Homeschoolers blaze campus trail

Transition: Many of these students are getting a head start to a four-year school through community college.

April 22, 2001|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Chara Bauer, 17, is never sure what to answer when someone asks what grade she's attending at school.

"I usually ask them if they want to know about high school or college," she said. "Then I say that I'm a senior in high school, and I'm finishing up my sophomore year of college."

The Baltimore resident is one of a small but growing number of high-school-age homeschoolers who are finding a second home on the campuses of community colleges across Maryland.

They're completing high school courses such as chemistry and calculus that might be difficult to study at home. They're testing their mettle in a classroom setting. And at the same time, they're earning credits that will give them a head start on college.

"They're amazing kids," said Vikki Whitmore, coordinator of enrollment development for the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, where Bauer has been taking classes since she was 15. "All of the homeschoolers we have on campus are exceedingly strong academically. They're ready for college-level work."

Bauer decided to take the placement test at Dundalk after she completed Algebra II with her mother at home and felt she needed outside help to continue with her math studies.

"The only problem with homeschooling is that when you want to take classes that your parent cannot teach to you, you have to find someone who can," she said.

Her score on the placement test indicated her readiness for college classes. So she signed up for college algebra, as well as history, English, music and painting.

"I really like homeschooling," Bauer said. "It was so right for me. But learning with other people is really cool. They have such interesting opinions that it really gives you a new outlook."

She has enrolled at the college for four semesters since then. And when she graduates from high school next month, she will have 61 college credits. She plans to attend Eastern College in St. Davids, Pa., in the fall.

"I know it's strange to be going to college and taking tons of courses - and still saying that I'm homeschooled," Bauer said. "But what I'm doing is not the traditional way. I like where I am now, and I wouldn't be here if I hadn't homeschooled."

Homeschoolers are relatively new arrivals on community college campuses in Maryland.

At Dundalk, administrators started taking note of them in 1998, said Whitmore, and their numbers have grown to about a dozen. Most are 16 or 17 and in their junior or senior year of high school at home.

Other community colleges around the state report similar statistics. Montgomery College, which has three community college campuses in Montgomery County, has about two dozen homeschoolers, said Sherman Helberg, director of records and registrations.

"There's been an increase in the number of homeschoolers using community colleges to help them complete high school requirements, but the numbers are still very small," Helberg said.

Homeschooled students often turn to community colleges for access to facilities such as art studios and science laboratories.

"There is such a variety of courses that students can take to keep them interested and challenged," said Jim Quigg, counselor and coordinator of academic advising at Harford Community College, where about 15 or 20 homeschoolers are enrolled.

Harford has a few noncredit classes during school hours that specifically target homeschoolers, including Spanish, creative writing, dance and art.

Some homeschooled students take community college courses to accelerate their studies or demonstrate their competitiveness and readiness for a four-year college.

"In some cases, students are coming to fill in the gaps in their high school education," said Daniel Bock, assistant director of enrollment services for Hagerstown Community College. "In other cases, this is an opportunity for them to begin college early."

Dominic Markwordt, 17 and a homeschooled high school junior, has been taking honors classes on the Dundalk and Essex campuses of CCBC since he was 15.

"I feel more like a college student," said Markwordt, who takes government lessons at home. "I had learned all of the basics at home, and I needed to fine-tune my writing skills. The only place to do it was at the community college."

He has taken classes in English, an introduction to computers, college algebra, precalculus, history, calculus and chemistry.

"If you get ... credit for a class, you don't have to take it again in college," he said.

There are financial advantages as well: At the Dundalk campus, high school juniors and seniors who are Baltimore County residents pay $34 a credit - half the price of tuition for students who are high school graduates. The cost at Montgomery College is $74 a credit.

And as more homeschoolers finish their high school studies at a younger age, community colleges have become a place to grow and mature before heading to a large university.

"Community colleges serve well as a transition step for these students," said Steve Simon, director of communications for Montgomery College.

Michelle Clarke, 19, completed two years at Montgomery College before transferring to the Johns Hopkins University, where she is a junior majoring in engineering mechanics.

"It would have been very hard for me to chart and show my work from homeschooling," said Clarke, who was homeschooled through her junior year of high school, skipped her senior year and enrolled at Montgomery College.

"But Hopkins was looking at what I did at Montgomery College. I kept a 4.0 and had lots of extracurricular activities. This path made it a lot easier for me."

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