Home-schooler already has college credits under belt
By Mary E. O’Leary Register Topics Editor
WEST HAVEN— In many ways, Maeda Hanafi is a typical kid. She likes to ride her bicycle, inline skate and play with friends, as well as with other youngsters who attend Masjid Al-Islam, her family’s mosque in New Haven.
But while most 13-year-olds are just completing seventh grade, Maeda already has earned 15 college credits and will be a full-time student at the University of New Haven in the fall.
“I have lots of friends of different ages,” Maeda said of her stint this year at Gateway Community College in North Haven, where she was on the dean’s list, completing courses in physics, pre-calculus, calculus and computer programming.
The oldest child of Anna and Imam Hanafi, Maeda and her three siblings, Aisya, 5, Idris, 10, and Adam, 11, all are home-schooled.
She did attend Forest Elementary School through second grade, but found she was bored. Five years later, with her parents as her teachers, Maeda had advanced enough to win a $12,000 merit scholarship to UNH.
Both parents have math and science backgrounds — Imam Hanafi has marine engineering and computer science degrees, while Anna Hanafi was trained as an economist — and felt confident they could offer their children a good education.
“I enjoy home-schooling. When I was in public school, I played too much, and I didn’t learn that much. When I was home-schooled I was focused,” Maeda said.
Anna Hanafi said her husband supplements textbooks with his own knowledge and advanced sources when teaching his children, moving to the next level as they master a topic.
“We planted the seed to love math and science. Math is the language of science,” Imam Hanafi said of his approach to education for his children.
“When the kids feel comfortable with a subject, it will be easier for them to understand,” Anna added.
Last year, Maeda took home an award from the Connecticut Invention Convention at the University of Connecticut for a pillow she developed. In a category sponsored by Microsoft, the elementary-age students were asked to design something that would improve life for a disabled person.
Maeda said the pillow helps prevent pressure sores for someone who is bedridden.
As she gets ready to attend UNH, Maeda is thinking about another invention. She is not sure what it will be, but it will have something to do with “car engines and making them more efficient.”
Her father has some thoughts of his own about an engine run on hydrogen; Maeda is still thinking this through, although she is certain there will be a “green” component.
The 13-year-old, who is volunteering to run the mosque’s Web site over the summer, doesn’t know what courses she will be taking this fall, but it will be a full load. UNH officials said she will likely take the freshman experience class, math, English and computer science.
Maeda said she will register over the summer and, in the only special exception set up for her because of her age, she will not stay overnight during freshman orientation.
Because she was so young this year, Anna Hanafi said Gateway required that she wait in the building at the North Haven campus for her daughter to finish classes each day.
But come September, Maeda will be on her own at UNH, where she will commute from home and major in computer science.
Melissa Laskowski, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at UNH, said it appears that Maeda is the youngest student ever admitted to the college. She was 12 when she got her acceptance notice this spring.
Before that, a 16-year-old matriculated to UNH and graduated a few years ago, Laskowski said.
Maeda’s grade point average and SAT scores qualified her for the merit scholarship, which will help her family with the almost $30,000 bill. Laskowski said Maeda also came in for an interview when she applied for admission, which was optional.
The admissions official said Maeda was highly recommended by one of her Gateway professors for her maturity and academic ability. She said it was possible the young teen will graduate early from UNH, given the number of credits she has already earned.
“We are really excited about having her here,” Laskowski said.
Five years ago, the Hanafis had more than a challenging academic environment in mind for their children, when they opted out of public schools.
“An important goal is to build good moral character. It is a lot easier for a parent to convey this message,” Imam Hanafi said.
He said they want to give their children a solid religious foundation, as well as critical thinking skills.
“We want to make sure the faith that we’ve been planting gets protected and grows accordingly,” said Maeda’s mother. She said it is an “endless effort” to ensure that “they become good persons when they grow up.”
This has inspired Maeda to help others by volunteering to tutor her friends, particularly in math, but she also does tutoring in Arabic for classmates at the mosque.
Maeda estimates she spends three to four hours a day in formal classes, but her life isn’t all work and no play.
“You need time to play. We want them to enjoy their lives,” Anna Hanafi said.
She said the family will work its schedule around Maeda’s academic year, taking family trips when Maeda is on spring break and over the holidays.
Maeda said she also likes to knit and her favorite television program is “Dragonfly” on PBS, where “kids do research and can experiment to prove their own hypothesis.”
Asked if she worries about her young daughter spending so much time with older teens, Anna Hanafi said she has been impressed with how Maeda has handled herself at Gateway. With the continuing influence of her family, she prayed she will be fine.
“Maeda has been through this type of life in Gateway Community College and we, as parents, learn from this lesson,” Anna Hanafi said.