My life as a homeschooling parent has been a mix of self-assuredness and self-doubt. I know what my kids should be learning and I know how to do it... but, in the end, I worry that perhaps I haven't taught them enough or taught them properly or that even if I have done my job right, not everyone will accept our homemade diplomas and transcripts.
My kids suffer the same mix of worries. They say, "Mom expects us to do everything perfectly," or, "Mom wants me to do everything." They also doubt their abilities. When I compliment Kira on her ability to decipher Japanese pattern books well enough to create doll clothing, she tells me that she doesn't really know Japanese. (She remains firm in this belief, even though she understands enough to read Japanese fairy tales, sing along to Japanese music, and watch Japanese television shows.)
None of these things were an issue until my kids reached high-school age. We weren't just keeping records for our school district and ourselves any more. Now potential colleges and employers would someday scrutinize those transcripts. What would they think? Would they believe them? What if I had grossly over- or underestimated something? I also spent an inordinate amount of time fretting about what would happen if the house caught fire and destroyed the portfolio and documents that I kept for each of my children showing proof of their learning.
Our tranquil homeschool life suffered as I worried about these issues. Kira took correspondence courses and community college courses for things that she already knew just to validate that fact with "real" credit. About the only good thing that came out of that was that she realized that she did indeed know some things.
We considered going with canned curriculum through a correspondence school, but the single textbook per class approach doesn't work well for our family. I like using a mix of Saxon, Jacobs, and a variety of other textbooks to explain a single concept in math and we all prefer studying primary resources to reading history textbooks. Strict adherence to a single curriculum seemed to defeat our family's reasons for homeschooling in the first place.
I heard about NARS from other homeschoolers. The North Atlantic Regional School, often seen as "NARHS" for North Atlantic Regional High School, offers to let you "Use YOUR materials in YOUR way and still earn high school credits towards a real high school diploma."
How Does It Work?
NARHS evaluates what you have done, using your criteria. They will work with you to create a transcript of your work and when you fulfill the state of Maine's requirements, they will issue you a high school diploma. (You fulfill Maine's state requirements because the school is based in Maine.) They keep copies of your records so that when you need an official transcript, they can issue it.
Two big advantages of a Maine diploma are (1) only 17.5 credits are required (other states require up to 24) and (2) Maine does not require high school exit exams, unlike many other states. The third big advantage is that NARHS provides a totally accredited diploma and a transcript that legally works exactly as if your child had graduated from a "regular" private school.
NARHS is not a correspondence school. They do not offer any curriculum. They basically provide accountability and accreditation to the curriculum you design, provided you follow their procedures.
What You Get When You Sign Up
When you sign up with NARHS, you receive the following:
- The Daily Logbook, which provides you with a place to record fifty-two weeks of daily activities.
- The High School Handbook (also available free for download from www.narhs.org/node/49) filled with general information about their services.
- The High School Resource Advisor that contains curriculum information, grading tools, guidelines, forms, and advice.
You're assigned a teacher who is responsible for evaluating your portfolio for credit and who can provide you with valuable advice and help in putting your portfolio together.
We like that we have dealt with the same teacher throughout our time at NARS. She is familiar with us and is able to note progress from year to year. Our children appreciate her comments on how much improvement she sees in their work because they know she doesn't have our parental bias.
What Does NARHS Consider a Course?
As far as NARHS is concerned, your coursework falls into the following three categories:
Accredited transfer credit. If you have taken a class from an accredited program and are issued a grade, then this is a transcripted class, and the grade and the credit are automatically transferred to your NARHS transcript. If you take a community college or college course, you'll typically receive one high-school credit for it. If you take a course from an accredited high-school program-such as James Madison, Keystone, or American School-you receive as many credits as the accredited program assigns for your course. Grades and credits are not weighed differently for advanced or honors classes.
