Federal Relations

Bright Spots in Home Schooling

December 21, 2005  

Homeschooler's love of learning pays off

by Andrea Longbottom

Growing up, Joseph Henares often watched Jeopardy! in the evenings, and he enjoyed trying to figure out the answers along with the contestants. In September, the homeschooler walked away with a top daily prize of $10,000 from Jeopardy!'s Fall 2005 Back to School edition.

Joseph Henares illustrates his winning form during a break from competing on the television game show Jeopardy!
Photo courtesy of Jeopardy!

"I sort of dreamed about being on the show," the 12-year-old from Avon, Connecticut, says. "But I never really thought I would actually be on it." When Jeopardy! advertised its one-week series of programs featuring kids ages 10-12, Joseph asked his parents if he could sign up. In midsummer he was selected with about 500 other children to audition.

On July 16, 2005, Joseph participated in a mock Jeopardy! game in New York City and took a written exam that tested his knowledge of categories such as history and cartoons. "It went well, but it seemed like I wasn't really the fastest kid with the buzzer," he says. A month later, while Joseph was on vacation with his mother and three siblings, his father received a phone call at the Henares home stating that Joseph had qualified to appear on Jeopardy! "It was a big surprise and we came back from vacation!" says Joseph. "My dad was really excited and my mom was jumping up and down and screaming!"

Homeschooled since kindergarten, Joseph had already participated in several math competitions and geography and spelling bees. "By staying home longer, I have more time to research about things, in books or on the internet," he says. In the two weeks he had to prepare for the show, Joseph put those skills to work by memorizing facts from the TIME for Kids Almanac, flipping through atlases, and learning, with the help of his father, how to bid wisely should he make it to the final round of the show. Joseph also watched Jeopardy! and practiced beating the contestants to the buzzer (using a large marker as a substitute).

When Joseph arrived at the Jeopardy! studio in Culver City, California, on September 12, he says he "was feeling more than a little nervous." The rounds began, and the three contestants stayed even. When Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek paused in the middle of the show to ask biographical questions of the young contestants, Joseph says he began to feel more confident. He made it to the final round in the lead by a few thousand dollars.

"The final round was sort of nerve-wracking," remembers Joseph. He and the other contestants incorrectly answered the final question, but Joseph finished ahead with $7,599, which was bumped up to the minimum winner's purse of $10,000. "I was sort of shocked," says Joseph. "For most of the game, I'd been playing the game like a board game with my siblings. At that moment, I remembered I was on national television, so that's when I started to get really nervous again." His parents joined him onstage as he shook hands with Alex Trebek.

Joseph, who enjoys learning, reading, music, and acting, has this advice for other young competitors: "Do a lot of research. During the show, stay focused. Be calm." He says his dad taught him that "when you make mistakes, don't dwell on them." For this homeschooler, those tips were a winning combination.

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