By Lauren Westbrook
Three years into the decision, Barbara Fisher was questioning her choice about her son’s education.
“At times it really felt like a gamble, and sometimes I was up really late at night wondering if I had set my son up for failure,” Fisher said. “We were always hoping that we had done the right thing by taking Drew out of traditional schooling.”
Breaking the norm
Drew Fisher has always been someone who has cut his own path.
Now a 22-year-old, Fisher is a senior studying mathematics and geography at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There is a large part of his backstory that many people do not know about.
In ninth grade, Drew did everything online through North Carolina Virtual Public Schools. Drew was the first in Iredell county—and North Carolina—to do so.
His goal was to travel with his family while not being tied down to a brick-and-mortar school calendar. That way, he could take classes that he was interested in, play sports, and explore possible careers in addition to a flexible schedule.
Drew’s entire family was involved in the decision to start home schooling through years of discussions— a decision like this came at the risk of derailing his education. Barbara and her husband, Mike Fisher, first had the idea for home schooling when Mike’s position at Wells Fargo became remote in 2013.
“My favorite memory of home schooling with the boys was reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and then getting to take them to Amsterdam,” Mike said. “It was really a full-circle moment.”
A family affair
Drew’s younger brother, Matt, is four years younger. He continued to take part in traditional schooling while Drew tried home schooling. Then, Matt’s parents allowed him to choose between traditional schooling and home schooling. Matt eventually chose to home-school alongside his older brother.
At first, Barbara Fisher was teaching her boys every subject. It usually worked well, but sometimes the Fisher brothers would get tired of work.
“One time, we decided to lie to her about doing our reading. It almost worked, but then Mom figured out what we had done. We had to have a little talk about being good,” Matt Fisher said.
For his 10th grade year (and second year home schooling), Drew did a hybrid schedule: some online classes and some in-person classes at Lake Norman High School. For 11th and 12th grades, he transferred to Mitchell Community College to prepare him for a possible future at a four-year university.
“I had my classes at Mitchell spaced out like a college student, so every single day was different, Drew said. “In between classes, I had time to volunteer in the hospital, during the hours when normal students couldn’t, which was incredible.”
Though Drew didn’t have the same day-to-day life as a traditional high school student, he still found time for some of the same experiences. He was still involved in extracurriculars like golf and basketball in high school teams, and also coached youth soccer for local youth.
Going to Mitchell transformed him as a learner and made him more prepared for college, Drew said. Having so many life experiences has allowed him to bring more to the table in everything he does.
If he could do it all over again, Drew said he would do things the same way, without a doubt in his mind.
“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Drew said. “Home schooling and community college before university gives students like me a really cool chance to do things they are already interested in on their own time, without being tied down by the bureaucracy of sorts at regular public high school.”
Alexa Koures, a UNC sophomore, also made the transition from home schooling and Mitchell Community College.
“I think that going to a community college was helpful in some ways because I had experience reading a syllabus, getting assignments done without being reminded, and other things like that,” Koures said. “On the other hand, the assignments were way easier than at Chapel Hill so it didn’t prepare me for the difficulty of college.”
Drew also experienced both the positive and negative parts of the transition. He was still able to have the experience of a high student playing sports but wasn’t always surrounded by like-minded people, he said.
“Outside of playing basketball, the biggest downside to home schooling and Mitchell Community College was that I missed some of the other things the other guys got going to school and having groups of friends,” Drew said.
He was led to Mitchell Community College because of a unique program: Career and College Promise. The program, located only 15 minutes from his home, allowed him to take classes that would transfer to any in-state university for free, he said.
The biggest pro was being to knock out some introductory classes and earn real college credit that was directly transferable to an in-state school, Drew said. Traditional high school students had to worry about scoring a certain score on a placement exam to secure college credits from their high school classes.
A new home at Carolina
UNC was not always his end goal, but it ended up being the perfect home, Drew said. The best part about UNC is that it has the benefits of an Ivy League school while being in-state, he said.
“I applied all over and really wanted to get into an Ivy but wasn’t able to,” he said. “But, it ended up all working out, because I was able to use the credits I worked so hard to earn.”
Drew ended up choosing UNC because it was the best fit, with an amazing learning environment and it just felt like home, he said.
The next step was to choose a major that allowed him to reap the benefits of home schooling and attending Mitchell Community College. He had always been a numbers guy, he said.
“Having the space to explore during my pre-college time at Mitchell Community College helped him to narrow in on something,” Drew said.
“I tried out other fields, like medicine, when I was volunteering at the hospital after my Mitchell classes, which was great,” he said. “But something just kept bringing me to mathematics.”
Drew said that his hard work before college had an immediate payoff during his first semester when he was ahead of his classmates.
“I just felt comfortable managing my schedule with the college course load, and that made it an easier transition. Other people didn’t know how to handle all the freedom and homework that wasn’t due every single day,” he said.
Drew said his experience as a home-schooler set him apart in many aspects of his college life. His brother agreed.
“I am a self-advocate, and I now know what I want to as I apply to college,” Matt said. “I’m experienced and a pretty well-rounded person, which allows me to be more open-minded and a global citizen. I actually just won an award for mathematics at Mitchell.”
Drew said his experiences and confidence as a student led him to his next adventure: studying abroad in Singapore. He could sum up his experience transitioning from home schooling to UNC in one word: empowering.
Edited by Robert Curtis and Parker Brown