Parker encourages others, ‘Never be afraid to make your own path’

Blanca Isabela Parker has graduated from Hudson Valley Community College at the age of 17.


GUILDERLAND — When Blanca Isabela Parker was 5 years old, someone described her as an old soul.

“I think that description has remained accurate over the years,” says Parker.

At age 17, she has graduated with honors from Hudson Valley Community College. 

Her applications to four-year colleges have gone well and Parker plans to start college next fall as a junior studying math with perhaps a second major in computer science.

“I have many different interests,” Parker says in this week’s Enterprise podcast, naming medicine, social sciences, and natural sciences among them. 

But she is most interested in applying math to different fields and hopes to earn a doctoral degree with a focus on applied mathematics.

Parker began her education as a kindergartner in the Woodland Hill Montessori School, which she loved.

“I had a lot of independence,” she said. 

Although subjects like reading, math, and science all had to be studied, the Montessori kindergartners had the freedom to choose what they would do for each subject.

“I focused a lot on math,” said Parker, learning about powers of 10 and division and even a bit of algebra.

In first grade, she went to Guilderland’s Pine Bush Elementary School. Although she called it “a great experience” — she liked her teachers and got along well with her peers — learning was “a lot more structured,” she said, and “the path was a lot more linear” than at the Montessori school

“The curriculum didn’t have as much room to learn about new things,” said Parker, although she enjoyed a website on which her teachers let her study math from more advanced grades.

Parker continued to have “a good experience with teachers” when she transitioned to Guilderland’s Farnsworth Middle School in the sixth grade where she liked the increased independence and variety.

But still, she said she was interested in more advanced material and learning different things than were in the set curriculum. By the time she got to eighth grade and was preparing for high school, Parker was not sure that the traditional route was “a good fit” for her.

She felt her teachers were “pretty restricted” by the state-set curricula.

Parker was not chosen in the lottery for Tech Valley High School and looked at other alternatives, including home schooling.

Although most people are familiar with a general education diploma, earned by passing an exam, Parker learned about a 24-credit-hour diploma.

“That is a high school diploma earned based on 24 college credits in general-education courses. So there were two English, one natural science, one math, one humanities, one social science, and two electives that could be applied to an associate’s degree program,” she said.

In the summer before what would have been her first year of high school, Parker took a course, on personal finance, at Hudson Valley “for fun,” she said. “I loved that course and I loved the structure of college courses in general,” she said.

She briefly schooled herself at home before starting in the 24-credit-hour program. What would have been her sophomore year of high school became her first year of college.

In seventh and eighth grades, Parker had been on Guilderland’s varsity tennis team, which she called “a great experience.” She wishes that, as a homeschooler, she had been allowed to play on the team.

Still, Parker stayed in touch with some of her public-school friends.

Asked what it was like to be a 14-year-old in class with much older students, Parker said, “I think I worried about it in the beginning, but I actually had a really good experience with it.”

Even as a child, she said, she got along well with adults and older children.

“I probably interact with most people the same, no matter how old they are; I try to be kind to people and listen,” Parker said.

In meeting much older college students, she said, “My attitude was, OK, these are just people.”

She made friends in her classes and she’s now at the point where she forgets the age difference as she and her peers are similarly working on transferring to college or careers.

Deciding what she wanted to study as she schooled herself at home and then as a young college student was like being in Montessori school again, Parker said.

She noted that her parents — her mother is a Guilderland School Board member — and grandparents — her grandfather is a college professor — were supportive.

“I love the whole independent learning thing,” said Parker. “I love to learn.”

Although she believes there can be stigma, misunderstanding, and a lack of information about alternative pathways, Parker encourages others to pursue them.

“I think as a society, we’re neglecting skilled labor and trades … I wish we could in high school learn a little bit more about something like farming,” said Parker.

The pressure to follow a traditional path of four years of high school to get to four years of college is “a systemic thing,” Parker said.

“The policies can be a little discouraging,” she said.

Some people make assumptions about Parker because she started college so early, she said. “They tend to worry that I don’t like to talk to people or I don’t like to have any fun,” she said.

“I’m not sure those stereotypes are really true about anyone …,” Parker said. “I found that I can do things if I just follow my own path. I’m happy with where I am.”

She concluded that she would like to encourage anyone of any age, “If you’re interested in a topic, then explore …. Know that there are options.

“And, even if sometimes society makes you feel like there are no options, or that it would be bad to take a different path, you can be successful in many different paths …. Never be afraid to make your own path.”


More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.