Tamara Bell faced a major dilemma when daughter Rachel was in the sixth grade at a private Catholic school.

Tamara Bell faced a major dilemma when daughter Rachel was in the sixth grade at a private Catholic school.

"I have this person who loves to learn, and all of a sudden, she doesn't want to go to school," the Minerva Park mom recalled last week.

Rachel Bell, now 17 and the daughter of Mark and Tamara Bell, started to read at the age of 3 and had excelled academically.

"I think she's only gotten a B on one assignment in her life," Tamara Bell said. "That was tragic, big. Actually, she has really loosened up about that kind of stuff. She knows that's important, but she knows that's not the be-all and end-all."

Rachel also knew she was no longer happy in school. Class sizes had grown since she started, Tamara Bell said, and her daughter was threatened with punishment for following her inclination to read way ahead in her textbooks from what had been assigned.

"We just decided after sixth grade to go solo," Tamara Bell said.

Rachel has been homeschooled ever since, followed in later years by two of her three brothers. The youngest hasn't yet reached school age.

The Bell family joined the Opus Domini Catholic homeschooling group in central Ohio, which provides not only support for parents choosing to go this route but also group activities and social events.

"One of the things that sold me on it, in real life, you're never stuck in a room with everyone the same age as you," Tamara Bell said. "To get to learn real-life skills, put them in a real-life situation."

Another thing has the proud mother sold on homeschooling: Rachel is a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.

That makes her one of 16,000 semifinalists out of 1.4 million students who took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as high school juniors.

Rachel is one of only 16 homeschooled students in Ohio to be named semifinalists last month, according the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

"First, I was really surprised because I wasn't expecting it," Rachel said last week, prior to taking an online journalism course. "I wasn't really sure I would measure up. I had been a little behind in my math studies. I was especially concerned about my scores in that."

"I was over the moon with pride," her mom said. "I knew she'd do well in the test. She's just a good test-taker. I didn't know that she would do that well."

She hopes Rachel follows in her father's footsteps: Mark Bell was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, receiving financial assistance to attend Ohio State University, where the couple met.

Rachel is leaning toward attending her parents' alma mater, although her mother said Otterbein University and Case Western Reserve University are also in the running. Rachel said she's considering a career that would somehow involve writing.

"That's my personal strong suit, so a major in maybe English or creative writing or something of that sort is really on my mind right now," she said.