Today's post is written by my friend, Amber Partin. Amber and I attended the same University and were able to reconnect thanks to social media! Amber is a homeschool graduate, and I asked her to share how being homeschooled impacted her high school years.
“So, you’re homeschooled?”
The question always came with a squint of skepticism or tilt of the head, as if studying at home was a practice from pioneer days. I was used to it. Though homeschooling is no novelty in today’s world, it wasn’t a popular form of education in western Pennsylvania in the mid 1990s. Starting home school in tenth grade had caused a lot of people to react. Most of them seemed to fear I would become socially inept and awkward like Carrie from the Stephen King novel. We all know what she did on prom night! The reality was my parents and I had made the mutual decision for me to finish off my high school years at home. It provided me with the opportunity to focus on my studies and become more involved in the community (believe it or not).
Friends at my former Christian school were a bit shocked by my farewell at the end of ninth grade. I had done well that year, earning awards in writing and speech through the Keystone Christian Education Association. I was active in school plays and enjoyed outings with the other students like our annual retreat to Camp Harmony in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Why was I leaving? I was an only child, wouldn’t I get lonely? Wouldn’t I miss normal life?
Normal. As if that word can be applied to life in general.
Why I was leaving the traditional form of schooling may have been surprising to most people. Even though the private school I had been attending provided excellence in academics, they didn’t provide two particular opportunities—experience and learning at my own pace. Nothing could hold me back and no schedule restricted me on how, when, or where I completed my work. I savored a new sense of freedom and adventure. Possibility, for me, had become the word synonymous with homeschool.
Approved by the Pennslyvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, my parents moved ahead in selecting solid, Christian curriculum (A Beka Books) and finding a credible evaluator of my studies and progress—a teacher from the local high school. After a summer of planning and preparing, we were ready to embark upon a year of homeschool activities.
Despite the promising line-up of classes and hands-on learning experiences that would be provided, people still raised an eyebrow and worried that I would be too sheltered from the real world. I wondered, sometimes, if they imagined me dressed in gingham and living in a sod house, like Laura Ingles Wilder.
Despite what others perceived about my homeschool education, the perks were fabulous. For example, a majority of my school friends were studying Spanish or French. I chose Latin, and excelled. While my friends were forced to read books deemed necessary and mandatory by their schools, I plowed through the classics and took on an understanding for literature that scored me a seat in Freshman Honors English at my first college. Many of my friends strove to meet the standards of their peers when it came to looks and style…I enjoyed the comfort of sweatpants and ponytails without fear of being ostracized.
Now, I’m not going to say that leaving my public and private school roots was easy as pie. It had its challenges, especially since I was a teenager. I sometimes struggled with feeling wistful about school days spent with friends—the silly banter, the passing of notes, the excitement over upcoming functions.
My parents wanted me to be able to have a thriving social life. The first thing my mother did was find out information about the local homeschooling groups that frequently gathered for social events. Visits to playhouses, art centers, and festivals livened up my days and gave me a little something extra to look forward to. I also became active with my church’s youth group and attended a myriad of outings that strengthened me socially and spiritually. It was during this time that I was able to write a fundraising play for the youth group—something I would not have had the time or energy to do, had I been in a “typical” school setting. Having started volunteering at my local hospital at age 14, I was able to continue my volunteerism, now working daytime shifts instead of having to wait until after the school day was over. Through hospital volunteerism, I met doctors, nurses, and dedicated hospital staff who spent their lunchtimes with me, encouraging me to pursue my dreams, or coaching me in how I could become a strong volunteer for the patients and serve the hospital using my creative talents. I signed up for a young adult creative writing class at the local arts center—it was lead by a college professor who would infinitely influence my studies and writing skills as I neared my high school graduation and headed into college.
Another perk about having a flexible, homeschool schedule was the opportunity it afforded me to gain employment. I was hired as a page at the local library and was able to work any shift available, earning money for mall runs and that other important thing in life—college. Much to my delight, I found that two other girls employed at the library, seniors, were homeschooled as well! It was a moment when C.S. Lewis’ quote on friendship came in handy: “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
Besides the rewarding experience of working at the library, I was able to take courses at the community college, (day and evening) in creative writing, speech, and study skills. These three classes gave me a taste of what it would be like to live as a responsible college student—deadlines for assignments, attention to projects, pride in my work and presentations. The instructors at the community college seemed to be impressed that I was a homeschooler—my work was always above average, and I was able to interact well with the adult students in my classes (a perk from socializing with hospital staff).
By the time graduation had rolled around, I was more than ready for venturing off to college. Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia had selected me for the freshman class of 1999…and awarded me the Kalon Scholarship for my work with the community and leadership experiences. Not too shabby for someone who was suspected of social disabilities and living like a pioneer girl.
As a grown woman, I look back on my experiences as a homeschooler as something positive, something that shaped my character and allowed me to flourish academically in a way that I wouldn’t have elsewhere. And I have every intention on homeschooling my own children, if and when I have them. I believe that it’s an alternative to public and private schools that may be more enriching, not to mention safer, in the world we live in. I know people who still think homeschooling will damage a child’s social growth and limit their educational experiences. But these people have never known the joy and freedom of learning about the world from the comfort of their own home. They were never able to work their schedule around volunteering at the hospital and having the chief of anesthesiology offer himself as a reference for their resume. They were never able to incorporate a special visit to Lancaster’s Poe Evermore Festival into their literature studies. Most of all, they were never able to feel that feeling of sole importance—being the one student that mattered. There were no obstructions, only open roads toward valuable possibilities.
Even if I had dressed in gingham and lived in a sod house...it would have been a part of my studies involving pioneer life in way that could only be imagined within the confines of a classroom.