Homeschool makes for one full Decker

Student wins National Merit Scholarship

Sasha Decker was pleased last month when she was notified that she’d been awarded a National Merit Scholarship.

But she wasn’t surprised.

“Throughout high school I held it as my goal to be a Merit Scholar,” she said. And there have been few goals this 18-year-old Hood River native hasn’t accomplished when she’s set her mind to it.

Sasha’s Merit Scholarship is a $2,500 one-time award sponsored by the UPS Foundation. She will use it to help with expenses at the University of Dallas, where she has already received an academic scholarship that will cover tuition.

“I’ll probably apply it toward room and board,” she said.

Sasha has been homeschooled all her life, though her parents hadn’t planned it that way.

“She started reading when she was 3 years old,” said Sasha’s mother, LaJuana Decker. When LaJuana took her pre-school daughter to play with other children at their homes, Sasha would go straight to the bookshelf and start reading. By the time Sasha was 6, she’d read a 21-volume set of children’s encyclopedias from beginning to end.

“I realized she needed different opportunities than were going to be available,” LaJuana said. In 6th grade, Sasha was introduced to Latin by her mother. When she’d exhausted LaJuana’s knowledge of the mother of all languages, she sought out an on-line tutorial.

“I’ve always really loved language,” Sasha said. “I just fell in love with (Latin).” From there, she turned to Greek. She so far has four years of Latin and two years of Greek study under her belt. She next plans to study Italian — which she got a taste of last summer when she went to Rome on a special University of Dallas-sponsored program for high school students to study Shakespeare.

For the last four years, Sasha has received much of her education in language from an online school called the Institute for Study of Liberal Arts and Sciences (ISLAS). She attends real-time classes taught by professors, and participates in online discussions that “work like a chat room,” according to Sasha.

But she still complements her online study with classes taught by Mom and Dad.

“I study science and math with my parents because they’re strong in those areas,” Sasha said.

Her school cumulative record reads more like that of a graduate student than a high school senior: Advanced Placement Latin IV; Western Literature through Dante; Trigonometry; Traditional Logic II; Rhetoric and Progymnasmata III. (The latter, by the way, is defined as “An effectively graded sequence of exercises, from the simple to the more complex, from the concrete to the more abstract, that introduces speakers and writers to a genuinely rhetorical understanding of the invention and composition of arguments.” This reporter had to look that one up.)

Two pages of “Other Information” on her record catalog dozens of music awards, community activities and volunteer efforts.

Along with her gift for language, Sasha is an accomplished harp player and pianist. She took piano lessons for 9 years and has been teaching piano herself since she was 13. She has nine regular students — one of whom won the 2001 state competition of the Oregon Music Teachers’ Association Junior Baroque Festival.

“I want to keep teaching,” Sasha said. “I hope to get a few students in Dallas.”

But her true passion remains language — which is why she chose the University of Dallas.

“It has a really strong Classics department,” Sasha explained. Ninety percent of the private university’s graduates go on to pursue graduate degrees, according to LaJuana.

Sasha credits homeschooling for giving her the opportunity to pursue her unique academic goals.

“It’s been really nice to be able to focus my studies on what I wanted to dig into in depth,” she said. Homeschooling has allowed her to study languages that aren’t offered at Hood River Valley High School — or most public high schools for that matter. She’s also had the opportunity to teach others — tutoring other Latin students and serving as a substitute teacher of Latin for ISLAS.

“My career goal is to be a Latin teacher,” Sasha said. Odds are this newly-minted Merit Scholar will do just that one day. And a whole lot more.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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