Homeschooling in Community, Not Isolation: Finding the Ideal Educational Experience

by Julian Kelly

About 2,200 students currently homeschool in Vermont. This number has grown from 92 students in 1981, according to Cindy Ellen Hill of Vermont Woman newspaper. As homeschooling grows in popularity, an increasing number of students choose to homeschool through high school. A quick search on Amazon brings up many books on the subject, with titles like Homeschooling High School and Preparing Your Homeschooled Child for College.  Most of these books are written by parents, for parents, and lack the perspective of the students themselves. So we asked homeschooled teens across the state of Vermont: What is your ideal educational experience?

“Getting to fly across the country to interview your favorite band,” wrote James Cross, a former homeschooler from Barre. James now attends college in Boston and manages the band Dented Personality.

“I would find an apprenticeship and/or some other forms of hands-on learning,” wrote Oliver Zeichner, a homeschooler from Northfield, who’s in his sophomore year of high school. Oliver has already pursued plenty of experiential education, including studying Irish music under various mentors and an apprenticeship with a blacksmith. He says that he learns more through doing than through “theoretical studying.”

Agafia Andreyev, a freshman from Brookfield, echoed Oliver’s thoughts on hands-on learning.

“I think my high-school education would be based on experiences,” she wrote in an e-mail, “rather than reading a textbook about it. What I love about homeschooling is you can do that, you can mold a curriculum that suits you personally to make the best of the topic and make it interesting to you.”

Owen Matthews, another teen homeschooler, from Richmond, agreed on the importance of shaping your own education:

“[The ideal high-school homeschool experience is] being able to pick the curriculum that’s right for you and moving at the pace that works for you, whether it’s fast or slow.”

Zeichner adds, “I like that when homeschooling, I have a more flexible schedule. It enables me to pursue interests or educational opportunities that might not be available when studying under a stricter schedule. However, I’ve taken plenty of ‘in-classroom’ classes, solo or in groups, and never had a problem with them.”

A wide spectrum of classes, found at local public schools, Community College of Vermont and state colleges such as the University of Vermont, and offered independently in peoples’ homes or at homeschool centers such as Montpelier’s Pacem School and Homeschool Center, take a central role in many high-school-age homeschoolers’ educations. Many of these classes, however, are not free.

“A high-school-level homeschooler should have access to all programs and classes his/her community offers,” wrote Eli Gould, a Montpelier homeschooler. Eli left U-32 high school in East Montpelier to homeschool after his freshman year. “[Students] should not have to take any mandatory classes,” he continued, although he said he thinks taking standardized tests helps to get into college.

Homeschooled teens also seek community and find it in many forms: group classes, sports and a multitude of other activities with people of all ages. It can require more effort, though.

“Earlier in the homeschooling process, and even now, it’s harder to create a circle of friends and support groups, since I don’t have constant access to people my own age through high school,” Zeichner. This past year Zeichner attended the Earthwalk Teen Land Project two days a week and homeschool classes with students his age. But Zeichner, like many teens, wants more.  “I have to go out of my way to find people to connect with. Some sort of study group and more opportunities to meet people would’ve been helpful.”

Claire Boyer, a former homeschooler currently living in Australia, also wants the ideal mix, “a supportive community that gives [her] support and freedom to direct [her] own learning.”

Creating one’s own educational experience from the rich variety of opportunities available takes time and often leads to all-consuming projects. Liam O’Connor Genereaux, a homeschooled junior from Ryegate, has, “the time and resources to pursue whatever projects I want, with access to whatever knowledge I need to pursue them,” and he said that not having a standard 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. public-school day leads to a highly active schedule.

“I’d say more,” Genereaux said, “but I’m busy making a movie.”

Reporting contributed by David Fischer, Josephine Kelly and Colette Kelly.

Julian Kelly is a homeschooled teen who lives in Montpelier.