My daughter, Joy, is finishing her junior year of high school. Yes—just one more yea,r and I’ll be done. I laugh because, as parents, we know we are never done. We just accompany our daughter to the next fork in the road—college or some sort of vocational training where she can learn a skill that will help her to—well, pay bills.
While I can’t say it’s been an easy transition from homeschooling to public high school, it was the right decision for my family.
To give a bit of background, my oldest daughter is twenty-four, and my youngest, Joy, is sixteen. I adopted both of them from Asia as a single mother by choice. My oldest one arrived from Nepal when she was three, and I adopted Joy from Vietnam when she was fourteen months. I homeschooled my oldest one from third grade all the way through two years of high school when she then enrolled at a community college as a high school junior. She graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and now has a well-paying job in a related field.
I homeschooled Joy beginning with kindergarten. At the end of that year, she scored in the top ten percent of all kindergarteners around the country, but she was a reluctant learner—at least when it came to me being her teacher. She loved me as a mom but not as her favorite teacher. After one year, I didn’t have the emotional energy to continue homeschooling her, so I put her in private school for three years.
2005 art, Joy’s favorite subject
By the end of the third grade, she was testing at the fiftieth percentile, and I was $15,000 poorer. Joy was a gifted learner and had been at the top of the charts after I homeschooled her in kindergarten. I pulled her out of private school and homeschooled her from fourth grade through ninth grade, although the eighth and ninth grades were a homeschool-private school combination. In other words, she was homeschooled two days a week and in private school three days a week.
When Joy entered the tenth grade, I enrolled her in a large public high school with over 2,000 students—quite a change from homeschooling. Even at the private school she went to three days a week, she only had about ten kids in her classes.
I experienced much trepidation putting Joy into public high school. I thought about all the things she would encounter. I worried about the students she would meet and if she could make friends; if she would be able to succeed, and if the change would be overwhelming. She had never been in public school, and I agonized over it her entire ninth-grade year before finally making the decision to enroll her in public high school.
To be transparent, I never felt as if I was that successful homeschooling Joy, at least not like I was with my oldest one. While both of them scored in the top seventieth percentile or higher every year, Joy didn’t like being homeschooled. She didn’t want to do the work for me, and I didn’t have the time to supervise her as I needed to, especially when she hit middle school.
God showed me she needed to be accountable to someone else. I was too soft. I valued our relationship more than constantly fighting over unfinished work or the occasional issue of “cheating.”
When we went to the homeschool-private school environment, even though teachers expected more, they were also too lax. It was a Christian school, and while I appreciated the Christian influence and grace, I knew it wasn’t what Joy needed. She needed to learn the importance of accountability—the real world is tough. In public high school, teachers expect your assignments to be turned in on time. If you don’t do them, they don’t listen to your excuses. In college, you need to study hard even if you don’t attend a class every day. As an adult, your boss expects you to do your job. One season of life builds upon another.
If you get the picture I am painting, you can imagine what that first semester was like when Joy entered tenth grade. On the positive side, she immediately made good choices in friends. I am thankful for God’s protection in that area. She stuck to the straight and narrow path and navigated through the social waters unscathed. I pray that will continue through her senior year.
As an aside, Joy was a competitive gymnast for over ten years and switched to competitive cheer when she entered eleventh grade—so she was busy. In her first year in public high school, she did not participate in a sport. I wanted her to focus on getting good grades
Joy’s grades that first semester were—well, not good. I will spare you the details, but the only “A’s” she received were in P.E. and art.
As painful as this was to me, my philosophy was this: Sometimes, kids need to fail before they realize they want to succeed. Most kids, if given the choice, would rather succeed than fail. As parents, we need to make sure they have a choice. We don’t want to set them up for failure, but neither should we ensure success if they haven’t earned it.
Kids and teens need to learn the value of hard work. Once Joy failed a class, she realized that failure was an option, and it wasn’t an option she wanted. She didn’t like it. That first year in public high school was hard—but she never complained, and I never made excuses for her.
The eleventh grade has been much better. She is making A’s and B’s in all her classes, even taking AP classes, and doing well. She has learned how to study. Sometimes we have to make the tough choices we don’t want to make to teach our children life lessons they won’t learn any other way. In Joy’s case, public school was the best choice.
Joy in her cheerleading outfit with a good friend
Our public high school isn’t perfect, but I know Joy is receiving an excellent education. I did insist she enroll in honors, pre-AP or AP classes. I wouldn’t allow her to be placed in classes with students who didn’t want to learn. As a parent, you have more input than you might realize on what classes your child takes. You know what is best for your child, particularly if you have been a homeschooling parent.
I also insisted that Joy take electives she would enjoy. She took art in tenth grade, photography this year, and will take pottery her senior year. High school is one of the last opportunities to indulge in cultured learning. The arts, in my opinion, are underrated. If you look at the richest civilizations in history, their culture has touched our society—what nation would we be if it were not for the amazing influence of Egypt, Greece, and Rome on our language, music, and arts? In college, classes tend to focus on career goals, unless you major in art, and most parents prefer educational pursuits that will ensure a well-paying job when their child graduates.
If you are debating whether to put your child in public school after homeschooling, particularly high school, ask yourself these questions: Do I trust that my child can make wise choices? Can my child handle peer pressure and bullying? Can my child deal with alternative lifestyles and kids who embrace different values? Will my child hold on to the morals I have spent years instilling in her, and can she shoulder the responsibility that comes with being in public school? Is my child able to make friends? Is she insecure or confident in her abilities?
If you feel like your teen can navigate the social waters of public high school, then I would ask, can my child receive a better education in public high school than if I homeschool her?
This is a tough question, but it’s an important one. High school is the stepping stone to college. If your child does not master the core subjects in high school, college will be difficult. Knowing Joy’s poor study habits, I knew she would not succeed in college unless someone toughened her up, and I knew it wouldn’t be me.
If your child is doing well homeschooled, working hard, and making good grades, I wouldn’t pull her out to enroll her in public high school. If something is working, don’t fix it. Many teens, including my first one, are able to go from homeschooling directly into college. It can be done, and many homeschooling students do it successfully every year.
11th grade Joy’s art, anatomy
Assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask your teen what he or she wants to do. A happy teen is easier to live with than a discontented teen. If you discover after a couple of months public high school isn’t working or vice versa, it doesn’t mean you failed. You simply make the adjustment. Life goes on. In the end, it will be only a small blip in the educational journey of your child.
I used to say, “The worst day of homeschooling is better than the best day in public school.” Mostly I remember the good days, and there were many of them. One year may be great, and the next, not so much. Life happens. Children change as they mature, and despite other things that may become a distraction, parents need to continue to provide an environment conducive to learning at home. It’s good to reassess each year where you stand on these important issues.
As a Christian, I found myself in bed many nights, exhausted, asking God for wisdom and guidance. Homeschooling was one of the hardest things I ever did but also one of the most rewarding, but there came a time when God clearly said to me, “It’s time to let go. Joy needs to go to public school so she can learn things you can’t teach her. You can trust me.”
If you would like more information, I would encourage you to check out Kids in the House. I homeschooled before the invention of the internet, and sites like this one would have been very helpful when I was seeking answers to these difficult questions. Read and learn as much as you can, whether you are new to homeschooling or a seasoned homeschooling family. When it comes to high school, check out all of your options and ask God for wisdom. He will guide you to make the right decision for you and your family.