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Making a Difference: Millie Ronkainen

Carpe Diem

Rural Kentucky is nowhere more peaceful and pastoral than LaRue County, the land where Abraham Lincoln was born and trod as a boy. It’s where, famously, he studied by candlelight and started on the road to becoming one of our most learned and scholarly of presidents.

It’s in these quiet environs that Jim and Diane Ronkainen live among the rolling acres — and it’s where their six children, beginning with the eldest, Millie, are homeschooled.

“She likes to learn,” said Diane of her daughter, who immediately (though politely) interrupted. “No, Mom — I LOVE to learn!”

Millie Ronkainen

That enthusiasm drew the Ronkainens to seek out challenging courses for Millie, who also spent a summer at the Governor’s School for the Arts. So when Diane opened Visions magazine in 2011 and read of another Kentucky homeschooling family using KET’s Distance Learning courses, she quickly went about enrolling her.

“I knew about Distance Learning, but I didn’t know it was for homeschoolers, too,” said Diane, who, along with her husband, is a mechanical engineer. “So when I saw that article I checked into it and realized it would be pretty good for us.”

Millie began with Latin I and immediately appreciated its in-depth instruction. “The first class I took was Latin, and it turned out to be really fun,” Millie recalled. “I really liked Ann [Denny], the teacher — and I liked how the history class was incorporated into the Latin language.”

Learning Latin later bore fruit when Millie enrolled in Spanish for dual high school/college credit through Elizabethtown Community and Technical College — and eventually took the ACT.

“All the derivatives were really, really useful when I took the ACT because they have that whole vocabulary section,” she said. “Even if I didn’t know exactly what the word meant, if I could relate it to a Latin root I had a much better chance of getting it right.”

Next up was AP Physics, which continued Millie on her road to accruing college credit before she ever enrolled.

“Physics was amazing,” she said. “I got an A in the class and I passed the AP test.” Studying for that exam also tutored her in how to prepare for other standardized tests.

Though taking physics helped her to realize that she wouldn’t be following her parents into engineering, she was pleased with her success in an AP class. In addition, she said instructor Chuck Duncan’s availability played a key role in her success.

“He was always really helpful,” said Millie. “I could email him and he would be back with me within a couple of hours: very quickly and very thoroughly — even on Saturdays!”

Now a sophomore at Western Kentucky University, Millie has embraced the rigorous study of WKU’s Honors College, a competitive program where students are chosen for their high GPAs and college-admission test scores.

“I wanted the smaller, honors classes. I wanted that academic integrity,” said Millie, who is majoring in biology, minoring in chemistry and music, and hopes to pursue a career in medicine.

“The honors classes are more challenging, they teach me more, I have more interaction with the professor, and the students there care more about what they’re learning.”

Back home, the Ronkainens have plans to enroll younger sister Anna in KET’s online Spanish courses — but Distance Learning is just one of the ways KET contributes to the family’s education.

Programs on KET about World War II, D-Day, the Civil War, the Kennedy assassination, and the Roosevelts supplement the kids’ history instruction. And Nova and Nature fit naturally into science instruction.

“The only three stations we get on our TV are KET, KET2 and KETKY,” said Diane. “It’s all we watch, really.”