Family's Educational Path Goes Through VPCC

The Walker family, from left: Shenandoah, Arden and Skyler.

In homeschooling and raising three kids, April and James Walker tried to be fair.

“I’ve always been very careful to treat them all the same and give them the same opportunities,” April said. “This just fell in line that way.”

She was referring to the educational path her children have taken.

Skyler, the oldest, took dual enrollment classes at Virginia Peninsula Community College on the way to earning his associate degree in 2021. He then transferred to the College of William & Mary.

Arden, the middle child, also took dual enrollment classes at VPCC before earning her associate degree last month. She will start at W&M in the fall semester.

The youngest, Shenandoah, will start dual enrollment classes at VPCC in the fall, with the goal of earning her associate degree from the College. She hasn’t decided on a four-year institution yet, but is considering W&M.

“We really didn’t know when we started out there that we would go this far with the associate degrees and all, but the advisers pointed us in the right direction,” April said. “With what our kids are doing, it’s just worked out so wonderful that they were able to continue on like they have.”

With April and James being engineers, she has bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Alabama-Huntsville and a master’s in engineering management from George Washington University, and he has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University, education is important.

“We’ve always emphasized education,” April said. “We didn’t even have cable TV when they were little.”

Any time they did spend in front of the TV was watching educational programming. Often they would visit the library to check out documentaries, from physics to history.

“All kinds of things that were educational, and we didn’t really allow many toys unless they were educational,” April said.

The children weren’t pushed into certain topics. On those library visits, April might decide the discipline, science for example, but the children could choose whatever interested them.

“Well, there goes Skyler to the space section with astronomy and physics,” April said. “Arden goes into the human body and figuring out how the brain works.”

They were guided and encouraged, not pushed, to explore their interests.

“We didn’t mold them to be one kind of science or the other. I just let them be who they are,” April said.

Skyler, 21, started at W&M in fall 2021 and is working on a double major of physics/engineering, and computer science. He hopes to be done in fall 2024, with the goal of pursuing a Ph.D. in physics, also at W&M.

As the oldest, he knew if his VPCC experience was positive, his sisters likely would follow.

“I think there was always a plan,” he said. “My parents want what’s best for my sisters, too. When they saw it was working out for me, they decided this was certainly the path for my younger sisters.”

Arden is 19 and starts at W&M on Aug. 31. She is planning on a double major in neuroscience and computer science. She alao wants to pursue a doctoral degree.

“Once I get my Ph.D. in neuroscience, I’m going to map the brain on a computer,” she said.

She’s always been interested in the brain, thanks in part to those library visits.

“I used to read neuroscience books when I was little, the little ones at the library,” she said. “I just found them one day. I thought they were very interesting, talking about Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease.”

Shenandoah turns 16 on June 4, and will take three dual enrollment classes in the fall. Her goals are also science-related.

“I’m not completely sure which science yet, but I am interested in animals,” she said, adding she’s leaning toward becoming a veterinarian.

With her older siblings adapting well to college learning, also at a young age, she has confidence she will be able to do the same.

“I watched them, and they did have a good time, moved on to William and Mary,” she said. “So it’s a good path.”

Again, April encouraged her daughters to follow their older brother.

“It just made sense to continue doing the same thing when I saw how well he did, just give them the same opportunity,” she said.

Dual enrollment has worked out very well for the Walkers, who live in Williamsburg. April said it’s a great path for homeschoolers, who can struggle adjusting to college life, especially if they are younger than their peers.

“It’s a very nice fit for someone who has been homeschooled,” April said. “It allows them to progress at a perfect pace because they can start off with dual enrollment, where they can take a couple of classes and build up to the experience that they need to become full time.”

Skyler and Arden agreed, and both said their experiences at the College were wonderful.

“One of the things it did for me, it allowed me to  grow and also learn more about my interests,” Skyler said. “I probably wasn’t ready to start at a four-year university, and I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I had not been exposed to a college classroom setting.”

Attending VPCC in the manner he did helped him get to William & Mary.

It was the same for Arden, who said it wasn’t a tough transition thanks to dual enrollment.

“I got some classroom experience … so it got me adapted to that. I got to be around those professors, and I learned a lot,” she said.

April had confidence her kids would be successful in transitioning to college, but didn’t expect it to go this well. She praised the College’s advisers and faculty.

“It’s been a wonderful thing for our family. It’s made a difference,” she said. “(The College) allowed us to turn our kids loose and let them show what they were capable of and let them find out who they are.”