Homeschoolers join in on pomp, circumstance
EASTON — “Pomp and Circumstance” played softly from computer speakers hooked up to an iPod. Caps, gowns, and tassels were purchased on Amazon. Diplomas, also ordered online, were signed by parents.
It was a homemade graduation for six homeschooled students Friday evening in the garden behind the public library. With more than 7,000 students enrolled in homeschool programs in Massachusetts — a 20 percent jump since 2010 — such scenes are becoming more commonplace.
While the ceremonies may lack the whistles and bells of traditional high school commencements, they provide personalized send-offs for students who may have missed out on other time-honored school rites.
At Friday’s ceremony, students welcomed the chance to celebrate their achievement.
“I feel very official,” Yousuf Sander said as a tassel festooned with a gold-colored 2016 emblem dangled in front of his eyes.
“I guess it’s legitimate,” Jackson O’Brien said as he slipped a blue robe over his checkered shirt, dark slacks, charcoal vest, and black low-cut Chuck Taylor sneakers.
While no formal rite is required when students complete their studies, many homeschool cooperatives and organizations have embraced all kinds of events to mark graduation.
Last Saturday, 57 students attended a commencement in Holden held by the Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parent Educators, a Christian nonprofit that advises parents of homeschoolers.
In Newton, Janet Yeracaris threw a party Sunday for her son, Taylor, whom she began to homeschool in the first grade. There was no formal graduation ceremony or diploma. Instead, about 90 people took part in a “free-form talking period” where friends and relatives congratulated Taylor, who is bound for Carleton College in the fall.
Like many other homeschoolers, Taylor has spent little time at home in recent years, taking most of his courses at the Harvard Extension School, while also learning Japanese.
For Yeracaris, who believes children are more focused about learning when given choices to discover their own passion, the party was an opportunity to honor her son’s milestone while introducing him to a slice of Americana.
“He hasn’t had any rituals, any things that mark the passage of time or accomplishments, so it was important to me to do something,” she said.
Nationally, there are 2.3 million home-educated students, up from 2 million children since 2010, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. The students, many of whom have been homeschooled since they were 5, are part of a community that traces its roots to the 1800s, before public schools were common.
Massachusetts has few regulations regarding homeschool education. Parents are required to submit an annual curriculum for approval to their town or city’s school superintendent, and students must complete at least 900 hours each academic year of instruction.
Homeschoolers aren’t required to take state assessment tests such as the MCAS. But in June, they are asked to submit samples of their schoolwork or test scores to the local district.
During their elementary school years, local students typically combine textbook learning with field trips to such historical sites as the Freedom Trail and Plimoth Plantation. Many also attend programs designed for homeschoolers at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, and the New England Aquarium while also enrolling in homeschool co-ops where parents volunteer and teach everything from robotics and calculus to Advanced Placement courses in science and history.
By the time they reach high school age, many of the students enroll at local universities, earning college credits while also still attending co-op classes in living rooms and rented office spaces.
At the graduation, all the hard work was behind them. It was a time for reflection, laughter, and some tears.
When Jackson O’Brien mentioned his parents in his speech he began to choke up, and hugs lingered when the names of students were read aloud.
One by one, parents were called up to the lecturn to hand out diplomas to their children. They were part of Let Imagination Fuel Education, a South Shore-based learning co-op, which has offered classes every Monday.
Two of the graduates are Eagle Scouts; one designed clothes for a TV reality show last year; others are musicians, actors, and self-described robotics nerds. All are planning to attend college.
“I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that if you embrace the challenge of life, it will change what can be a futile struggle to obtain what is commonly referred to as success, to an odyssey as winding as any story in a book or movie,” Justin Conner, one of the class speakers, told the audience. Conner, who earned a four-year scholarship to George Washington University, hopes to become a naval officer.
After the 30-minute ceremony — and performances by homeschooled siblings who sang Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” — the graduates stood and exited, waving to the 70 friends and relatives who applauded.
As well-wishers snacked on vegetarian wraps, sipped soda, and relaxed in Adirondack chairs while the Beatles and Bob Dylan played on the iPod, graduates said the event served as proof that they are not too different from their public school friends.
“Usually we have the same attitude about work,” said Conner, who lives in Kingston. “The only thing is we’re just in a different pool. We’re a fish in a different pond.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Taylor Yeracaris, a homeschooled student from Newton.