GREENFIELD — Parents are their child’s first teachers, or so the old adage goes. For 15-year-old home-schooled student Savannah Coe, whose home has been her classroom for most of her education, that has been doubly true.
However, on Aug. 5, with her parents’ blessing and a whole lot of courage, the Greenfield teen walked into a setting many her age take for granted — public school. Savannah enrolled as a sophomore at Eastern Hancock High School and is now being taught by someone other than her parents for the first time since early elementary school.
It’s the kind of transition students who have grown up in public school can’t quite understand, guidance counselors say, and one that can be both exciting and nerve-wracking for those whose educational experience is turned on its ear. But Savannah isn’t alone; every year, a handful of local students who started their education alongside their parents or home tutors make the shift to a public school system.
Greenfield-Central High School freshman Emma Miller and her sister, Rachel Miller, a senior, also are former home-schooled students entering public schools for the first time.
Like most teens, the girls were nervous about the first day of school. Savannah imagined the stares and snickers of the other kids should she accidentally drop her books and send her supplies scattering. Emma worried that no one would be nice to her.
But four weeks into the school year, things are going smoothly.
Finding a steppingstone
Parents opt to home-school for many reasons, said Christina Coe, Savannah’s mother.Coe felt strongly about providing an education with a Christian foundation, so she and her husband chose to home-school both Savannah and her younger sister, Zora, 7.Coe said Savannah, who has been home-schooled since third grade, had wanted to go to public school for the past couple of years. A typical teen, she wanted to be around her friends, and she didn’t want to be at home all the time.
“She’s very social,” Coe said.
So the Coes experimented with a trial run at Northpoint Christian School in Fishers, two days a week, for the 2014-15 school year. It was steppingstone of sorts, allowing Savannah to attend school outside her home but stopping short of enrolling her in a public school.
Coe had three conditions for Savannah to attend school: She had to keep her grades up; she had to exhibit good time management in getting her schoolwork done; and she had to make good choices.
And when it was smooth sailing for Savannah that first year, her mother relented: She could attend public school.
The Millers, too, transitioned into the public schools but did so through a home-school cooperative program.
Co-ops offer educational programming in a variety of ways, often by providing classroom instruction for home-school students who attend a few days a week while completing most of their classwork from home.
Finding the right fit
Finding a school that suits a child’s needs is a concern for any parent. Of the four high schools in the county Savannah could attend, Eastern Hancock rose to the top of the list. That’s where most of her friends attended.The Miller sisters live in Indianapolis but chose to enroll at Greenfield-Central because of family connections in the community.Rachel Miller, 18, attended two co-ops before transferring to Greenfield-Central; the decision on where to attend school was addressed on a year-to-year basis depending on what kind of classes she needed. She needed only a few credits this year to graduate, and she also wanted to graduate with honors. She said Greenfield-Central had the classes she needed. Emma followed in her sister’s footsteps.
Savannah liked Eastern because it’s the smallest of the four county high schools.
Eastern’s size — about 400 students — can be appealing for students transitioning from a more intimate educational setting to a public school, Principal David Pfaff said. The school also performs above the state average in the areas of standardized testing and graduation rates, he added.
“Eastern Hancock is the best of both worlds,” Pfaff said, “a small school without having to sacrifice quality.”
Savannah’s first-day adventures in public school included mastering the combination lock on her locker and navigating the winding hallways of the building, something her classmates had been doing for years.“I never used a locker before, but I got it after a couple of times,” Savannah said, which is “pretty good,” according to Pfaff.Lunchtime with dozens of her peers crowded around her in the school cafeteria was also a bit of a culture shock.
In short? It’s loud.
“But the food was OK,” she added.
The Miller girls faced new challenges, too. Emma had never heard of a seating chart, so in her first class, she sat down in the first seat she came to, only to be reassigned to another seat later in the period.
Her big sister gushed about having a locker.
“I never had a locker before,” she said, adding that she decorated the front on her birthday.
Getting involved at school has come naturally for the teens. Savannah plans to join Eastern’s FFA chapter and is eyeballing sports teams, perhaps basketball and softball.
Both Miller girls are involved in swimming. Emma is on the swim team, and her sister is the team manager. Emma also teaches swimming lessons after school.
Eastern Hancock guidance counselor Jenn Lightcap said the transition for home-schooled students into public school varies from student to student.
As far as finding where the student fits in academically, the district relies on transcripts, if they’re available, and parent input. If necessary, adjustments are made in the first few weeks for remediation if needed, or students are moved to Advanced Placement classes if their classwork proves too easy.
The social adjustment is also a factor in their success, Lightcap said.
“Some just click, and some just really struggle,” Lightcap said. “Either way, the student body is very welcoming, and it doesn’t make any difference where they come from.”
“The student body is very welcoming, and it doesn’t make any difference where they come from,”
Eastern Hancock guidance counselor Jenn Lightcap, on home-schooled students transitioning to public school