Textbook classes. For textbook classes, you earn credit for the course if you can either show that you have done every exercise in a textbook or all of the tests that go with it. This means that you can skip doing all of the assignments by simply taking the tests. On the other hand, you must take all of the tests in order to get the entire credit. Kira was one test shy of receiving a half-credit for work done in a Saxon book, so she earned only one-quarter credit. The following year, she took another test and was able to claim another quarter credit.
Included in the items you will receive upon enrolling in NARHS is the High School Resource Advisor book. It lists many of the curricula homeschoolers use most and shows how NAHRS assigns credit to each. For instance, Saxon Algebra I and Algebra II each qualify for a single math credit, but when you have completed both, NARHS will also award a half-credit in Plane Geometry in recognition of the geometry that is embedded throughout the two Saxon books.
Self-designed classes. Any other sort of class is considered a self-designed class and requires a bit more documentation on your part, which I'll explain in a bit.
What Do You Send NARHS?
At NARHS, the school year runs from September 1 through August 31, although you can run yours on whatever schedule works best. Sometime before December 31 (to avoid the late fee), you're expected to send in the following:
- Portfolio Evidence
- Daily Log Book
- Homeschool Transcript
- Summary Sheet
- A check for return postage of what you have sent.
Of the above, the portfolio evidence is the most important, because it proves that you did what your log book, summary, and transcript say you did. The most obvious form of that evidence would be the tests and exercises that you completed, but such evidence can also include photographs, dated receipts, letters from teachers, employers, coaches, etc.
Portfolio evidence requires common sense. For instance, to show that you practiced guitar, a photo of yourself holding the guitar is not proof that you actually played it. If you simply send in an audiocassette, that still doesn't show that you played it. In this case, either a letter from a music teacher or a video showing you play it would work.
The summary sheet lists each course with a very short summary of each course (think college catalog descriptions of courses), an indicator of whether it was a textbook, self-designed or transcript course, and a short description of how it was evaluated.
The homeschool transcript lists courses, grades, credits, contact information, and any other information such as interests, honors, and activities that you want recorded on the NARHS transcript.
Your NARHS teacher will review what you sent and may ask questions or ask for additional evidence, but basically, if what you send in is complete, then you can expect NARHS to produce a transcript that reflects what you submitted.
Advice, Tips and Pointers
How does NARHS affect my homeschooling? It probably won't affect it all that much. You'll continue your homeschooling as you always have, except that now you log what you do into the NARHS Daily Logbook and hold onto receipts and other forms of documentation showing activities and work that you want to capture on the transcript at the end of the year.
At what age should you sign up? Traditionally, one starts high school at age 14. While you probably won't require NARHS before you begin collecting high-school credits, there are three reasons you might consider signing up prior to age 14.
- You need an official transcript for earlier years.
- You want to take advantage of NARHS' pricing policy. Once you are enrolled in NARHS, your annual fees will never increase so long as you remain enrolled. (When their prices increased in 2004, it proved very cost-effective for many families to enroll their under-14-year-olds just prior to the deadline.)
- You are under 14, but are doing advanced work and want everything you do to be considered on your high school transcript.
You'll be considered a high school student if:
- You turn 14 at any point during the school year (which is defined as September 1 to August 31).
- If you are under 14 and have completed any full and complete transcripted course in the core academic areas of English, Math, Science, or Social Studies and that course is 9th grade or higher.
- If you are under 14 and have earned three or more credits in the core academic areas of English, Math, Science, or Social Studies using textbooks that the publish identifies as being geared for 9th grade or up.
Once you are considered a high-school student, then the rest of your work can be submitted for high-school credit. We took advantage of this clause so that both of our NARHS-enrolled children could then put some of their more interesting independent projects on their high school transcripts.
When is it "too late" to sign up with NARHS?
It's never really too late. We didn't start NARHS with Kira until she already had a few years of high school behind her. They were able to look at the work that we had kept and her transcripts from correspondence and community college courses and come up with a transcript for her.
Even if you are in college, it's not too late! At the introductory workshop we attended, one parent spoke of their daughter who was in her junior year of college. She was ineligible for a job as a bank teller because she lacked a high-school diploma. This is an ideal situation for NARHS, since in Maine you automatically qualify for a diploma if you have completed a year of college. She enrolled in NARHS, showed her college transcripts, received her diploma and presumably the job.
