Family of the Year takes an eclectic, supportive approach to learning and living



The Pistone family from Ohio received the 11th annual Alan and Sally Merten Family of the Year Award at Mason’s Family Weekend. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Leah and Peregrine Pistone, both freshmen attending George Mason University, credit their loving family for encouraging them in their desire to learn and experience new things.

This year, their family received the 11th annual Alan and Sally Merten Family of the Year Award at Mason’s Family Weekend. Ken, Leah and Peregrine’s father, wrote a three-page, newsletter-style essay, complete with photos, explaining why their family should be nominated.

“Having a family that supports you and surrounds you with love provides an important and unifying aspect to our lives and grounds us and gives us the best opportunity to succeed,” Ken wrote in the essay.

Leah and Peregrine are Honors College students. Peregrine is also a University Scholar, which covers for four years of tuition, and Leah is one of two College of Science Promise Scholars, in its inaugural year of covering all costs associated with obtaining a Mason degree for a select few scientifically minded students. 

Leah and Peregrine are a little over a year apart in age, but began their learning experience being homeschooled by their mother, Kimberly, a teacher. They have three younger siblings who are also homeschooled. Their father is an engineer, and the family has lived in Michigan, Texas and, most recently, in rural Ohio on a 35-acre family farm with chickens, goats, cows, turkeys and peafowl.

The Pistone family was on campus for Family Weekend and to visit first-year students Leah and Peregrine. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

“It’s really quiet without Leah and Peregrine,” said Kimberly, who was interviewed over Zoom from the farm. “I thought I would miss them more than I do only because I am still in communication with them through texting and phone calls every day. I still feel very connected with them.”

Kimberly’s approach to homeschooling has been to let the children’s interests lead the way.

“We have followed an eclectic approach,” said Kimberly. “We’ve done a lot of following Google rabbit trails. If we have a question on a topic, we go to Google to get an answer, and then we sometimes wander quite far afield.”

For example, a search about Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla spiraled into a musical instrument called the theremin, which then culminated into YouTube videos featuring theremins playing to the theme to “Star Trek”.

“This led us to learn that the original ‘Star Trek’ TV show theme song was performed with a theremin,” said Kimberly. “Who knew where that innocent Google search eventually would boldly go.”

The family is close-knit and spends a lot of time together, Kimberly said. They play card and board games, such as Dominion and The Resistance, together every day. In 2020, they logged the number of games played, and it came to an average of four per day.

Ken says he’s happy to see Leah and Peregrine going into Mason prepared to be successful.

“It’s a good feeling when they’ve taken the shepherding that you’ve given them and use it intentionally and thoughtfully,” said Ken. “There’s an aspect of living vicariously through them as they go to college, except they get to have all the fun.”

A few months into her freshman year, Leah said that she’s enjoying her classes and the opportunities at Mason, but admits that she misses her family, along with the animals.

“Having been homeschooled my whole life, being away from my family is a huge change. I miss the all too well-known chaos of my house,” said Leah. “I know my family supports me in my college endeavors, and I greatly appreciate all of their support, even if it is long distance.”

Peregrine says that he misses the stars but is enjoying his college experience.

“I was aware that I was going to have a culture shock when I came here. Fairfax, Virginia, on a college campus no less, is almost the complete opposite of rural Ohio,” said Peregrine. “Adjusting to all the changes here has been quite a surprising and exciting experience. I am also surprised by how much I have grown in just these last eight weeks; my classes have taught me so much.”