friends, and they call their band, “Kicc.” Judah enjoys playing rock, blues, classical music, and he has written a few songs titled, “People’s Dream” and “I’ve Never Known.”


Judah desires to be a business owner and has joined iLEAD’s CTE Entrepreneur Pathway Program. He hopes to gain skills in this class to help him create a business that creates websites for small businesses. He plans to learn coding and take digital design courses to prepare himself. As you can see, Judah carefully makes decisions and always keeps his future in mind. He is always looking for ways to better equip himself for his very bright future.


In his second year at iLEAD Exploration, Judah has impressed his EF by his maturity and by coming well-prepared for their meetings. Judah achieved all A’s in his freshman year. He is driven to perform well academically and also has a heart to serve the community. Judah is very involved in his church and has done volunteer work there.

Learner Spotlight: Milena & Miya de Vera


The de Vera sisters provide each other with genuine encouragement and consistently support one another as each strives to do her best. Milena (12th) and Miya (9th) de Vera are constantly looking for ways to improve their learning and other experiences.


Milena, who owns a donut business called Hoops, continually seeks to grow her knowledge base. She originally developed gluten-free donuts for her sister, who suffers from Celiac disease and was unable to enjoy the yummy hoop-shaped baked goods. Since then, Milena has taken this idea and grown it into a licensed, expanding business. To always keep learning and growing, Milena enrolled in a cooking class to develop her baking chops. Previously, she took a consumer math course to help keep accurate financials for her business. She tests and retests multiple recipes to come up with her line of products, and has persevered even when times were tough. Fortunately, her effort paid off and she learned from her mistakes to end up with a great product. Milena has even been asked by Williams Sonoma to participate in a pop-up bake sale for the “No Kid Hungry” charity this fall. She is graduating from iLEAD this year and plans to attend community college while she expands her business.

Younger sister Miya is as equally dedicated to her passion for art. She has taken many art courses and entered many contests including those through Google, LA County Library Bookmark, and the LA County Fair. She won first prize in the Library Bookmark contest, and two years in a row took home blue medals at the county fair. But it’s not always win-win-win. Even when she doesn’t get recognition, Miya continues to enter art contests and showcase her art without giving up. As a true lifelong learner, Miya is also taking courses to help her advance her art repertoire. As a brand new high schooler this year, Miya has sought to expand her art repertoire and is taking classes in digital arts, animation, and drawing. She aspires to attend CalArts and is working on creating an Etsy business to sell her artwork.

Both of these learners demonstrate a growth mindset because they are willing to look at what didn’t work and improve it for the next time to be successful. They challenge themselves and push themselves. They don’t fear failing because they see it as a learning opportunity and are willing to put the work into their passions and academics to be successful.

Learner Spotlight: Desiree Rios


When Carol Dweck and her team first wrote about the difference between the GROWTH MINDSET and the fixed mindset, education was forever changed. Since beginning her homeschooling journey, Desiree Rios, iLEAD Exploration learner, has worked to develop a growth mindset by focusing on hard work and effort in her academic pursuits. The result of this has been an increased sense of ownership in her learning. Desiree stays on top of her studies and instead of staying stuck in old patterns, she has striven to develop new study habits and life skills.

Wherever she goes and whatever new things she tries, Desiree comes with a positive attitude and a smile. This hardworking learner demonstrates dedication to her athletic and extracurricular activities as well as her academic work. Desiree enjoys spending time with friends and never has any problems making friends. She loves staying active and participating in all kinds of activities including dance and music. Desiree can often be found practicing the ukulele.

This 11th grade learner has also devoted her time to growing new habits such as reading. Desiree’s growth mindset has resulted in her taking a break from time on the internet to form this new habit. In fact, she is a voracious reader, having read 70 books since last December. That’s more than one book a week!

Desiree is a super sweet and kind person whose motto is, “Always Smile!” But watch out: she is also working toward her black belt in Krav Maga and she can definitely take care of herself!

Learner Spotlight: Thomas Maskow


iLEAD Exploration ninth-grader Thomas Maskow lives his life with PURPOSE. He has a passion for helping and working with animals, and wants to be a zoologist when he grows up. Someday, Thomas would like to help conserve habitats for animals and help endangered species (especially Amazon anteaters and pangolins) thrive.

