High school can be both a wonderful time and, sometimes, a stressful experience. For our 2022 Graduate of the Year, Fatih Ileez, his high school experience was both, but it was all worth it because graduating marked a new beginning for both himself and his family.
A native of Turkey, Fatih’s family faced the unthinkable when a coup attempt occurred in his country. While visiting the U.S., they became stuck here when they couldn’t return to their home country. Like many immigrants, it was a struggle for Fatih’s family to establish themselves in a new country. “My father really struggled to find a job,” he explained. With the savings they had, they decided to start their own business, beginning with kiosks in malls. Though they found success, it was necessary to constantly find new ideas and products to sell. In order to find more stability, they established a used car dealership. Fatih and his brother played vital roles in helping their family get the business up and functioning. This made his attendance at his traditional public school difficult. “It was really difficult there to balance work and school life at the same time.”
Looking for something more flexible that would fit his lifestyle, Fatih found and enrolled in James Madison High School. The self-paced scheduling allowed him to work with his family in the mornings and afternoons, and focus on schoolwork when he got home. “I could take tests at 3 in the morning if I wanted... It was really liberating.”
Enrolling was an easy process, involving him getting his transcripts from his public school and calling James Madison, getting set up within the same day in the summer between his freshman and sophomore year. But as smooth as the enrollment process was, actually transitioning from the structure of public school to online school was something that took getting used to, causing him to fall behind in his first year. Having a large workload coupled with online school needing more self-discipline, he found himself feeling burned out and lacking motivation. “It was difficult trying to be your own boss... In public school you always have a teacher, a deadline. At James Madison, you do it at your own pace. For some students that’s better, but if you don’t stay motivated, you can fall back.”
Eventually, he developed the skills needed to make his online schooling a success, such as learning to manage his time and finding the right setting in which to study. “I started going to a library and that really helped me out a lot. When you’re home or around other people, it’s hard to focus on school. When you’re at the library it’s a lot easier to focus.”
For Fatih, the experience of starting over in a different country added to his difficulty, but James Madison’s flexibility helped him work through days that were particularly hard for him. At first, he tried to take all his subjects at once, but it became difficult. Instead, he opted to structure his studies by focusing on one subject for a month at a time, a system he found to be a lot easier and more effective. It also helped when it came time to take his exams. “I could test when I had good days and take a break when I had bad times... I found that to be a lot easier and more effective.” Another way Fatih managed his time was by having both a long-term and a short-term plan. He recommends planning your classes, what you’re going to take and when, and sticking to it.
For many parents and students, a concern when looking at online schools is losing the ability to socialize and make friends. Without a physical classroom to attend on weekdays, the idea of meeting people and connecting with peers might seem impossible in a virtual setting. Those concerns were no different for Fatih, but he quickly found that James Madison High School understands the importance of a social education, ensuring students can connect with one another through platforms like the Student Community. “I still had friends. But there’s a community section where you can connect with other students. I did that and met some people. If you want to, you can meet other people. There’s a social life there, too.”
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Fatih’s James Madison education was the coursework. Once the family car dealership began to take off, Fatih then helped his family open an online store selling traditional Turkish goods throughout the U.S. He was responsible for assisting with building and maintaining the website which in turn sparked his interest in computer science. Math was a beneficial class in further developing his computer programming skills and his accounting class helped him with both the car dealership and the online store. Any time Fatih needed help with his classes, his teachers were there for him. “Teachers were super helpful. They have tutoring, you can schedule essay help with a teacher, you can email them. There was a lot of help, so I really appreciated that.”
The entire time Fatih was helping his family earn money, he took his James Madison education very seriously. He finished his high school degree with a 4.0 GPA and applied to top-tier four-year colleges and universities, including Villanova University which offered him a scholarship to attend. He plans on continuing to study computer science. “I think it’s a great, great subject and major, and I really enjoy computers... I’m really excited to see what college will be like.”