by Leslie Fobbs
Today’s Homeschooling Hero is a throwback to a feature that was posted a month ago. It linked to an article written about Ella Kerrisk, a 16-year old professional photographer from Georgia. Well, after reading the article I was intrigued with more questions about her homeschooling experience and how she became a photographer. So, I decided to request an interview to get the scoop! I’m so happy she obliged as the time spent with Ella was a treat. Read on and share this inspirational story with your homeschooling teens and preteens.
Note: This post comes from a phone interview that has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What all are you involved in right now? I know you're in college but what else?
Let's see. I do school. I've got my photography business. I'm also involved in Forsyth County 4-H. I'm fairly active in doing that. I also volunteer for my church. My photography hours. I'm also on the leadership team for the youth ministry at my church.
How old are you now and how old were you when you started photography professionally?
When I started photography professionally, I was 13 years old, and I'm going to turn 17 in two weeks.
How many brothers and sisters do you have, and where do you fall in the order?
I am the oldest of six children. There are three girls and three boys.
So now we’re getting into homeschooling. What was your experience like? You can start with a typical day. What was that like?
A typical day in homeschooling. Okay. We’d usually wake up, get dressed - breakfast and all that. Then my mom would hand us a sheet with all of our to-dos for the day. So usually for me that consisted of two lessons of Math, a Spelling lesson or a unit, and Writing - Penmanship. We did typing as well because that is a very important skill actually. And then we also do competitions for 4-H, and that would often make it into our schooling as well - practice for those competitions. There was no busywork whatsoever, and we got it all done - if we were diligent about it - before noon.
And then what was the rest of the day used for? Free time?
Noon to probably 3pm we usually did chores and pick up. And from thereafter it was usually play time until about 5 pm when we started picking up for dinner. And then after that was family time.
Did your mom use a particular curriculum or did she create one herself?
We used a hodgepodge or nearly everything. We used Saxon Math for a little while. We're using Teaching Textbooks currently. I don't remember what Spelling curriculum we used. But she just used a bunch of different ones. Our Reading was often Abeka books. Our Science was from Ken Ham. I don't remember the title of it, unfortunately. It's been a little while since I’ve been doing college work.
[Editor’s Note: That curriculum is called God’s Design for Science]
Wow, and you're only sixteen! That's crazy. So how did you home-school with so many siblings? Did you do your own thing? Or were you all kind of group-schooled?
Let's see. What we usually did it was, in the early morning we would do group work. So that would be our History, our Science, our Grammar - I believe - all the mornings. So she'd teach us a lesson, we’d do our work, and then we'd go from there. And then after that, we did our individual work. And it was on us to get it finished as quickly as possible.
We have a lot of readers who are new to homeschooling, so I like to get details into how others do it to give them some ideas.
Also if you use a schedule of… “Now it’s Math time, now is History time,” anything you don't get done in that time you do as homework afterwards. That's what we did.
Okay, so now getting into photography. How did you get started? I know it said in another article that you started around five. But did somebody put a camera in your hands or were you just interested?
I kept seeing pretty things and shiny things, and I just wanted to take a picture of it and save it. Because I found that stockpiling leaves and things and flowers, they don't usually stay alive. So my mom gave me her camera and let me take pictures with that. So that was pretty fun. And I would just keep taking pictures of anything and everything. So as I got older, I wanted my own camera. So I got one of those little compact camera things. That one lasted about a week. I was using it way too much. So I got my own DSLR Canon Rebel T3. And I bought that completely of my own money.
Around that same time, my grandmother gave me a Nikon D200 and Canon 5D, as well as several other lenses and such. I ended up selling the Nikon to use the money to continue my education in the photography. So I could get my Certificate of Professional Photography. And I got that at UNG in North Georgia.
How old were you when you got that certificate?
Awesome! When did you start and how long was the program with UNG?
Well, there was a bunch of different classes, and I think it took me about a year to complete. It was interesting because I’d never been in a setting like that before because of homeschooling. It was definitely interesting, and I think it helped me prepare for the current college setting that I'm in right now. But it was several different classes. And I was taking them as I could pay for them. Because I made sure that I was paying for it because I didn't want my mom to have to.
What was difficult about it? Or, what was kind of like a culture shock for you going into that setting?
Well, I was the youngest one there. The rest of the people - because it was a continuing education course - were probably in their late mid-30s. They were older, so it was it was very different. Because I'm used to having just my five siblings and I in the room. But there was probably at least 20 people in some of the classes, and it was very different to what I was used to. But I did well in those classes so I was very happy about that.
Yeah, so there was just an adjustment period, but you came out just fine.
Good. So then how did you go from hobby to pro? Was that right after you got your certificate?
From there I had an entire hard drive full - nearly a terabyte of data on this one hard drive - of just pictures that I’d taken. And they look great. And they're mostly nature photos and animal photos. But I didn't know what to do. I was trying to figure out how to monetize them. So I opened an Etsy store, and I started selling my prints, and I sold greeting cards and such. So I made probably several hundred dollars doing so.
Then from there, I realized that people photography was a lot more fun to me. I started taking photos and figuring out how to start a business with portrait shops. That took a little while to start up because I couldn't figure out marketing for the longest time.
Were you on your own, or were you working with a group?
I was on my own except for my mother was really, really helpful in all of it. Because she had her own my business thing way before I did. And she was definitely helping me with all of that. I just wish I would've listened to her more.
