STRETCHING THE EDUCATIONAL BOX - A PARENTS PERSPECTIVE ON HOME EDUCATION AND DUAL ENROLLMENT
Our daughter never really fit in the standard educational box. It started in when we had to move her from a traditional preschool to one that focused less on “pre” and more on “school”. Her kindergarten teacher identified her as gifted, a supportive principal provided her with advanced work, and ultimately she was able to skip first and third grade. Many believe that grade acceleration causes social issues. In our daughter’s case, it resolved the social issues caused by being so far ahead of her age peers. She did well and enjoyed school through eighth grade. Well, eighth grade was a little rough.
Since our daughter was so far ahead, we decided to take a bit of a break from the intensity of school. By starting home education freshman year, she was able to stay on grade working with a tutor for math and science but also have more time to be a kid. Taking the Lee County End of Course exams allowed her to begin building a transcript with her first two high school credits. Luckily, the Home Education Coordinator for Lee County asked about our plans for the following year, and after we realized we had none she suggested dual enrollment at Florida Southwestern State College (FSW). Our daughter could start as a high school sophomore, there would be no minimum number of classes, no required major and no cost. We thought, “Why not?”
We found the college easy to navigate, and everyone was helpful and friendly. Although she is younger than the average student, there are a lot of dual enrolled high school kids. Getting used to the routine took some effort and there were some bumps in the road keeping on track with the workload. However, academic supports such as multiple tutoring options and professor availability make it hard to fail. To us, as parents it seems less stressful than the average high school. The biggest disadvantage for our family is the lack of a transportation system. Since she is too young to drive, it does mean transporting our daughter to and from school.
Now in her second year, she has been taking 3 or 4 classes per semester. Dual enrolled students attending brick-and-mortar schools follow guidelines set by the school. As a home education student, we, the parents, act as our daughter’s advisors and approve her curriculum. This allows us to loosely follow a standard high school curriculum, but not be bound by many standard requirements. Our focus is on courses that engage her interest and create a solid foundation for future work. For example, as a possible art major, she has been able to follow the advice from art schools to take as many college level art classes as possible. Rather than take the required Introduction to Literature class she took a literature class on graphic novels, which happens to be her focus in art. Not wanting to take the required Composition I and II courses, she took advantage of the CLEP test and received credit for both.
When I asked my daughter what she thought about home education and dual enrollment, she said, “I was apprehensive at first because I enjoyed most of my public school, and I wasn’t sure what to expect with homeschooling. Now that I’m in my fourth semester as a dual enrolled home education student at FSW, I think it’s been a really good decision. I’ve had so many opportunities that I never expected were available. Most importantly, I can make my own educational plan.”
In addition, she will already know the ins and outs of college classes wherever she goes from here.
So far, this plan has served her well. Of course, this route might not be right for everyone. It requires very active participation by parents and students, working together, in academic planning and logistics, often without much outside advice. It’s important, but not easy, to differentiate when you are talking to your student as their academic advisor and when you are talking to them as a parent. Understanding what a subsequent academic institution will look for in a non-traditional student is required in order to make course and activity choices now.
Ultimately, I think the combination of a dual enrollment and home education may be the secret weapon for those students wanting to control their future and go beyond the educational box.
Leigh Shein performs, directs and teaches improv to all ages including kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders. He previously consulted internationally and served in the Federal Government.