While many families choose to home school all the way through high school without sending their students to any outside classes at public institutions, these options are increasingly common and even prevalent. In Florida, where we live, the public high schools are required to let home school students take classes and join sports programs, and many families have their kids take one or two classes there. Most of the young people we know, however, choose to take classes at the local community college starting in their junior or senior year of high school. This is called dual enrollment, because the kids can finish up their high school credits while getting a jump start on their college credits at the same time. (I myself did this for my last semester of high school in 1981.) The tuition is free, but books and fees are not. Some families use this to supplement courses completed at home or through a home school co-op, while others use this as the sole source of credits during a given semester or year.
My oldest four daughters started dual enrollment during either their junior or senior years. This has been mostly a good thing for our family. Our oldest transferred to a nearby state university (while living at home) where she graduated in Journalism with honors. The next one decided to work full-time to fund her mission trips rather than continuing with college. Our third daughter is finishing up her AA degree and planning to transfer to the state university for nursing school. Our fourth daughter is currently dual enrolling, and planning to get an art degree from the state university.
Unfortunately, the community college where my older daughters have gone is no longer accepting dual enrollment students for our county, and our own county's community college is more restrictive with dual enrollment. We had already decided not to continue with our home school co-op this year, so my fifth daughter, a high school sophomore, was intending to do classes at home. She was going to continue getting some of her credits on-line through Florida Virtual School, which is free for Florida residents. However, a few weeks into the school year, we realized this wasn't going to work out very effectively. She wanted more structure and accountability than I could give her, since I am also home schooling her five younger siblings. She also wanted someone knowledgeable to actually teach her every day instead of just me supervising her in courses I never even took. We decided to take the plunge and do something new, which was to enroll her full-time in a public high school. She has been there for a few weeks, and so far so good! It has been quite a transition for her, though, but fortunately not too rough of one, and she's glad she is doing it. She's planning to graduate a year early since she started her sophomore year with 10 credits. She may just dual enroll at the college full-time next year instead of going back to the public high school. We'll see when the time comes. Our options are open.
What I have learned from this experience as well as dual enrollment made me think of several things to share with you. This is just a collection of random thoughts, not a comprehensive treatise.
First, if you are thinking about any of these options, you have to weigh the costs and benefits. Some of the potential drawbacks include excessive peer pressure, academic content which may not reflect your family's values and religious beliefs, less flexible schedule, increased homework, etc. These might be "deal breakers" for your family. For us, they were challenges to consider and overcome. Our daughters are pretty solid in what they think already and are not as easily swayed by peers. The contrast in behavior they saw among some of the students from what they have been raised with only served to make them more grateful for our family's way of life rather than making them want to plunge in with their fellow students. If you are only thinking of enrolling your child in one or two classes and then picking them up from campus, the social environment is less of a threat.
When other moms ask me for practical advice on dual enrollment and I shrug and tell them that I don't have a clue. My husband is the main one who handled the logistics for this, and I'm so thankful for his careful attention to detail! I am, however, the one who enrolled our other daughter in the public high school. In this endeavor, it really helped that she had been enrolled in a private school covering through our former church. This spared her from having to take final exams on courses she had already finished. They even accepted two high school credits she had completed during 8th grade. The official transcript paved the way. However, it is not impossible to transfer in credits if you have home schooled "under the county" rather than through a private school. Just check with the school to see what is necessary. My daughter's guidance counselor recommended that she take as many AP and honors courses as possible so she could get the most academic benefit with the least amount of riffraff among fellow students.
A potential student needs to be prepared to adjust to the requirements of a classroom education. For example, they have to get to class on time and be ready with everything they need. They can't just walk down the hall to their bedroom to get an assignment to turn in. If homework is late, they might have points deducted. There is generally a decent amount of assignments to complete each evening for each class. They have to keep up with the pace of the class and have the confidence to ask the teacher for help when necessary. In our case, all of this is exactly what our daughter wanted! We still do help her some with her studies. I heard my husband going over French pronunciation with her the other night, my oldest daughter gave her some pointers on a formal English essay last night, and I helped explain some world history concepts this past weekend. But for the most part, this is her job, and she takes it seriously. This is the same mindset every student needs to take, no matter where they are completing their education. These are the habits we have tried to instill through their years at home. We haven't always been very structured, but they've gotten enough of it that they have survived and even thrived during the transition into the classroom setting.
