Graduate 2021/Whitney Cranford Crowell
Two years ago today, as I write this, I sat in a local pizza parlor with my husband and then thirteen-year-old daughter. We’d just attended an information session that was the last in a series of research inquiries we were conducting with one question in mind: What do we do about high school?
We’d been a homeschooling family since our daughter, our eldest, started the third grade. With several years’ experience under my belt, I was no longer cowed by the thought of teaching my children at home, alone. I’d long since quit waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with my brain screaming like a Harry Potter-style howler letter, reminding me that all that stood between my children and certain failure in life was me.
But still, this was high school, high school. Those last four years when education finally starts to count.
And so, I did what I always do: I researched the dickens out of high school options: Public school? Check. Private school? Check. Online classes, Early College, boarding school? Check, check, and check. I wanted all the cards on the table, for myself but also for my daughter. If she was ever truly to own her education, she needed to know her choices. But the more I learned, the more I knew deep down that I didn’t want to give up these last few years with her.
So there we sat, under the dim lights in a corner booth of a pizza parlor, the three of us. All looking at each other and waiting for someone else to speak—my heart pounding. Finally, our daughter looked up shyly and said, “It all sounds fine, but honestly, I think I’d rather homeschool.”
The blessed relief didn’t last long before panic set in with a new flurry of research. But, the first day of ninth grade arrived right on schedule, and when it did, I discovered that I was ready. Homeschooling high school has been a bit of an adventure, but now that I’ve educated my children at every level from preschool on up, I’ve discovered that the high school years just might be my favorite.
Yes, You Can Homeschool High School
The teen years bring some new challenges, but the underlying principles of parenting that applied to your toddler, grammar-schooler, and tween don’t change, and the same is true in home education. Homeschooling high school is still about meeting your student where he is, finding resources that appropriately challenge him and meet his needs, and hoping to spark joy and passion, just as in the early years. You still know your child better than anyone else, and you’re still uniquely equipped to be his best teacher.
As homeschooling started to pick up steam across the country in the late 80s and early 90s, intrepid parents pushed back against the narrative that educating a child required an expert. These days, with the proliferation of providers preying on parents’ fears, that idea is once again taking root in homeschool circles. But the truth is that you don’t need a math degree to teach pre-calculus if you’re willing to learn alongside your student. You don’t need a computer algorithm to spit out a slate of videos and multiple-choice quizzes to ensure that she is career and college-ready if you’re willing to take the time to talk with her. Education at this level is about much more than fact acquisition; it’s about learning to think, to analyze concepts and ideas, and to articulate that analysis in writing and in discussion. I can promise that those are conversations with your teen that you will cherish.
If you do run into a hurdle, you still have plenty of options. Our family has done everything from bringing in a tutor for a few sessions to get us over a hump, to making use of online classes, to asking family friends with expertise to help. Just as in younger years, successful high school homeschooling requires flexibility and a knack for figuring things out as you go, but no problem is insurmountable.
The Unique Benefits of Homeschooling High School
Homeschooling is a lifestyle that sometimes demands sacrifice—on the part of parents and sometimes even on the part of students. Choosing to homeschool for high school may in some cases (though certainly not all) mean giving up on opportunities like sports, band, or after-school clubs. But homeschooling high school offers some very unique benefits that make the trade-offs well worthwhile.
No other form of education allows for the complete customization of a student’s curriculum the way homeschooling does. Yes, there are boxes to check, especially if your student is college-bound. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the traditional public school survey classes. Electives and even many core courses can be tailored to your student’s passions. If she loves clothes, why not craft a history course around the fashion of the Roaring Twenties? If he lives and breathes baseball, use that interest to bring physics to life. These credits would satisfy an entrance requirement for social studies and physical science, respectively. In many cases, traditional coursework will also be appropriate, especially in disciplines most closely related to the student’s future plans, but there are plenty of opportunities for crafting a unique transcript that will both engage the student and help him or her to stand out on college applications. (There are no state graduation requirements for homeschoolers in North Carolina; you have the legal right to set the terms for graduation for your school.)
North Carolina also offers some incredible opportunities for high schoolers that homeschoolers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of. The Career and College Promise program allows high school juniors and seniors (and at some schools, qualified freshmen and sophomores) to take tuition-free community college courses that are guaranteed to transfer to any school in the state university system and many in-state private colleges with a grade of C or better. Many students are able to complete a year or even two of college coursework while in high school, saving them thousands of dollars of college tuition. While this program is open to public and private school students as well, by participating as a homeschooler, you have the flexibility to decide how to count these courses for high school credit in your school without the hindrance of public school requirements.
As one example of this, in our county, the public school requires students to take two of the community college’s English courses to count as a single high school English credit, meaning that students must take an additional three high school English classes to meet the four-credit requirement, instead of just two. We aren’t bound by such restrictions in our homeschool. That’s one less English class my daughter has to take, meaning she’s free to pursue her interests in math and science. There are plenty of other opportunities for earning college credit within your homeschool as well, including AP courses (yes, they can be taught at home if you follow the College Board’s rules!) and credit by exams such as CLEP. All of these are easy to incorporate into your school in whatever configuration suits your student since you control the curriculum.
But for me, the biggest advantage of homeschooling high school has been the time I’ve had with my daughter as she matures into a young adult. Not only do I have a unique opportunity to influence her life during these most formative years, but I also have the benefit of enjoying her company and a front-row seat to her growth and development as a person and a scholar. It was exciting when she first learned to tie her shoes at five, and it’s no less exciting now when she voices a remarkable insight into a piece of literature or writes a moving personal narrative or explains a complicated mathematical concept to me with aplomb. If anything, I find it even more satisfying, because I’ve been there for the journey, and I know that I’ve had a hand in getting her to where she is today.
If you’re considering homeschooling for the high school years, my best advice is not to let it scare you. Yes, there are a few new things you’ll need to learn like the nuts and bolts of credits and transcripts, but they are simple enough and there are plenty of resources out there to help you. The benefits of educating your high schooler at home can far outweigh the challenges. Consider embracing your role as parent-teacher for these last few years—I don’t think you’ll regret it!