Thomas volunteered at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach as a junior camp counselor. He worked closely with children and helped them to learn about environmental conservation. Thomas is not afraid to get his hands dirty in service of his goals. Part of his other duties at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center involved cleaning out the sea lion and seal cages, and helping to make fish popsicles!

It probably isn’t surprising to learn that Thomas loves to swim in the ocean and spend time with his brothers at the beach. He enjoys going on long hikes with his family, and is learning to play the saxophone in a rock band. Another interest of his includes reading, as Thomas is always in the middle of a good book. Thomas absolutely loves fencing and relishes challenging his opponents and achieving his goals. This busy young man also found time to volunteer at his local library for the summer reading program and also act as a buddy for special needs kiddos at a local weekly summer camp.

Learner Spotlight: The Smalley Family

Smalley Family

The Smalley kids are a quirky crew! They were born in Idaho, spent four years living on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, and now find themselves in sunny California. They are enjoying all that iLEAD has to offer them, especially being able to experience extracurricular activities in their own language, play new sports, and even take tests.

Luke (13) is in 7th grade, and is the oldest (by one minute) of the four Smalleys. He is the peacemaker; the one who keeps this family of siblings tied together and functioning relationally like a well-oiled machine. He is also the one who flows most easily with change and is willing to try new things. He has loved being a part of the wood shop class that Brain Builders in Tustin provides. It has inspired him to begin woodworking projects at home, especially with his grandpa. He is currently brainstorming his next big project.

Anna (13) is in 7th grade. She is the second-born by one minute and is the artist of the family. If you ever wonder how she is feeling, all you have to do is take a peek at her sketchbook and you will find her mood projected in the faces of her characters. She has been thriving at Studio H Fine Art, taking sketching and painting classes. These courses have pushed her into completing projects that she would never have done on her own. Her creativity is endless and it won’t be surprising when her stories turn into books.

James (11) is in 6th grade. Empathy is one of his strongest qualities: he acutely feels the pain of others and cannot contain his excitement when others experience good things. He is a hard worker, a loyal friend, and the silliest Smalley. Basketball with OC Rain is his new sport of choice, and you can see him practicing his dribble in the driveway, transforming a cardboard box into a basket. He also enjoys calculating math in his head and never ceases to amaze at how quickly he comes up with the correct answer, calculating sales tax into every purchase he makes.

Julia (9) is in 4th grade. She is the youngest and the most verbal of all the kids. If she has information, she is immediately on a mission to make sure everyone else has the same information. She is an avid reader and is currently in love with the Wings of Fire series. She has communicated the stories in detail to us all. She also loves to dance and dress up, singing along with JoJo Siwa and the Descendants. She has been a part of a tap class at Tustin Dance Center for a year and she loves it. She loves the friendships she has built but also the opportunity to perform, wear beautiful costumes and tap on stage.

Learner Spotlight: David Budge

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Last year, David relocated to California to get a fresh start on his life and education and moved in with a family who was already educating through iLEAD Exploration. David was nearing the end of a traditional public school education that had failed him. He was plagued by self-limiting beliefs and thought he was on a dead-end path with limited hope of ever finding fulfillment or success.

Since enrolling in iLEAD, David has been thriving. As a child growing up in Arizona, David was fascinated with reptiles at an early age. He was thrilled to learn that through iLEAD, he could pursue studies in herpetology. As a result, he chose reptile husbandry for his junior year project. Through this project, David procured a pair of bearded dragons, studied and learned about their habitat, and then fostered an environment where they were comfortable to breed. We are happy to report that his endeavor was successful, as David incubated and hatched a clutch of twenty-eight adorable baby bearded dragons. This provided a much-needed win and the accompanying self-esteem in his accomplishments, as David realized this would be a viable career path for him.

But life had other ideas in store for David. Not long after relocating to southern California, the Thomas and Woolsey fires began, with flames in sight of his new home. When he saw the massive response by the firefighters and the community as they came together to battle the blazes, he was inspired to shift his education from herpetology to a career where he could be of service to the world.

