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— Once upon a time, a "plain" girl lived a "regular" life in a "normal" town. She began listening to Danzig, dyed her hair black, and stopped wearing pink. That girl was - and still is - me.

After making these changes in style, I became known as the "weirdo devil-worshiper." With such a negative attitude directed toward me, it became difficult to concentrate in school. Instead of conforming, I decided (with assistance from my guidance counselor and my mother) that being taught at home would be a better idea. (Eat your heart out, Lemon Grove!)

That was two and a half years ago. I was 12 years old, in the seventh grade. This fall, I begin my sophomore year of high school home education. The workload is much larger in high school than it was in middle school. But there is also less room for creativity.

In English class in the seventh and eighth grades, I would read a book, write an essay on it, and get a grade. I was able to pick and choose books (along with my mother) that I considered appropriate for my reading level. In high school, there are "required reads." Having signed up for Honors English, my mother and I were surprised and disappointed to discover that "Honors" classes, rather than being more challenging, creative, or stimulating, consisted of the same curriculum as all ninth grade English classes, but with the additional requirement of one "core" novel (from a list pre-approved by the district), one "noncore" novel (subject to parent/student selection), and one essay. Who would have figured this "Ninth Grade Core Reading List" would include titles like Dragonsong, Tom Sawyer (which I read in the sixth grade), The Odyssey (read in the seventh), and The Red Pony? Thanks to my wonderful AP English teacher, this problem was solved - she understood my disdain for the list and let me read more challenging books instead, -such as A Clockwork Orange.

I believe her allowing me access to the expanded reading list (some texts are required for 11th and 12th graders) had a lot to do with my choosing The Odyssey for my "culminating project," a book I'd already read. For my "compare/contrast" essay, I used Valmiki's Ramayana and examined the similarities and differences between the two tales of exile and homecoming.

My teacher praised me for the "difficulty" of the project. She was also impressed with my first semester vocabulary project, in which the student chooses unfamiliar words from at least three core novels, notes the page number the word occurred on, writes a dictionary definition, gives three or four synonyms, then uses the word in an original sentence. The idea is to promote vocabulary development and to ensure that the student understands the word, rather than just parroting a dictionary definition - some of which can be more confusing and misleading than just figuring out the meaning through context.

"You chose hard words!" she wrote on my finished project. True - although I did know a few of the words already but was hard-pressed to come up with 30 unfamiliar words from the less than challenging books on the core list.

Another downer about the program is, although you have holidays off, a lot of students have to work over their vacation time because the pace is so fast. This isn't just "sour grapes" complaining: students and parents are told that "holidays" are an ideal time to "catch-up" on work that's difficult to complete "on time" without a lot of "overtime."

Can you ever remember completing an entire textbook in class? I can't; neither can my mother, nor anyone else I've spoken with. In this program, the students are expected to plow through chapters at street-luge speed. My mother/tutor was not happy with the pace; she felt comprehension, understanding, and retention of the material would suffer with completion being emphasized over quality of learning. When we discussed this with some of the teachers, several of them agreed, but they don't set the curriculum; that's up to the district. Most of them do not work at the same pace when teaching at traditional high schools. I do feel these disadvantages are minor setbacks when compared to the versatility and freedom allowed with homeschooling.

Some other good points: The friendly "office ladies" who hand you your chapter tests and your grades with a smile when the people at the district have forgotten to mail them to you. I also appreciate the program coordinator, a regal blond woman with an organized, "take-charge" attitude. She's a bit intimidating until you prove your mettle. She's the person who approves or disapproves a student's fitness for home study. What would the program be without the teachers from various districts coming together to give students the same education as students who attend a regular school? All these people work hard to make Grossmont Union High's district homeschooling program the wonderful alternative that it is.

Being educated at home is very similar to attending school. You work for a number of hours every day and have weekends and holidays off (sort of). You go someplace to turn in "homework" every week; you meet and talk to your teachers each month. Tests, including chapter, unit, and/or final exams, are always taken at the office in the cramped test room, to rule out the possibility of cheating.

Time spent traveling to and from the office, plus test-taking and teacher meetings, takes up a huge block of time. Because we don't have a car, my mother and I take the bus and trolley. "Office days" are often a total write-off timewise, and I'm forced to play catch-up the next day for the work I could not complete (six hours on the bus to travel six miles).

But the biggest difference is that instead of sitting in a classroom with someone kicking the back of your chair while you try to grasp the concept of osmosis, I can sit at my desk and jam to Type O Negative while learning about the human reproductive systems.

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