My older daughters all appreciated having friends from church going to the same college campus. They make a point to either enroll in the same classes or at least meet up for lunch. Right now, two of my daughters drive to campus together, too. There is safety in numbers. If a guy on campus gives one of them any trouble, the young men from church would be happy to settle the problem for them! It also helps reduce negative peer pressure because they already have good friends to hang out with on campus. For them, also, college is not so much a place to socialize as it is to learn. They want to do well and to focus on their classes. They also come home each evening and interact with us. We ask them about their classes and their conversations with others -- not prying, just caring. We can deal with anything that comes up, knowing that they are getting valuable opportunities to learn to deal with the big world beyond our home while still living at our home. In my mind, this is better than sending them off to live on a college campus after years and years of extremely rigid control. We know some young people who have truly gone off the deep end because all of the independence was dumped on them at once with no trial runs along the way. One young man likened it to holding someone tautly with a rope, then letting go all of the sudden. We need to be loosening the apron strings as we go, working ourselves out of a job. We launch them bit by bit into adulthood and work through the issues as they come up while we still have the opportunity to influence them.
I am aware that some families in the home school movement have vehement opinions against public education, whether for high school or college. They believe that God has been banned from campus, and that inevitably all of the students will turn out to be heathens or socialists because of either the secular teaching or the peer pressure. I understand their concern. However, I do not want to make my decisions based solely on fear. I wouldn't send my daughters to campus if I wasn't confident they could handle it, even if there are a few bumps along the way. Some students can't handle it, and they shouldn't go. You have to make that decision as a parent.
Since my daughter started public high school earlier this month, I have often reminded her that she is an ambassador for Jesus Christ, that she represents the King of Kings. I don't say this to make her feel awkward, or with the expectation that she is going to preach at her teachers or classmates every day. I do say it to remind her of her precious identity in Christ, that she is "more than a conqueror" through the love of God. Public schools may leave God out of the curriculum, but they can't ban him from campus! Why? Because there are Christian students and teachers there who are indwelt by the presence of God. The Unseen King walks every step of the way with his beloved royal ambassadors. The radiant life of Christ within them can shine. Yes, the devil can try to quench that, which is why I pray for my kids and try to encourage them and ask how they are doing spiritually. It's not a perfect situation, but neither is home schooling.
I think that we need to actually prepare our students to be ambassadors, too. Last year, when I was teaching middle school English in our home school co-op, I had assigned them to read missionary biographies and write reports about them. Then, to further equip my students for life, I decided to teach them the vocabulary and concepts behind several major religions and worldviews including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, tribal religions, secularism, and communism/socialism. (Click these links to read the lessons for Judaism and Islam.) I know that most of these kids will eventually be in college classes covering these topics or become friends with students within these belief systems. I wanted them to know what the Bible says about each issue and how they can graciously relate to others without being completely ignorant or obnoxious. (What a turn off that can be! I still remember the YouTube clip I showed my students of a high school girl shoving "the gospel" down the throat of a Hindu classmate. She had no idea of what she was talking about, and no sense at all of respect for the dignity of others, no matter what they believe. Why do we then call it "persecution" if someone rejects our message? We bring it on ourselves… But I digress.)
What I most want to encourage you to do is to seek out what God himself is leading you to do each year with each of your children. Listen closely to his voice. Then have the confidence that he has promised to grant wisdom and guidance to those who seek his will. He is not snickering up in Heaven with the angels whenever you mess up. He is eager to show you the way. Teach them the truth. Teach them grace. Teach them to follow Jesus with all their hearts. Do that and you will finish well.
P.S. Just two weeks after entering Lake Howell High School, Lydia made her solo stage debut singing "Not for the Life of Me" at their Broadway Night. You can watch her amazing performance here: This Girl's Got Gusto! Way to go!
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