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.