From Homeschool To Aggie Student-Athlete

Paolo Mancasola

March 28, 2012

Paolo Mancasola, a junior guard and captain on the UC Davis men's basketball team, has enjoyed success during his brief tenure at UC Davis. However, his life before UC Davis was much different. Paolo, along with next week's focus, gymnast Erika Van Dyke, were homeschooled before their time as Aggies. Their path was different than most student-athletes but they still excelled along the way. - Sean Maraz<

By Sean Maraz
Athletics Communications Intern

Paolo Mancasola, a junior guard on the UC Davis men's basketball team, may appear to be your average, hardworking student-athlete, but his story is much different than nearly all other student-athletes. Paolo's UC Davis basketball profile shows his hometown is Redding, indicates he previously attended the University of San Diego and Shasta College; shows his height and weight are 6-foot-1, 180 pounds; indicates extensive success he had in basketball at Central Valley High School; and finally, says that his high school was "Homeschooled."

Wait, what? How does that work?

Paolo's success at Central Valley, located near Redding, was unrivaled. In addition to receiving three straight All-CIF Northern Section and All-Northern League honors, Paolo led his Falcon basketball team to its first championship in 2008, averaging 17 points per game. With such success it's hard not to imagine Paolo walking around school as the big man on campus, being held in high esteem by student counterparts.

But, while he may have been respected among the students who attended the games, Paolo never walked the halls or took classes with his Central Valley High School brethren - or at any high school for that matter.

Throughout Paolo's younger life he never had a class in the public school system. Instead, his entire education occurred outside of regular classrooms. Mostly, according to Paolo, he was self-taught at home.



"A lot of what I learned came from me being interested in a topic and pursuing it. I just went about learning in a different way than most people do because I just learned what I wanted to."

Until the age of 14, Paolo's education was based on this freedom-based system of learning. Paolo wasn't given specific curricula to complete, tests to take, or papers to write. Instead, he was given the autonomy to learn of his own accord. Paolo's educational freedom allowed him to focus on topics that sparked his curiosity rather than what was defined in a school's curriculum.

"Most kids, when they're young, are curious about many things and that's how I went about my education," he said.

Paolo's learning stemmed almost solely from reading. "I read a ton, I love to read. I think because I was never forced to read, it was just something that came naturally. My friends, who were my age, hated the things that they had to read through school. So it was nice to just read what I wanted to. That is how I learned."

While Paolo was self-taught, deriving knowledge from his own curiosity and his freedom-based system of learning, he had several tools at his disposal to answer questions and help facilitate his learning.

"If ever I had a question, I had a ton of people I could go to, including my mom and dad," he said. "My older siblings were also a great help for me when I needed it."

Paolo's older sisters were also educated through the same system of learning and have become immensely successful.Paolo's older sister Kiira graduated from Stanford in 2007 with a bachelor of arts degree in English and creative writing. She later obtained a master of fine arts degree from Rutgers University and is now an English composition professor at Rutgers. Paolo's other sister, Sydney, is currently an opera singer after receiving her bachelor's of music in 2010 from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

"They both went the same route as me and are really smart and great students," Paolo said.

Paolo explained his family's different style of learning raised some eyebrows when he was growing up. "Some people looked at my parents, and looked at me, and asked, `What are you doing?'"

Paolo believes that the hesitant and doubtful looks that he and his family received about their education style were merely "misconceptions" about homeschooling and their system.

"Were there major holes in my education? No. It's funny the certain things that people think are important. I may not have learned my 50 states when everyone else did. But, at the same time I was learning and reading things that were at higher levels than kids my age. I was just on a different track than others. I didn't fit a specific curriculum."

While growing up, Paolo's days were filled with activities of his own choosing.

"I was free to do whatever piqued my interest," he said. "It could have been anything that day, hiking in the woods, teaching myself an instrument, or even just getting lost in my imagination."

This freedom gave Paolo a passion for learning. "My love of learning derived from being unlimited in what I could do. I was never forced to learn anything, so I saw it as a gift and something I truly enjoyed."

Along with obtaining a passion for learning, the freedom-based system allowed Paolo to focus on another passion - basketball. Throughout his childhood Paolo spent a great amount of time playing basketball and perfecting his skills. However, when Paolo turned 14, he knew that to continue to play he would have to compete at the high school level. This created a problem considering that Paolo had not planned on going to high school and wanted to continue his education at home.

The solution came from a local independent study program that allowed Paolo to continue his education at home but pursue his basketball career. The program required Paolo to take a small number of community college classes which would grant him high school credits.

"The program worked well because as long as I was taking enough courses at the junior college to be eligible for high school, and not enough to be considered a college student, I was fine," he said.

Paolo chose Shasta College to receive the credits and selected Central Valley High School to continue his basketball career.

The time Paolo had spent playing basketball up until that point in his life paid off. His talent was very apparent during tryouts for Central Valley's team when he made the varsity team as a freshman.

Paolo had some early anxiety as a freshman player on the varsity - a player who didn't even go to the same school as the others.

"I came in completely oblivious to what high school was," said Paolo. "I had never been in a high school classroom before, didn't know any of the older players, and really just didn't know what to expect."

However, Paolo soon became better acquainted with his teammates and his situation. "It wasn't easy right away but I think that's how it would go for any freshman trying to play varsity. By the time my junior and senior years came I was one of the guys and had made many friends. I still have a great relationships with those guys today."

Paolo's high school basketball career was a very successful one. Paolo started at point guard all four years on varsity and received numerous honors. After high school Paolo took his talents to Shasta College where he played for a year. Speaking about the transition to being an actual college student, and officially leaving his self-taught, homeschool years behind him, Paolo explained, "Going into Shasta, since I had been there already for four years taking a few classes, I felt more prepared than any freshman ever." After Shasta, Paolo moved down south and where he redshirted for the University of San Diego. After a year at USD, Paolo transferred back to Shasta College before coming to UC Davis.

He played two seasons at Shasta, earning All-Golden Valley Conference honors both years and was a team captain.

Paolo, who studies sociology at UC Davis, initially wasn't prepared for the speed of the quarter system. "Coming to Davis, I was used to the semester system and wasn't prepared for the quickness of the quarters, but I have gotten used to it," he said.

Unlike the initial issues with the quarter system, Paolo has made a flawless transition to the Aggie basketball team. During the 2011-2012 season, he played in 30 games, scored 96 points, and was a team captain.

"I love it here and love the athletics and academics - it's the right place for me," he said.

Until the age of 14, Paolo engaged in a freedom-based system of learning in which the knowledge he attained was based solely on what he taught himself with help from his family. He also developed a passion for basketball and was able to continue his basketball career in high school by taking junior college classes while continuing his education at home. In fact, he became a high school basketball star. Paolo then moved on to college, continuing his basketball success and officially leaving behind his homeschool days. Paolo is now a UC Davis student-athlete through and through.

"It was a different way to go about things, it was a strange path to get here, but it was perfect for me."