WASHINGTON – Sophia Sakers just started first grade, but the Baltimore 5-year-old did not go back-to-school shopping with her mother this fall. She did not return to a classroom full of peers and she did not ride a school bus — although she would like to.
“I pretended (I was) riding the school bus once,” Sophia said. “But I didn’t go anywhere.”
For many of Maryland’s 19,000 home-schooled students, like Sophia, going to school does not require going anywhere but the kitchen table. For them, learning is a yearlong process that’s not interrupted by an eight-week-long vacation.
That means missing out on back-to-school rituals — like hunting for a new backpack.
“We don’t feel that same urge that other people feel,” said Sophia’s mother, Charlotta Sakers, about the late-August shopping frenzy. “We can do that anytime we want to.”
About 2 million children learn at home nationwide, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. The Maryland State Department of Education reported that 19,423 students were home-schooled during the 2001-2002 school year, the latest statistics available.
By comparison, there were 866,743 children in Maryland’s 24 public school systems during the 2002-2003 school year.
Sakers said her family tries to keep their schooling “a little bit in synch with the school year because it makes it easier to do extracurricular activities.”
But Heather Gorden, who teaches her 16-, 14- and 8-year-old children in her New Windsor home, said each family’s home-schooling schedule differs.
“I couldn’t tell you what the first day of school was for the public schools,” Gorden said. “Our life is not run by that schedule.”
Gorden said grade designation is not as important for home-schoolers, for example, as it is for public school pupils. Home-schoolers learn year-round and at their own pace — although many said that pace slows down in the summer.
“We kind of switch gears (in summer). I still call it school, but we also might call it gardening and landscaping,” Gorden said.
Others may work straight through the summer. But something all home-schooling families share is that the events they look forward to are not tied into a school calendar, parents say.
Dave Smith, deputy director of the Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators, said that means that the equivalent of the first day of school for many home-schooled students might be a trip to Annapolis or a fall picnic with others.
He said Cedar Brook Academy, an “umbrella school” in Clarksburg that combines home-based instruction with private education, is organizing a picnic for home-schooling students.
They plan to travel to a park in a yellow school bus.
“This is your opportunity, go buy a lunchbox,” Smith said. “A lot of home-school kids . . . are looking forward to the same kind of things. Just in a different way.”