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Living, Learning, and Loving It

Eric McDonald is a 17 year old homeschooler who lives in Medford. He is the son of one of AHEM's founders, Milva McDonald. As you will see from reading this interview with him, Eric has a multitude of interests that include nature photography, music, birding, writing, and studying wildlife. He has taken advantage of the plethora of community resources that are available to homeschoolers as a way to further his vocational and educational goals.

Have you ever been to school?

Yes, but only when I was very young. I went to private school for first and second grade, but I basically feel like I've been homeschooling all my life.

How long have you been homeschooling?

Since I was seven. I'm 17 now... so I guess that would make it ten years... Yeah, it does.

While homeschooling, have you followed a set curriculum, or your own interests?

I never really followed a set curriculum. We tried that in the beginning, but to be honest, I was kind of a hyperactive kid. All I really wanted to do was run around. It became really difficult for me and my parents to work together on a regular basis. So we sort of did the "school" thing when we felt like it, and other than that, I was pretty much free to roam. So I guess you could say I followed my own interests.

What are your current interests?

I have tons. The two main ones are music and anything that has to do with nature and animals. I've been playing guitar for about three years now, and I just picked up mandolin a few months ago. I'm in two bands right now. One is my rock band, Waka Waka, and the other is my acoustic band, Iridium, which just got together recently. I also play in the Family Folk Chorale (along with the rest of the members of Iridium). I've written a couple string pieces. One of them was performed in Canada at Port Milford, by some very accomplished high school string players, and the other was read by the Tufts Chamber Orchestra recently. I'm pretty sure that one went back to Canada, too.

I spend most of my week volunteering/interning at two different AZA (American Zoo and Aquarium Association) accredited institutions (Museum of Science, Boston and Drumlin Farm) where I get to work with the most incredible animals: Snakes, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates, and — my favorite — birds from all over the world. I clean all of those cages, prepare all of those diets, and do educational programs with all of those animals. On the weekend, I disappear into a world of birds. I'm insane when it comes to bird-watching. I've been doing it for about a year-and-a-half and have seen almost three hundred different species of birds, the most recent being a North American first, a Red-footed Falcon. I'm a member of the Menotomy Bird Club and the American Birding Association, and I lead bird walks at Drumlin Farm as a docent, as well as teaching about birds and other animals' natural history. I'm also a nature photographer, and I hope to be called a "pro" someday. I mainly take pictures of birds, but butterflies, mammals and landscapes are also common subjects of mine.

Tree Swallow

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?

This is a tough question, because I could see myself doing so many things. I think, most likely, I'll be working at some kind of nature preserve or museum, doing education and taking pictures. There are so many other things I want to do, though. I want to write for, or maybe even publish, a magazine focused around the nature of New England, I want to be in bands, I want to work with animals, I want to do... so many things. It will be really hard to narrow it down. I feel like I'm going in a certain direction, I just couldn't tell you exactly where. Hopefully that will come to me.

Describe how your current activities will help you get to where you want to be ten years from now?

There are three things I have to say to that. One is, right now, my college resume looks great in a lot of ways. I've put in over 1,500 hours of community service in the last two years, and I already have college credits for the courses I've been taking at Harvard Extension. The second is, right now, I'm learning the skills I feel I need that I can't learn in college. I'm getting first rate experience working with animals, I'm in working situations with people the same age, younger and significantly older than me, I'm learning how to work in social groups. Those are just a few examples. The third reason is that I'm doing what I love to do in a productive way, and if that doesn't take me to where I want to be, then I don't want to get there.

Do you have any plans for college?

Yeah, I've looked at a few schools. One program I was pretty gung ho for was the Moorpark College's Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. I know you've never heard of that. Moorpark College is actually a Community College in the most unpopulated area of Southern California. But it's a great program, and it's got a good reputation in the field of animal care. What I'm probably going to do now, though, is enroll in the Harvard Extension School's degree program, and get at least an AA, then take it from there.

What has been most helpful to you in learning what you need to know for your future career?

Undoubtedly working at the Museum of Science and Drumlin Farm. As a volunteer and intern, I was treated as an equal to the adult employees. They had the same expectations for me as they did for any member of their staff. OK, maybe not quite the same, but regardless, I had to step up, and it taught me a lot about the world.

How has homeschooling made it possible for you to pursue your interests, and would this be possible if you were in school?

Homeschooling's made it possible because it gives me the freedom to design my own schedule. It gives me the freedom to learn things that are related to what I want to do. I couldn't really tell you if it would be possible in school, because I've never thought about it. All I can say is that homeschooling has worked out great for me, and I can guarantee that all the people I know who go to school (which is quite a few) don't even have the time to think about what they want to do in the future, or if they do, how to get themselves there.

I couldn't really see what kind of person I'd be like if I hadn't been homeschooled. It's definitely part of my identity, and it has most definitely helped me find my calling, interests, passions... whatever you want to call them. Homeschooling has helped me get there, and that has made it worth it for me.