A few decades ago, homeschooling was considered a fringe phenomenon, something only those who eschewed the “System” dared to undertake. Today, many more families opt to educate their children at home for academic, religious and safety reasons.
According to the Maine Department of Education, during the 2011-12 academic year, 4,730 Maine students were registered with their local superintendent of schools and the Maine DOE for homeschooling.
Once in college, homeschooled students graduated at a higher rate than their peers—66.7 percent compared to 57.5 percent—and earned higher grade point averages, according to a 2009 study from the University of St. Thomas.
Liam Sigaud of Rockland is a good example of a homeschooled student who has flourished in college, in his case, the University of Maine at Augusta. He enrolled in UMA courses at University College at Rockland—URock—at the ripe age of 13.
During the time he was homeschooled, his parents made sure they adhered to state standards while allowing their son the freedom to study subjects that captured his imagination.
“I was self-directed by most standards,” said Sigaud. “I was free to explore my own interest in science and math and to focus for weeks on end on certain topics, like aeronautics. It was a holistic curriculum where I was able to concentrate on topics that specifically interested me.”
The topic of homeschooling often brings up the issue of socialization. Those in the homeschooling community would answer that this is a non-issue, that students who study at home may have more opportunities to socialize that those sitting in a classroom all day. But Sigaud acknowledges that, for him, it was a challenge.
“I most missed socializing with my peers,” he said. “But that was more than made up for by the freedom in studies I had that my friends didn’t have.”
Sigaud’s transition to a traditional college classroom environment wasn’t easy either. The fact that he had older siblings already enrolled in UMA courses at University College at Rockland helped. They counseled him on study techniques that would help him master the more structured world of the college classroom.
“Things went smooth once I got the hang of it,” he said.
University College at Rockland was a logical choice for Sigaud. One of eight Outreach Centers of the University of Maine System, it has served the Mid-coast area for more than 30 years. The fact that it was close to home, offered small classes and provided personalized support made it the perfect choice for a student like Sigaud.
URock’s accommodating atmosphere gave him a feeling of security as he navigated the first few semesters. Had he gone to the UMA campus in Augusta initially, “I would have been much more intimidated,” he said.
“The URock staff is excellent,” said Sigaud. “They were very supportive in helping me select classes, and they were interested in my personal and academic progress.”
“Liam started taking university courses at the young age of 13,” said Deborah Meehan, Director University College at Rockland. “Fully capable of managing the academic challenges, he quickly earned the respect of older students. Over time he moved into the role of tutor and his age was not a factor. The URock community embraced him with pride and amazement at his abilities.”
Sigaud also was impressed by the instructors he encountered at URock.
“The quality of professors is phenomenal. I actually knew some of them, and that helped me feel more comfortable.”
UMA’s biology program was “top notch,” according to Sigaud. He felt that the program well-prepared him for a career in biomedical research, providing a diversity of classes he needed for a good overview while not ignoring other important topics.
Associate Professor of Biology Christopher Lage enjoyed having Sigaud in his class.
“Liam is one of the most mature, hardworking, and intelligent undergraduate students I have ever met,” said Lage. “I am so glad to have the privilege of being his professor and that UMA is his alma mater. He will go far.”
Sigaud has been on UMA’s Dean’s List and was nominated as a Rising Scholar in 2011. In May, at the age of 17, he graduated from UMA with a B.A. in Biology. Of 600 people graduating that day, he was the only student to receive the Perfect 4.0 GPA Award, an honor recognizing a student who had earned an “A” in every course throughout his college career.
Sigaud plans to pursue a career in biomedicine, with a focus on cancer research. To that end, he hopes to work at the Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor for a few years before earning his PHD in the Boston area. A researcher at the Jackson Lab has already reached out to him – “A positive sign.”
In the meantime, Sigaud will be traveling to France for few months with his family.
For others thinking of attending college locally, he fully endorses University College at Rockland.
“For students out of high school and undecided, I would strongly recommend URock and its broad class offerings,” he said.
Has homeschooling also contributed to his academic success?
“Yes, certainly,” said Sigaud, emphatically. “It’s because of the quality of the home education I received that I’ve come this far.”