How many hours per credit? NARHS gives credit as follows:
20 hours = 1/4 credit
40 hours = 1/2 credit
60 hours = 3/4 credit
80 hours = 1 credit
However, if you complete a textbook course or test out (using CLEP), the number of hours doesn't matter.
We found NARHS to be reasonable on how we figured out times. I have one child who spent several years writing a novel that is now over 700 pages long. I wanted this to somehow be reflected in her transcript, but her writing sessions also include time spent checking email, chatting with friends, drawing, running about, etc. We wound up timing how much writing she would do if she did nothing else for an hour and used that rate to determine how many hours she had actually devoted to writing.
How do you define a self-designed course? Self-designed courses fall into a huge range of possibilities. When I use several textbooks for a course rather than working sequentially through only one textbook, that is a self-designed course. When my daughter decided to teach herself sewing, we kept track of everything that she did and that, too, became a self-designed course.
You can either lay out a self-designed course from the beginning (as in, "I intend to learn this and to do so, I will do A, B, and C") or you can capture what has been done and decide what the course was after the fact.
I try to capture my children's passions as self-designed courses, since it helps their transcripts more accurately reflect who they are. I start by listing the various things that my kids have done with how long it took to learn each skill. I may regroup things as I go. For instance, when my son taught himself computer graphics, we decided to split the time spent actually learning the tools apart from the time he spent creating images inspired by M.C. Escher's artwork. We were able to come up with two distinct course descriptions. One met a computer science credit and the other met the art requirement. David presented an illustrated booklet that he created showing how to use the tools that he'd learned as portfolio evidence for his computer science skills and together we made a DVD slideshow of some of his best images and designs for the art credit.
Why must I include a grade for each course? The simple answer is because that is one of NARHS' requirements. Steve Moitozo, founder and head of NARHS, cites cases where homeschoolers were ineligible for scholarships because they lacked grades.
How do you figure out grades? NARHS does not require you to use a specific method of grading, but you are required to explain how you arrived at the grade on your summary form.
Some grades are easy to determine. Some curricula tell you exactly how to grade and in some cases, it's easy enough to produce a percentage based upon how many questions were answered correctly.
It's harder when your child teaches herself how to sew and places third in a fashion design contest just months after learning how to thread a needle. In such cases, we use one of the forms provided by NARHS in their Resource Advisor. We pick the attributes that apply to a course (motivation, written communication, organization, depth of interest, growth in understanding, etc.) and score each for that course. Using the provided formula, a grade is produced.
I still find that grading is the hardest part in our transition to NARHS. In traditional schooling, a grade typically reflects how much you have learned in a fixed amount of time. Homeschoolers usually don't work with fixed amounts of time, since the rate at which the course is taken is adjusted to meet the needs of the student. For the most part, you are done with the course when you have reached an "A" in understanding.
Our teacher advisor helped us through our grading issues. In some cases, such as PE and work experiences, we have settled for Pass/Fail. While I sometimes feel that I have made compromises in having to assign grades, I am satisfied that the grades reflect what my children have done.
Graduating from NARHS. To graduate from NARHS, you are required to complete the same 17-1/2 credits as public high school students in Maine:
1 Social Studies
1 US History
1 Phys Ed
1 Fine Arts
1/2 Computer Skills
4-1/2 Electives, your choice.
You do not have to graduate when you reach this minimal set of requirements. If your goal is college, you probably want to have more than just these credits on your transcript.
A "safe" number of credits for applying to most colleges is between 24 and 28. More than this is better, for those aiming at the Ivy League or other top universities. Two years of the same foreign language and three years of science courses with labs will open up many more college options. For the Ivy League and top private universities, check their websites. By adding more courses to your transcript, you can show who you are, what your interests are and where your skills lie. This is useful when applying to colleges and for scholarships.
Do I Need to Meet My State's Graduation Requirements?