Again, through his studies at iLEAD, David was able to choose the prerequisite coursework that would provide the necessary foundation to become a firefighter. Furthermore, the flexibility of an iLEAD education has allowed him ample time to also volunteer through the Ventura County Fire Explorers program, while still excelling in his core education needed to complete his high school diploma. The combination of iLEAD and the Explorer program has now laid the groundwork for him to not only attend college, but also to enter the United States Air Force as a firefighter once a position becomes open.

David is excited about taking chemistry, physics, and economics in his final year of high school. He is really looking forward to the lab classes that accompany those courses. His favorite part about learning with iLEAD is that he is able to take the time that he needs to work toward mastery. iLEAD has allowed him to blossom into an honor’s student for the first time in his educational history. He works very hard, is extremely dedicated, and is excited about learning for the first time in his life. Taking an active role in making decisions for his education has given him ownership and pride in his success.

For someone who never thought he’d go to college, David is ready to tackle his first college classes having just recently registered at Moorpark Community College. We’re so proud of David’s hard work and are glad that iLEAD was able to provide him with the educational environment and support for him to pursue his goals.

Learner Spotlight: The Hingco Family


The Hingco brothers, Isaac and Ben, are active collaborators in their own education, and being learners with iLEAD Exploration allows them to pursue and study the subjects that they are most passionate about. Right now, Isaac, 4th grade, is planning his next coding project; while Ben, 2nd grade, is in the middle of creating an illustrated book about dragons.

Isaac (9) and Benjamin (7) began their homeschooling journey while traveling to Florida. Their keen interest in sea animals made them the most enthusiastic marine biology learners as they snorkeled with manta rays and tropical fish, and also observed penguins firsthand. These brothers love to see the world and are eager to learn as much as they can from every trip, whether it is a plane ride, car ride, or a trek to the nearest trail.

On a road trip through the Sierra Nevadas, Ben and Isaac learned about Native American Indians and the early western settlers. During a trip to Palm Springs, they had a close encounter with World War 2 planes and also took a peek into some U.S. history. In San Diego, they were able to visit the numerous museums in Balboa Park, and absorbed as much information as they could about our natural world, Southern California’s native plants and animals, environmental science, and more.


Learning is always exciting for these two. So even if they’re closer to home, Isaac and Ben can still find (or make up) more educational exploits. Whether it’s finding, identifying, and researching the bugs they find outside; planting and harvesting potatoes; learning to bake muffins; building a toy boat; making a robot; or creating their own video game, the opportunity to learn is everywhere.

Intellectual curiosity is the foundation of all learning that happens within the Hingco household. Their mom actively looks for opportunities to turn their passions, curiosities and interests into active learning. It has led them to learn about World War II, marine biology, computer coding, and more. Isaac has created a game using Scratch and Python (programming languages) and Ben started a garden in his backyard after wondering where potatoes come from.

Learner Spotlight: The Brown Family


Meet the adventure-seeking Brown family! This family’s ultimate goal is to fully experience the world and to take their place as citizens of the world. This family of learners seeks to understand not only that they can affect their immediate community by their actions, but also how they can also have a lasting impact on the world.

Raegan (8th grade), Garrett, (7th grade), Grant, (5th grade), and Gage (3rd grade) all love coding, robotics, and animation, and they have even been able to share their love for these activities when they travel. These learners freely share their passions with others. The Brown family has founded an extracurricular camp called Wonder Studios for kids in a local community they visit in Nigeria. Here, they are able to teach local children how to play Minecraft, and they animate and make games using a coding platform developed by MIT called “Scratch.”

The Brown learners also like to explore their ancestral roots, and right now they are focusing on Africa, the world’s second largest and second most populous continent. With 54 countries, 1,250–3,000 native languages, and many natural resources, there is so much to explore. They’ve been privileged to experience so many different tribal cultures, exotic foods and fruits, and cultures rich with incredible histories and stories.

This family is always looking ahead to how they can use their education and skills for their future. The eldest sibling, Raegan, a budding entrepreneur, began her own slime business for kids by creating a slime company called Rae’s Slime Bar. She trains kids in the art of entrepreneurship, and she uses part of the proceeds to give kids access to leadership camps.

Raegan, Garrett, Gran, and Gage also like to stay physically active, write stories, learn the French language, and participate in theatrical arts.

Bravo to the Brown Family learners!


