This week, thousands of Aiken County students strapped on their bookbags, grabbed their pencil boxes, kissed their guardians goodbye and headed off to their first day of school.
Some students, on the other hand, stayed behind.
Ryan Hoyle starts his morning at 7 a.m., and Julia Williams wakes at 8 a.m.
Hoyle plays a couple of games on his Playstation 3, while Williams eats breakfast.
The two have been homeschooled practically their whole lives.
Hoyle goes to school with his fifth-grade sister Breanna, while Williams studies independently.
There are many ways these students can learn, said Wendy Hoyle, Ryan’s mom and Aiken Area Home Educators president.
They can learn through traditional or modern means, like textbooks or by computer.
“It depends on the student,” Wendy said.
Tutors or outside instructors can be hired to teach the homeschoolers. Wendy has a woman with a degree in composition come to provide “another set of eyes” on Ryan’s and his sister’s papers. Williams’ dad Shane helps her with math and science, while her mom Jennifer teaches her everything else.
While students in a public school must sit in a designated classroom, homeschool students sit where they feel the most comfortable.
Ryan goes to a quiet room and works mainly with a computer. He said he learns best by “hearing it.”
Williams studies in her room or the house’s computer room and only uses a textbook with math.
People tend to think that if you are at home working or studying, you are just lying around in your pajamas watching TV, Jennifer said. While, yes, sometimes the students do wear their nightwear, their guardians have to prove their children are getting their required education.
Homeschooling is legal all around the U.S., according to advocacy organization Home School Legal Defense Association. There are three options guardians can take to legally homeschool in South Carolina.
One way is having your school district’s approval. Under this option, you must have at least a high school diploma, GED or baccalaureate degree; have an instructional year of 180 days made up of days that are at least 4½ hours and must keep records of your child’s work.
Ryan starts his learning around 8 a.m. and ends about 1 p.m., while Julia begins about 9 a.m., and stops around 1:30 p.m.
Students using this option are the only ones who have to take the annual statewide testing program and the Basic Skills Assessment Program.
Option two is to become a member of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. All one has to do is teach the required classes, have at least a high school diploma or GED and agree to a instructional year of 180 days.
Option three is to enroll in a homeschool association with at least 50 members, such as the Palmetto Independent Educators, an Aiken group the Williamses use. Those who follow this route must fulfill all of the requirements under option two, in addition to keeping records of their children’s work.
In traditional schools, students are given a select list of classes to choose from. With homeschool, these students have to learn at least the basic subjects: reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
However, an advantage of homeschooling is being able to design the curriculum more to the student, Wendy said. For example, if the student wants to major in pre-med in college, his teacher can layer on more biology-based courses.
Courses can “play heavily on their strengths and weaknesses,” Wendy said.
A student might be taken out of school to use homeschool as a way to catch up. He might just want to explore more of a certain area that the regular school system isn’t able to provide.
“I’m not anti-public school,” Wendy said. “It’s just they can only do so much.”
Homeschoolers do get a chance to interact with other students, both from public school and from homeschool. Ryan has friends from his church, while Julia plays with a soccer team at The Family Y in Aiken.
Local organizations also offer chances for them to mingle. Aiken Center for the Arts offers classes for homeschool students to learn mediums like mosaics and mixed media, while the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken holds programs in the spring.
Ryan said he is also developing a video game with some friends, while Julia likes to read in her spare time.
When it’s all said and done and the students finally reach the 12th grade, they graduate, just as if they were in public school.
In May, 13 homeschooled seniors gathered in the River of Life Church. After the ceremony, they emerged as graduates.
Wendy’s oldest son, Jonathon, was one of those alumni.
To read more about the laws of homeschool, visit www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp?State=SC.
Those who would like more information on homeschooling can call Wendy at 803-593-3991.
Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard.