It’s not often that students who haven’t graduated from high school take a direct route to college, especially if they are years younger than most graduates. For one family, however — Stan and Melanie Jensen and their four children — it’s getting to be a tradition.
Last October, the two oldest Jensen siblings achieved perfect scores on the ACT exam for college admittance when they were only 14 and 16 years old. Both Ryan and Rachel along with their younger sisters Sabrina, 12, and Athena, 9, have been homeschooled.
Now, Ryan and Rachel have been admitted to Brigham Young University, which is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The family, who for the past 20 years have lived in Houston’s Shepherd Forest neighborhood, is moving from Texas to Utah so that Ryan and Rachel can continue to live at home while attending college at the main campus in Provo.
Years ago, Ryan and Rachel’s mother started college when she was just as young.
“Our goal was never to set records,” Melanie stresses. “When we took this route, we committed to try hard to do what’s best for each of our children. We promised that, when they were ready for college — at whatever age — we would provide them the resources to continue their education at a high-ranking national university.”
Acing the ACT
Ryan and Rachel demonstrated their readiness for college when they both got the highest score given to students taking the ACT Test, used nationally for college admittance — 36.
According to data from “The ACT Profile Report – National,” there is one perfect ACT Score (or 36) for every 1,205 graduating high school students who take the test. The average composite score is 21. Students scoring 33 or higher are in the top 1 percent. Students scoring 36 – including Ryan and Rachel — are in the top .083 percent.
Rachel and Ryan gained admittance to BYU by following standard online application procedures. When classes begin in the fall, Ryan will be 15, and Rachel will be 17 years old.
A generation ago, the admittance process was less structured for their mother, who began classes at BYU when she was 15.
“I don’t think BYU had a program for admitting young students then,” she says.
Before Melanie began her studies, her mother traveled from her home in California to make a personal appeal to BYU officials to admit her very bright daughter.
Melanie, who grew up in Beaumont, Calif., in a family with 10 children, had completed one year of junior high school and one year of high school, then enrolled directly at the local community college. After a year, when she was 15, she enrolled at BYU. At the age of 19, she graduated with a degree in computer science.
While a student, she met a fellow BYU student, Stan Jensen. He had served a two-year mission with the LDS Church and was 23. They married after Stan’s graduation.
Melanie took her last three computer classes at the University of Texas while she interned at IBM. They returned to BYU for her graduation the following summer. Then she worked at National Instruments in Austin while he went on to receive a degree in law, with honors, from the University of Texas School of Law in 1995.
Ryan and Rachel not only had perfect ACT scores. They could provide information about their studies, international travels with their family, LDS Church activity (including the Seminary program for Mormon youth) and participation in American Mensa’s Gifted Youth Program. Ryan also recently achieved the Boy Scouts Eagle rank.
“The favorite activity for all of us has been Heaven-Sent Choir, Rachel says.”It’s a choir — actually, three different choirs — for homeschooled students throughout Houston. We meet every Monday and sing excellent music from all genres. It turned Monday – which was our worst day – into our best day.”
The Jensen children also have played basketball with organizations for homeschooled students including Houston Christian Youth Association. They also take piano lessons.
Ryan and Rachel began their education at a school and in a program that is considered – both in Houston and nationally – to be outstanding. They were in Houston Independent School District’s Vanguard Program for gifted and talented children at River Oaks Elementary School.
Melanie and Stan Jensen were confident, however, that they could provide an educational program for their children that would best suit their individual interests and aptitudes and provide a better lifestyle for their family. And they were willing to put in the time and effort they knew this would require.
“We’re all science and math oriented,” Melanie says. “Ryan is a math genius. At school, he was assigned pages of boring homework every night. He was beginning to hate math. I was sure we could do better.”
When Ryan was in the third grade and Rachel in the fifth, the Jensens withdrew them from school and instigated their own homeschooling program, taught by Melanie.
Stan, a partner with a leading Houston law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, LLP, often led dinner table discussions on history, economics, government and current events. About a year ago, he reduced his work load at the law firm and now is in private practice so that he can devote more time to his family.
He helped Ryan and Rachel prepare for the ACT. He also has written and illustrated a full-length fantasy novel for young teens — “Sabrina and the Sky Jumper” — available on Amazon.com.
Ryan says, “Homeschooling has been good for me because it has allowed me to move at my own speed. I’ve been able to study different subjects at different levels. It has been good to be challenged. We do no busy work. We use our time well. As a result, we work a shorter day.”
The children like that there is time for reading books and personalized projects — for example, building an elaborate treehouse. Most of the construction was done by Ryan and his father, but everyone contributed. They love taking field trips.
The greatest challenge for her, Melanie says, was finding time to prepare individual lessons to teach four children, working at different levels. She says the rewards of being able to provide flexibility and enjoyable learning experiences directed to each child have more than outweighed the difficulties.
“I had high expectations,” she says. “I haven’t been able to do everything — like all of the science projects I’ve wanted to do — but I’ve been able to give them more than the public schools could, and our family life has been much better, our children are good friends to each other, and all of us are happier and healthier.”