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Homeschooling class of 2017

First slide

The clang of the school bell, long tiled hallways and rows of desks — though all schools are different, these familiar hallmarks are something they share. That is, of course, unless you’re home-schooled.

Though they learn calculus in the comfort of their own homes, many home-schoolers still participate in activities emblematic of the American high school experience, such as dancing the night away at prom and walking across a stage to receive a well-deserved diploma. But with or without these traditions, they enjoy advantages not at brick-and-mortar institutions.

As a military dependent, moving is a part of life for Gaby Bridon, a senior and parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ridge. As a result, she has attended every type of school: public, Catholic and even an on-base school in Germany. When her family was transferred from Texas to Virginia last year, she and her brother gave home-schooling a try. Bridon found she loved it.

Back at her academically rigorous Catholic school in Texas, she would spend the day in class, go to volleyball practice in the evening and be up until 1 a.m. finishing her homework for the next day. This year, she spent school time in her pajamas, attending online classes through the Queen of Heaven Academy. Much of her extra free time was spent with her family.

“This senior year experience was probably much better than if I had stayed at that school because I wouldn’t have had enough time with my parents,” said Bridon. It’s time she treasures knowing she’ll leave for college next year. “(My family likes to) play a lot of board games and sit on our porch. In Texas, it's super humid, but here it’s perfect weather.”

Bridon’s flexible schedule also let her explore career options. After completing Red Cross certification, she shadowed an emergency room doctor and hopes next year to major in biology and pre-med at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The self-proclaimed “talkative” senior had to adjust to not socializing during school hours but she was able to make friends through local home-schooling groups. Recently, she attended a home-schooling prom and in a few weeks, she’ll attend a graduation ceremony with nine other home-schoolers at Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville.

Perhaps most importantly, the former varsity star was able to play volleyball on a home-schooling team. “It was their first year as a team and I was the only person who had ever played volleyball before, but we worked really hard and won the championship,” said Bridon. “It was an awesome experience.”

Dominic McFadden, one of 11 children and a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, is the first child in his family to attend an official graduation ceremony, which will be hosted by his curriculum program Seton Home Study School. As with Bridon, he’s excited for official recognition of the end of his high school career.

For many years, McFadden didn’t want to be home-schooled, but he’s come to see its benefits.

“It gives you a lot of time to get to know yourself,” he said. “You get to know how you learn, what you’re good at.” It’s also given him free time to pray more, read, learn different instruments and fix things around the house.

But when it’s school time, he’s focused on learning. His family has a set start time for school and they all wear formal attire, “so it feels like you're doing something with your life,” he joked. This year he moved to his own room for a quieter learning environment, but he still pops down to the family classroom when he has a question. If his mom doesn’t know the answer, he’ll chat with a Seton counselor.

Home-schooler Richard Gillespie, also from St. John the Baptist, used Seton Home Study School and took classes at community college, which gave him access to resources he didn’t have at home, such as chemistry lab equipment. Next year, he will attend George Mason University in Fairfax and hopes to major in bioengineering.

As with McFadden and Bridon, Gillespie put his unconventional senior schedule to good use, spending his Thursday mornings boxing food for Loaves and Fishes, a local Catholic food pantry. He has made friends through a number of homeschooling and youth groups, including St. John Drama Club, a youth theater program. “I‘ve done crew, played Captain Hook and the Sheriff of Nottingham. I might be typecast,” he said.

Overall, Gillespie has enjoyed his home-schooling experience. “I don't know everyone's situation but I certainly think I was my best (self) homeschooling,” he said, and then paused. “I guess I can speak in past tense now —  I have exactly five pages left to do and I’m done with 12 years of schooling.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017