Homeschooling Is in a Class of Its Own: Nontraditional Learning Gets High Marks

By Goff, Karen Goldberg | The World and I, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Homeschooling Is in a Class of Its Own: Nontraditional Learning Gets High Marks


Goff, Karen Goldberg, The World and I


Karen Goldberg Goff is a staff writer for The Washington Times.

Paige Peterson had a full slate of graduation activities scheduled for last spring. The 17-year-old from Sterling Park, Virginia, participated in a graduation ceremony and dance at her boyfriend's prom.

What was different about Paige's graduation experience was that she did not attend school with the 16 other graduates. Paige was home-schooled, and she was also taking courses at Northern Virginia Community College for more than a year.

Nonetheless, these typical rites of passage marked the end of one part of her educational path. Paige and other members of HEARTS (Home Educators Association for Responsible Teens and their Siblings), a network and support group of homeschooling families in the Virginia counties of Fairfax and Loudoun, marked an important milestone, says Mary Ann Boyleston, HEARTS graduation coordinator.

Paige and 16 other homeschoolers were graduated in May at Christian Fellowship Church in Ashburn, Virginia.

"It is important in a lot of aspects to finish an event with a reward or ending," says Boyleston, an Ashburn mother of two homeschool graduates and a third child who will finish next year. "Certain aspects of our graduation are especially meaningful. We provide an opportunity for each graduate to speak. We ask them to share their vision of the future."

Many times, homeschooling parents are graduating along with the children. At the HEARTS ceremony, for instance, the grads presented their mothers with a rose and thanked them for homeschooling them.

"The students aren't the only ones who graduate at a homeschool ceremony," Boyleston says. "Next year, I will not only be graduating, I will be retiring from homeschooling."

In traditional school, a certain number of years or state?mandated requirements and tests must be completed before a teen can graduate. In homeschool, the finish line may be a bit fuzzier. Some homeschoolers adopt a certain curriculum, which guides them in graduation requirements. Other families use age or the passing of their child's maturity to decide when they are done.

"It really depends on the kids themselves," says Manfred Smith, a homeschooling father of three and president of the Maryland Home Education Association. "Homeschoolers tend to graduate a little earlier, such as 16 or 17. They may be ready by then. Many dual-enroll at community college. Some might not be ready to graduate until 19, though, and they stretch it out a bit."

Alison McKee, a homeschooling mother of two from Madison, Wisconsin, and author of the book From Homeschool to College and Work: Turning Your Homeschool Experience Into College and Job Portfolios, says she took the lead of her children when deciding when they were finished with homeschooling.

Her daughter, Georgina, now a senior at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon, was done "when I saw how she could manage her life," McKee says. "After that, she took college classes and moved in with friends," she says. "As parents, we just had a gut feeling."

When her son Christian was younger, McKee decided he was finished with homeschooling in a similar manner. McKee's children followed the unschooling method, which meant they were allowed to have experiences and pursue interests, rather than follow more formal instruction.

"Christian said he was tired of explaining," McKee says. "People would say, 'You're not a student, then what are you?' He would say, 'I'm me.' That's when I said to myself, 'He's got it. This kid has graduated.' "

Christian, now 23, recently graduated from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and is working in Portland, Oregon.

About 65 percent of homeschoolers immediately go to college, says Chris Klicka, senior counsel for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, an advocacy group. Many families keep college in mind when deciding when their children are finished.

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