While students throughout the New River Valley begin purchasing backpacks and thinking about how to organize lockers, hundreds of homeschool families are rearranging furniture to find more space on the wall for another bookcase. The newest materials ordered from the latest homeschool convention catalog need a place to go.
Homeschooling, in a nutshell, is the education of children at home instead of a traditional public or private school. Teaching is typically conducted by parents and sometimes with private tutors. Before the beginning of every school year, Virginia state laws require homeschool families to send a letter of intent to the county superintendent, accompanied by the curriculum and subjects to be studied. At the end of the school year, evidence of achievement—usually in the form of a standardized test score—must be provided for each student.
Why homeschool? Families are attracted to it for a number of reasons, which may include religion, control and choice over curriculum, one-on-one teacher-to-student attention and disabilities. Some view the education of their children as their responsibility, in general life skills and academics.
Though the reasons for homeschooling vary, a theme rooted around family and good morals emerges. Many see homeschooling as an opportunity to establish strong morals during a child’s formative years. Caisy Ho of Blacksburg homeschools his children until 9th grade. “Before being influenced by others,” he explains, “we want to influence our kids first.”
There may be common motivations, but homeschooling does not look the same from house to house. Families come in all shapes and sizes with different teaching and learning styles, family dynamics, backgrounds and schedules. The flexibility of homeschooling allows each family to do what works best for them.
For homeschool student Leah Hairfield, a rising 11th grader in Riner, school begins after she finishes the morning chores around her family’s farm. Every day she logs onto the online curriculum she uses and completes assignments for the day. “I come back [from my chores], do math, finish my online [assignments], and I normally finish at about 1 p.m.,” she says.
Peter Quek, 12, begins with lessons at breakfast and continues until he and his mother cover all the material for the day in their Blacksburg home. Instead of completing lessons for all of his school subjects in one large block of time, his mother assigns work for shorter periods throughout the day, sometimes in the evening. This flexible schedule allows Peter to participate in extracurricular activities and field trips with other homeschoolers. Peter’s field trips have included visits to the fire station, post office and Virginia Tech geology department.
Some high school age homeschool students embrace dual-enrollment. Hannah Hodges, who was homeschooled until she went to George Mason University, took a few classes at Dayspring Christian Academy and at New River Community College. Her schedule was much like that of a full-time college student, so freshman adjustment was minimal. “I was pretty used to going to class at different times during the week and doing homework. It was much like the college format.”
Caisy Ho is also a physics professor at NRCC and has taught a number of homeschool students. When asked about the performance level of homeschoolers in his classes, he reports that 100 percent of them earned an A. “The main reason is because they have better study habits. Schooling is their priority,” he points out, contrasting that with other students who hold part-time jobs in addition to concentrating on their studies. He notices that homeschoolers often receive close monitoring from parents on academic progress.
However, Ho sees both strengths and weaknesses in homeschooling. The pros include flexibility in schedule, heavy parent and family involvement and personalized lessons. He has noticed that some homeschool students lack classroom experience and are less adept in group environments because of the individual-based nature of their very small schools.
Though the picture of the “typical awkward unsocial homeschooler” is an exaggerated stereotype, homeschoolers understand that it holds a grain of truth. The homeschool environment does not easily lend itself to knowing many people outside the home, and it can be lonely unless one is pro-active in meeting people.” Tessa Walsh, 16, of Christiansburg, says “homeschooling calls for different social circles.” Most of her friends are from church, her swim team and homeschool groups. Many homeschoolers meet friends in similar social arenas like sports activities, dance classes and music lessons.
The college application process is the same for homeschool graduates as it is for students in the traditional school system. As a homeschool student now studying at a state college in South Carolina, I can confidently say that my education at home prepared me well for success at the university level.
Many of my homeschool friends have graduated from college with degrees in engineering, journalism and nursing. One college graduate, Claire Lo of Blacksburg, received her degree in piano performance from James Madison University. “I never had trouble in the traditional classroom,” she says, “but it really depends on the student.” For her younger brother, Kenneth, going from a personalized, homeschool experience to the more traditional setting at the University of Maryland was a bit of a shock. He was not alone though, as college is a big step for all students, no matter what their educational background. “I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for college,” he adds.
Homeschooling is not a one-size-fits-all kind of glove. When done well, it is precisely tailored to the needs of the teacher, student and family. While it is not for everyone, those who do homeschool enjoy its fruits—even if it does mean not having enough wall space for bookshelves.
Sarah Quek is a junior at the University of South Carolina majoring in Piano Performance. She was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school and credits her parents for being the most patient teachers, mentors and counsel she could imagine.
By Sarah Quek♦ End