Home schoolers get out of the house
The Holiday Inn banquet hall was packed with teens clad in tuxedos and taffeta. They danced the macarena, sipped lemonade, and cast interested sidelong glances at one another. The Orlando, Fla., event had all the trappings of a standard high school prom, with one exception: There were no high schoolers present.Skip to next paragraph
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All the teens at the Orlando prom were home schoolers.
There are approximately 2 million home schoolers in the United States, a figure that has increased 15 percent in the last 20 years, according to the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore. As home schooling enters the mainstream, the adults who promote it have sought more ways of getting home schoolers out of the house, to broaden their social circles, and help them acquire the leadership credentials needed for college applications.
What's been helpful are the homeschool "networks" that have sprouted up across the US. As a result, studies show that almost 90 percent of home school students are now involved in group activities.
"Most of the social opportunities that are available to non-home schooled kids are available to our kids as well," says Bruce LaSalla, a physics teacher from Ephrata, Pa., who with his wife has home schooled all four of their children. These include sports, field trips, quiz bowls, science fairs, band, orchestra, choir, and dances, including proms.
"Home schooling isn't just for hermits anymore," says Susan Richman, a home-school mother of five who founded PA Homeschoolers in Kittanning, Pa., with her husband to provide standardized tests, online classes, transcripts and diplomas to home school students in the state.
The Richmans recognized a need for networking among Pennsylvania home schoolers 12 years ago, so they started a home-schooling newsletter statewide. "Back then, there weren't any home schoolers to know. It has been phenomenal to watch the network grow," Mrs. Richman says.
It often requires creativity to launch extracurricular programs without the kind of expertise or resources typically found within a school system.
When the Richmans dreamed up the Pennsylvania volleyball tournament five years ago, their five home-schooled kids, who range in age from 15 to 25, were thrilled.
"But there was one problem," Richman says, laughing. "None of us knew how to play volleyball." To learn the game, they studied videos and books. They found a gym in a local church and assembled several home school teams. A home-school dad who had been a college volleyball star volunteered as coach. The competition now includes 25 teams.
In New Haven, Conn., home schoolers founded the Shakespearean Youth Theater and have performed seven full-scale Shakespeare productions at a small local theater. But because the group has only 14 members ranging from age 11 to 17, each play requires heavy editing to elminate extra characters. Students are responsible for condensing the script, designing the set and costumes, handling the mailings, fundraising, advertising and taking publicity photos.
The students do all the work themselves, exhibiting a degree of enthusiasm and energy some adults say they rarely see elsewhere.
"It is a lot easier working with home schoolers," says Dana Sachs, who directs a local theatre group for adults, teaches at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School in New Haven, and also oversees each home school production. "They are more engaged, more prepared, more dedicated. All of the kids who are there want to be there."