From Home School to High School

Kids face adjustments when they move from home schooling to the classroom

By Michael A. Brothers
News-Leader

Charissa Carlin was home­schooled until the 11th grade.

She traded in studying at home to attend class with about 1,800 students at Kickapoo High School in January. This afforded the aspiring pre-med student access to science labs and dual enrollment for college credit.

“I had some anxiety,” she recalls of her first few days. “I just did not really know what to expect.”

Some home­schoolers make the switch during high school because parents find advanced subjects daunting or do not have materials like science equipment on hand. Sometimes the transition happens sooner when kids join cooperatives or part-time schools like the new Gloria Deo Academy in Springfield. Eventually, most home­schoolers will pursue higher education, and college proves a significant transition.

Charissa in Chemistry Class
Charissa Carlin sits in a chemistry class

Charissa Carlin, who was formerly home­schooled, sits in a chemistry class at Kickapoo High School. The switch allowed Charissa access to math and science instruction and lab materials she could not get at home.

“I was nervous,” says Ben Hobbs, a 21-year-old who was home­schooled in Springfield and now attends the University of Missouri-Rolla. “Because you are going into a dorm situation, and you have always been around your brothers and sisters.”

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated there were about 1.1 million home­school students nationwide in 2003, though the National Home Education Research Institute puts the number closer to two million. As the decision to home­school is often driven by opportunity and academics, so too is the decision to enroll in a public school.

“Obviously every family is different, but I would say if it happens, it happens around high school,” says Gloria Deo director Joy Davis, because that is when the advanced subjects enter the curriculum.

Regardless of a student's age each transition requires adjustment.

Charissa Carlin Pitches
Charissa Carlin Pitches Against Ozark

The Younger Years

Starting its first year in existence at Glendale Christian Church, Gloria Deo Academy serves kindergarten through sixth grade. The school sets the curriculum and meets two days a week. Parents oversee homework and studying on the other days.

Some students who went through several years of home­school are getting their first taste of a formal classroom atmosphere at Gloria Deo. And for these kids, it is the little things to which they must adjust. Lining up to walk down the hall can be a challenge.

“They are not used to raising their hand or having to ask permission to get up and sharpen their pencil or get something out of their backpacks,” Davis says.

For the parents of younger kids going into a school setting, Davis suggests talking about what it is like to be in a classroom: raising hands, lining up, sharing ideas, asking permission, etc.

“The more parents can talk about it, that will make the transition a little easier for them,” she says.

High School Halls

Jerry and Donna Carlin enrolled daughter Charissa in public school after her longtime science teacher was not able to continue his commitment. With pre-medicine or perhaps physical therapy in her sights for higher education, Charissa would need the best instruction and lab materials in math and science. Donna says they could not give Charissa that at home.

“We were kind of at a loss,” she says.

Adds Jerry: “We realized that she really needed that (advanced instruction), so she was ready to make that transition.”

The Carlins learned about Kickapoo High Schools' dual credit program through Missouri State University, and found it would be a good fit for their situation. Over the course of three high school semesters, Charissa will accumulate enough college credit, in courses like anatomy and algebra, to begin her university career as a sophomore.

It will ease her future class load, giving Charissa time to focus on a difficult pre-med curriculum, and allow the star softball pitcher a flexible schedule for practice and road trips.

“It has been an incredible blessing for us,” Donna says.

Charissa had support when she joined the ranks of Kickapoo High because her friends from church and her boyfriend attend there.

Still, she says, “It was weird.”

“It is pretty overwhelming to see all these kids walking through the hallways,” she says. “It is pretty intimidating, but you get over it pretty quick.”

Getting up around 6:30 a.m. was a shock after years of waking in the 8 o'clock hour.

Then came the rules…

“Lots of rules,” she says.

Wear an ID badge at all times. Do not leave the building for lunch. Get a hall pass to go the rest-room.

On one of her first days she received a green slip of paper telling her to report to the school nurse. “I had no idea what it was, and I did not really want to ask,” so she did not go until the next day.

Even softball was different, like the time she pitched four games in one day, a new feat.

The classes have been more than worth it, she says. She has enjoyed dissecting several animals. Her eyes light up as she recalls a trip to the Missouri State campus to view cadavers with her anatomy class. “That was so much fun,” she says.

Now that she has been through it, Charissa says everyone should experience at least some public schooling. Her best advice to other students: Choose the best teachers and rely on others' recommendations.

And she leans on her upbringing and character when her Christian background is sometimes at odds with attitudes or language found in the halls of her new high school.

And Now The Campus…

For many home­school students, the biggest change comes when they enter college.

“I was excited,” says Hobbs of UMR. “It is more so a new experience for home­school students because they have never really been… in an environment that big.”

Hobbs is majoring in mechanical engineering and was taught at home by his mom, Patti, all the way through graduation. First he attended two years at Cedarville University in Ohio, a private Christian school. He says at both Cedarville and UMR his biggest issue was a desire to measure up against all the other students academically.

Turns out he had little to be concerned about. He left Cedarville after two years with a 3.6 grade point average and is pulling a 4.0 at UMR.

Missouri State senior Vanessa Kietel had a more gradual transition from home schooling to a large public university. The St. Louis area native attended co-ops in junior high, went to a small private school her senior year, then enrolled at a community college in St. Louis for a year before coming to MSU.

Academics were not a big challenge, she says, but socially there was adjustment.

“It was more that I had grown up in a very, very conservative Christian environment,” she recalls, “so I transitioned from that to living in the dorms.”

Peers were more accepting that she thought: “All the girls on my floor were really kind and honest. They were like, “That is what you believe, that is how you grew up, we will not bug you about it.”

Having a solid social group is helpful, she says. She attended every Christian ministry on campus before gravitating toward the Potter's House, a Christian coffee shop off campus.

Do not expect the lifelong bonds you have formed with family to pop up instantly in college, she suggests. Instead, trust your instincts and let them form on their own.

Hobbs' best advice for home­schoolers entering college is to be self-assured.

“Be confident in what you have learned and that what your parents taught you is on par with public schools,” he says. “Do not be afraid that you know less, because it is very possible you know just as much, if not more.”

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, please read: California Colleges.