Every year, just before Labor Day, 5-year-olds around the country look forward to their first day of school.

But what if that first day comes when you’re 17?

Matthew Dean has been a homeschool student on the Key Peninsula all his life. For over a decade, he’s been educated in his own house, by his own parents, with just one classmate: his older sister, Marissa.

As a senior this year, Dean is enrolled in the Running Start program at Olympic College in Bremerton. Running Start provides free college courses designed to help high school juniors and seniors transition to college. It’s the first time Dean had been educated as part of a traditional class.

Dean’s parents, Michael and Sharron Dean, decided to homeschool their children because they were not satisfied with the quality of public education in the area. In addition, as devout Christians, they were eager to incorporate their religious beliefs into the curriculum.

U.S. Department of Education records indicate that, at a national level, the desire to provide religious instruction accounts for more than 75 percent of families’ decisions to homeschool their children. Although religious topics comprise a minority of Dean’s educational time, there was memorization of Bible verses, as well as “emphasis on religious historical events like the Reformation, and reading biographies of famous evangelists or missionaries,” Dean said.

For controversial topics such as evolution, Dean’s homeschool curriculum included study of what Christians believe, what biologists have discovered, and the ongoing debate between the two. “I understand the scientific reasoning, logic and evidence,” said Dean, “but as a Christian myself, I believe that God created the world.”

While Dean and other homeschool students appreciate the opportunity to study topics that are of particular interest to them, a trade-off is the lack of social opportunities.

Dean’s parents worked to counteract this, keeping up with a small cohort of homeschool friends Dean grew up with. “I’ve had a group of somewhere between eight to 16 friends that I’ve stuck with. People have come and gone over time, but I’m definitely part of a steady group of homeschoolers out here,” he said.

Adria Hanson is the director of the Homeschool Art Program through Two Waters Arts Alliance and homeschools her own children. Hanson said that between church and art groups, there are many opportunities for homeschooled students to socialize. Among her reasons for teaching her children at home is “the exposure to what is moral and good is not shunned or illegal,” Hanson said. “And there are no bullying problems.”

As the homeschool movement has grown, there are more parents who were educated at home themselves. While some choose to homeschool their own children, others decide against it. Greta Stenberg is a Key Peninsula resident who was homeschooled after eighth grade, but now sends her two children to local public schools.

“We chose to put our children into public schools because sciences, math and socialization with peers are neglected in homeschooling,” she said.

As he enters adulthood, Dean enjoys pursuing activities of interest to him, such as writing for the KP News.

“One thing that’s common to many homeschoolers is, despite any social awkwardness or disconnection they may have from their peers, they are more comfortable or at ease dealing with adults than your average kid,” Dean said.

Roxann Tallman, executive assistant to Peninsula School District’s Assistant Superintendent John Hellwich, said that although the district once offered a curriculum for homeschool students, that ended about a decade ago. The district still offers support to homeschool students who are not enrolled in a homeschool curriculum provided by a different school district. “They can come in any time for ancillary services, such as speech,” Tallman said.

Soon Dean’s achievement will be honored at a family-organized graduation ceremony at a local church. While there won’t be the crowds the public school ceremonies have, the exhilaration will be there all the same. Like those of graduates everywhere, plans vary. “Some go to college, some to Bible college, some to trade school,” Dean said.

“Take a very, very close look at all the pros and cons before you start,” said Dean. “Homeschooling can be an amazing opportunity or a horrible waste of time and effort; it all depends on who you are, what your situation is, and your goals for your child’s education.”

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