Teens’ creativity starts at home

Lithonia sisters strive to break home school stereotypes

A confused teen in ponytails and a pleated school uniform dashes out her front door to discover the strange new world hidden beyond her peephole.

She marvels at the clear blue sky and the sprawling green grass. She had only read about nature in books. She spots a strange contraption along the street and climbs clumsily into a parked car ordering it to move.

After all, Jamie-Grace Harper, 18, has led a sheltered life — she is an escapee from home school. At least, she plays one on TV.

Harper of Lithonia was discovered on YouTube making fun of stereotypes outsiders had about the upbringing she shared with her sister, Morgan Harper, 19, a musician. The daughters of Southern Baptist Bishop James Harper III were educated by their mother, Mona Harper, who taught them how to read using the Bible and encyclopedias as textbooks and gave them math lessons in grocery aisles.

“We were always taught to write our own books or make up our own songs, there was always something creative to do around the house,” Jamie-Grace Harper said. “Other kids couldn’t figure out why we didn’t know the latest songs or watch TV all of the time. They thought it was lame.”

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A talent scout, one of thousands who saw her home school video, asked Harper to audition for the teen variety show “iShine KNECT” on Trinity Broadcasting Network. She recently completed a national tour with the show.

Jamie-Grace and Morgan credit home schooling for the success they have experienced in academics and the arts. Both began college at 16. Jamie-Grace is a budding actress, a photographer and a musician. Morgan is an accomplished singer/songwriter with more than 300 works, including one that cast her into the national spotlight.

The Harper sisters grew up without cable TV blaring from their bedrooms or family den. Mona Harper wanted to tap into her daughters’ gifts. She gave up a six-figure salary in newspaper advertising at the Long Beach (Calif.) Press Telegram to raise and educate her daughters at a time when few African-American families home schooled. Now, about 15 percent of the nation’s 2.5 million home schooled students are minorities, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.

“Everybody thought I was crazy,” Mona Harper said. “I knew that no one else would be able to nurture our children the way I would be able to.”

Schooling was a natural part of the day for the Harpers. Morgan said she didn’t realize she was being home schooled until she was in the second grade. “I wanted them to know that the world was open to them, and it wasn’t about sitting down with the book,” Mona said. “They were taught to explore new things and become lifelong learners. By the time they were 3, they could read a full paragraph out of the encyclopedia.”

It was a home school assignment that launched Morgan’s songwriting career. She liked to write poetry. Her mother told her to put one of her poems to music. The girls played guitar and drums to blow off steam between classes.

“She told me she wasn’t a singer,” Mona said. “I told her she had two weeks to write a song and play it on the guitar, otherwise she would get an F. She has since [written] 300 songs.”

One of Morgan’s prize-winning songs landed her a role in “Bratz,” a movie based on the fashionista dolls. She sang in the movie’s talent show. The Atlanta Christian College senior later appeared on Fox TV discussing her song and a singing tour she was planning to raise money for college tuition. Morgan recently played in London community venues during her studies abroad at the University of Birmingham. She hopes to attend Savannah Collge of Art and Design next.

The Harper sisters have moved through school faster than their peers. Mona Harper said she tutored some of her friends’ children who wanted similar results. “People saw the difference in my kids and started to drop off their kids.”

Jamie-Grace, a sophomore at Atlanta Christian, will soon tape a new season on iShine. Her character will attack more stereotypes, but she does admit that some myths hold true. She and her sister went to their home school proms stag. In vintage gowns.

“People stereotype us, they assume we have 10 siblings, and we all drive a big van,” she said. “We know some awesome home school families that have big vans. Home schooling may have been different, but it worked for us.”

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