Learner Spotlight: The Moffitt Brothers

Rhys and Ian Moffitt - Park - March 2019

Standard brick and mortar schools were simply not a good fit for Rhys and Ian Moffitt. Fortunately, these two brothers have been happily homeschooling for the past 2½ years with iLEAD Exploration. Both diagnosed with high functioning autism — what was once referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome — these two learners have an extraordinary, asynchronous way of learning. Passionate about most subjects, they frequently wake their parents up in the wee hours asking to conduct science experiments, learn exponents by figuring out the result of 26 to the 10th power, build the Mars Rover out of recycled material, or recreate the periodic table of the elements on the dining room floor.

Rhys and Ian (and their parents) feel so grateful for the opportunity to be in school at home because it gives them the ability to study consistently challenging curriculum while also enabling them to focus on the areas where they want to improve. The boys also value their Individualized Education Plans (IEP) that provide accommodations and therapies to help them be the best learners they can be.

Both boys take classes at a nearby homeschool campus, the Arbor Learning Community, and also focus on learning organically at home. Over the summer, the Moffitt boys, who are passionate about the musical “Hamilton,” wanted to learn more about ten of the show’s characters, who are also historical figures. They tackled subjects related to the Revolutionary War, slavery, women’s rights, and ethics.

The Moffitt brothers also stay busy by participating in Cub Scouts and American Kenpo Karate. Cub Scouts has allowed them to make friends and participate in service projects, and the Scouts’ NOVA S.T.E.A.M. program pairs so seamlessly with their homeschooling lessons. After studying karate for two years, Ian has earned his green belt, and Rhys his green belt with brown stripes. They both participate in twice-a-year karate tournaments, which gives them the opportunity to build physical strength, learn personal self-control, and develop purpose.

We salute the Moffitt brothers!


Learner Spotlight: Harper & Jett Carney

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If you happen to be looking for the Carney family, chances are you will find them outdoors. This sweet family of young iLEAD Exploration learners has fully embraced the adventure of learning. Whether they are at the beach, in the mountains, or in their own backyard, they can be seen toting a basket containing a blanket, some books, and their journals. They are always ready to learn about the world around them.

From read-alouds under a big tree, to sorting and classifying their finds in nature, Harper (Kindergarten) and Jett (TK) have the opportunity to learn in a way that is meaningful and focuses on their individual gifts. Harper is a designer and a dreamer. She started designing doll clothes and accessories for herself as a toddler. Harper always carries a song with her and uses her hands to create many wonderful things. Homeschooling gives her the freedom and safety to groom her creative passions, to honor her budding identity, and to explore new creative spaces. Harper is now styling outfits for anyone who will let her and writing her own dreamy, living stories.


Jett is a fact guy. He holds information like a little computer! He is a lover of anything living. At a young age, Jett showed interest in gardening, and he has been learning and growing as a gardener ever since. Jett is also gifted with understanding difficult things. He understands how things are built and the science behind it. In fact, Jett teaches his mom new things almost every day. Homeschooling has provided a safe environment for Jett, one chock full of living things, opportunities to be curious, green space, and a teacher he can ask lots of questions of. It is hard to imagine Jett being forced to sit down and learn in a classroom when he can be outdoors instead.

The Carney family believes nature is the best classroom and playground, because it provides so many opportunities for learning. The bonding time in the wilderness sows rich seeds for this family.

Learner Spotlight: Anna Zielke


iLEAD Exploration learner Anna Zielke is an outgoing and active 8th grader whose passions are acting and performing. She has been involved in the theater on and off since she was just four years old.

Anna recently played Via in the Phantom Project theater’s production of Wonder, a theatrical adaptation of the wonderful novel about August, a homeschooler with facial anomalies who heads to public school for 5th grade. Some of our learners may have had the good fortune to watch her perform at our field trip to see Wonder at the La Mirada Theatre! To further hone her craft, Anna takes classes weekly at the Performers Academy, where she is able to improve her acting skills.

Anna is also very musical. She enjoys playing her ukulele and guitar. She can often be found singing a wide range of musical styles. Her taste varies and her favorites include Broadway music, Disney songs, pop music, and rap songs. Other interests include photography, softball, and bowling. She is a Harry Potter superfan, and also loves Marvel. Anna enjoys staying active by playing softball and bowling.

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