Don't we all [laughter]? So now you're working with a studio?
I work independently. I am also contracted through Cady Studios in Atlanta. So I do event photography such as proms and baseball games and football. And I’ve found that I really enjoy sports photography.
Yes. It's kind of strange because I would have never thought of sports photography. However, it is amazing. I’ve found that I especially like football games. You get a great opportunity for some of the best shots there. Especially, when you get the perfect tackle, and you make that the cover
photo. It is beautiful.
Okay, back to homeschooling a little bit. What was the best thing about homeschooling for you?
Well, one thing that I loved is that I could learn whatever I wanted to. So I found the Roman Empire very, very fascinating about two or three years ago. So that year for history that's all I'd be writing about - is the Roman Empire. After that I got interested in, I believe, it was the Chinese. So I learned about Chinese. And so it just went on and on, and instead of taking a proper Spanish course or something like that, I took ASL - American Sign Language - because that's what interested me. My greatest advantage that I found is you get focused schooling from what you're interested in. And you also get that one-on-one time that you really can't quite replicate in schools.
On the opposite end, what was the most frustrating or difficult part of homeschooling? If there is one.
That's a tough one. I don't know actually. I really enjoyed all of my years in homeschooling. I mean I am sure I complained about it. The most frustrating thing was Math, but that is not my strong suite whatsoever. That was probably it. I really can't complain much.
Did you ever feel like you were missing out on being with other kids in traditional school?
Not really. We joined several co-ops and things like that. But we had our church family, and that was-- I mean we knew nothing else. So why miss something that you don't even know?
Exactly! How has homeschooling and being so close to your family helped you become who you are?
I think if I hadn't been home schooled, I would not have had the time to take all those continuing education courses or play with my camera or go to college now. I would still be in class. I wouldn't have had the time on my hands. And I think really that is something that homeschooling will help everybody with. Because it gives you time to discover yourself. Whereas public school, it's like do this do this and do this, and then when you get home, do all of this homework.
A lot of people believe this myth that home-schooled children aren't very well socialized. I know you've heard it. So what do you say to these people that believe that?
Well, we may be a little bit more awkward in social situations. I'm not going deny that. We very much are. However, if you give us something to do we get it done and you're going to get it done right. We just need a little bit of time to acclimate to a situation. Because once we do we
figure out how to do it and how to do it well.
There's a motivational speaker who only has one leg. I forget his name, but he was a homeschooler as well. And he's like, "So I went to public school for one semester and what did I do? I got a copy of the last year's yearbook. And I memorized everybody's names and their faces. And when I went in there, I knew everybody's name, I knew everybody's face, and I called everybody by their names. I was one of the most popular kids there. So yes I am a homeschooler. And yes I used a book to figure out people." It's like people. How do we solve people? We may not be the best at social situations. However, we're going to figure it out pretty darn quick.
[Editor’s Note: The motivational speaker mentioned is Josh Sundquist.]
I like that. From a homeschooler perspective, what advice do you have for parents who are just starting or who are still on the fence about homeschooling?
It's definitely worth your time. I don't have a whole lot of advice because I'm not a parent. But it's not-- It may be difficult. I don't know if my mom can attest to that. But it's definitely worth all of the time that you put in because of the output you get. And as a child, I can say that if my mom had not done that I would probably be very sad and probably be in a lot of trouble. I owe everything, literally, to my mom because she has done as much as she has. If she hadn't taught me how to Google something and how to find out things for myself, I would not be where I am and be able to take all these photos. Because I learned most of everything that I know from Googling it and figuring it out myself. And if I had not done that I would not be where I am right now.
So parents should trust that kids can do it - they just need us to guide them?
Yeah, they just need a little shove in the right direction.
To homeschoolers who are interested in photography or any other creative hobby, what advice would you give to them?
Just go for it. I was very self-conscious about taking photos in public because I didn't want people to think, "Oh look at her what is she going to do with these photos? Like can you not?" [Laughter] I didn't want that to be how people perceived me, so I was very self-conscious about taking photos in public or telling people that I took photos. But once I started doing it, I realized nobody really cares what you're doing. There isn't a reason why you shouldn't. I can't think of a single reason why you shouldn't go out and do whatever you love. Because, I mean, honestly what do you have to lose? There is literally almost nothing you have to lose.
That was all the questions I had. Is there anything else that you want to add? Any comments?
Don't give up. Because I know I wasn't getting clients for a while. And I found that very draining. Because I was like, "Well I'm a really good photographer. Why aren't people here?" That was a very big hurdle for me to get over. It's a lot better now that I've realized that sometimes things take some time. As soon as you figure out how to do it - how to get your target audience - once you figure out the technicalities, you're good. And then just don't give. Just keep rolling.
Even when people say, "Hey, you shouldn't be doing this,” or make fun of you or whatever, just keep rolling with it. Because I've gotten called unsocialized and everything under the sun so many times. But, honestly, just don't let it bug you. Because once you hear something enough, you just glaze over it. It's like, what's the point? Once you're going to be a big shot, then all these people are going to go, "I used to call you unsocialized, but you’re not unsocialized now."
Well, there you have it! I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Ella for this interview. What’s so awesome to witness is her maturity level. As a homeschooler able to focus on her interests, she is overcoming obstacles and learning life lessons much sooner than most people who don't get it until they're in their late 20s and 30s. Kudos to you Ella! Keep up the good work and thank you for your time!