For the first time, one of my kids has started school. Granted, he’s sixteen and more than ready for this. Still, it feels like a big step.

Growing up, H was always happy with his status as a homeschooler. He’s a very stubborn willful independent-minded kid, and he liked how homeschooling gave him the freedom to make his own choices. He abhorred the idea of a teacher telling him what to do all day. So when he came to me one morning last November and said he wanted to go to high school, I felt I’d had the wind knocked out of me. I just didn’t see it coming.

But H had a lot of reasons that made sense. He didn’t want to go straight to college from homeschooling. He didn’t want to take community college courses, as many of his homeschooling friends have; he wanted to take classes with kids his own age. He wanted to be part of a community of kids, a big community of kids. Our homeschooling support group and his filmmaking workshop weren’t enough for him anymore.

Just weeks before, I’d read these two posts about what teenagers need on Brave Writer’s blog. When I read them, I had no idea how much they’d help me later. I went through a short time of mourning, in a way, for the time I thought we had left together. Then I turned my focus to H’s needs and we got busy.

We set about considering schools, visiting schools, making a transcript, applying. A huge process. In the end, there was only one school that H wanted to attend, a Catholic high school. It’s more resourced than the local public schools; less hardcore-academic than other local private schools. In April he was accepted as a junior transfer.

The school seems like a good fit for H. He was able to get into some advanced courses in the areas he’s especially interested in: English and history. And last week, when I met the Vice Principal of Academics at a parent transfer dinner, she asked about H’s interests. When I described what he’s been doing with filmmaking, she immediately started considering how to adapt his schedule. She made an arrangement with the Computer Arts teacher for H to be instructed independently, so he can work at a more advanced level. I’m impressed to see an administrator take that level of interest in a student, right from the start. (I guess all that tuition we’re paying is good for something…)

Most of my homeschooling friends have been supportive of H’s decision. But a few have (unintentionally, I’m sure) conveyed a slight whiff of disapproval, a subtle sense that we have somehow failed, that if we did things differently, H would still want to homeschool.

I don’t think so. One of my main reasons for homeschooling was that I wanted my kids’ learning to be meaningful to them; I wanted them to decide how they wanted to learn. And H has always had strong opinions on these matters, that’s for sure. His decision to go to school is just one more refinement of his understanding of how he learns best. He’s chosen a path different from those of his friends. That’s taken courage and confidence. I’m glad homeschooling gave those qualities to him.

If you’d asked me last November, after H made his announcement to me, I would have been sure this first week of school would be a sad one for me. But you know what? I’m not sad. Instead, I’m excited. Excited to see H excited. Excited to see him when he comes home from school, eager to share what he’s learning. (I always hear that school kids don’t want to talk to their parents about school, but so far H does.) And I’m excited to see that he’s happy, which he wasn’t so much last year.

Plus, I know the truth: H will always be a homeschooler at heart.

(I took a photo of him walking to the bus with a backpack that made him look like he was off for a five-day trip in the mountains. He didn’t want me to share it here though. It’s a special one, just for me.)

5 comments… add one
  • stefaneener Aug 26, 2008 @ 13:49

    It’s another lovely step in the journey. You can frame the photo under a “first day of school!” memo, like my neighbors are doing with their kindergarteners.

  • suzee Aug 27, 2008 @ 13:40

    I always seem to read blog posts that make me weepy when I’m in public, and you got me! I’m in the library…

    Your experience, thoughts, and feelings mirror mine. I cried a lot the spring before Annie went to school, but by September I was more excited for her than she was for herself. And it’s been the best decision she could possibly have made, just as homeschooling my kids was the best decision I could possibly have made for them. Maybe because Annie shares that, er, independent streak with H, a larger pond gives her room to grow and be a leader, and also (ahem) develop a little humility about knowing everything all the time.

    Can’t wait to hear all the stories.

  • Jennifer Aug 28, 2008 @ 21:10

    I loved this post … it was so beautifully written and I could relate to so much of it … the feelings about change, the mourning, the excitement. I’m so glad that the school seems like a good fit for H. I’m really interested in how things go for him, because we are interested in that school too.

  • patricia Aug 29, 2008 @ 7:17

    Thank you, my friends. I know just who to go to when I need advice from People Who Have Been There. This line of Susan’s resonates with me: “And it’s been the best decision she could possibly have made, just as homeschooling my kids was the best decision I could possibly have made for them.”

    Wow. We’re at that point in the relay too, and H has taken the baton. I did all I could to help him get to this point; now it’s his turn. It’s exciting and scary and a little sad too, to see him race off.

  • Emily Cotler Aug 31, 2008 @ 8:20

    Ah Tricia, think of it as transition for you. If he had waited another two years and gone off to Princeton or Reed or something he would have had far more than just a backpack, and he wouldn’t have been home until Christmas.

    But I like the baton transfer image. It’s a good one.

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