NARHS graduates only need to meet the requirements for the state of Maine. Most states require more than 17-1/2 credits for high-school graduation. Many now also require exit exams. However, your Maine diploma will still be recognized by your "home" state, even if you only meet the minimum NARHS requirements.
For those for whom high school is the end of the academic journey, nothing beyond the NARHS basic requirements is needed.
If, in the future, you wish to apply to a college or job that requires more high-school credits, you can always supplement your NARHS diploma with additional courses in the desired subject areas from an accredited correspondence or distance learning high school, such as James Madison High School (see their ad on page 5), American School (page 23), or Keystone National High School (page 33).
If I Use NARHS, Is It Really MY Way? So long as you meet the NARHS requirements for graduation and so long as you complete your log books and submit your portfolios, then the rest really is your way. NARHS is probably the least intrusive way for a homeschoolers to obtain a transcript and diploma from an accredited high school.
My son completed his health requirements by taking a CPR course and earning Boy Scout badges for First Aid and Emergency Preparedness. His Phys Ed requirements included a swimming course at the local Y and camping, hiking, and orienteering trips with his Boy Scout troop. We've combined courses from the Teaching Company, listening to books on tape together, writing, and more into English courses. He earned one math credit by testing out of a course and earned more math credits via ALEKS and Saxon Math.
My daughter's path was different. She took many courses at the local community college, took correspondence courses, taught herself how to sew, created a small business making doll clothes, and more. She's not a scout, so her Phys Ed requirement was met mostly through mall walking, dancing, hiking, bowling, and miniature golf.
I am not an organized person, so I can't say that NARHS really was my way, but I can say that it is an improvement. We used to go through the year with me giving out assignments and evaluating my children's work, but I never really looked before at an entire year's worth of work all at once. Because of the portfolio requirement by NARHS, I now do so and I am amazed to see the growth that my kids show in their work. Not only do we now have portfolios that showcase what my children have done, I also usually discover that they did more than I ever realized.
My kids do activities that I never bothered to record in our pre-NARHS days, but which I do now. These activities tend to be the ones that really reflect who my children are: the novel that my daughter wrote, the computer game that my son worked on in his "spare time"... These are now all recorded on a transcript with work samples to back them up. There is no question that this will benefit them when they apply to colleges.
The difference for us between using NARHS and not using NARHS has been that I now do some work at the end of the year to get the portfolios together and I take more photographs during our school year to document our activities. I may complain while I work on the portfolios, but the truth is that I like the results.
How Well Are NARHS Diplomas Received At Colleges And Universities? NARHS graduates have gone to such schools as Harvard, Julliard, Cornell, Lehigh, Bob Jones University, the United States Air Force Academy, state universities, etc. Some students have received college credit and/or scholarships based upon the work shown on their NARHS transcripts. NARHS transcripts are looked at just like any other high school transcript. The courses that the student took are just another part of what is considered on an application.
Should You Use NARHS?
NARHS is not for everyone. As the homeschooling community grows, the need for a diploma and transcript from an accredited school changes.
Check what is required for you to reach your goals. As happened in the case of the woman who needed a high-school diploma for a job, despite being in her third year of college, NARHS can be a real lifesaver.
Some homeschoolers elect to take the GED, but it should be noted that the GED has minimum age requirements and it may be considered differently than a high school diploma. The military, for example, puts applicants with a GED on a lower "tier" than applicants with high-school diplomas.
We found that our state's colleges require either a diploma or the GED in order to matriculate into their program. If you graduate from homeschool at a traditional age, these schools seem to accept a homeschool transcript and diploma without any trouble. At a younger age, many of our state schools seem to better accept the NARHS transcript and diploma.
How NARHS Helped Us
The diploma is probably the least of the benefits that we have gotten from belonging to NARHS. The most valuable benefit we've received is the working relationship with our children's teacher. She brings the experience of working with dozens of other homeschooling families. She looks at our children's portfolios in depth and can evaluate their work honestly and objectively. Unlike the local school system, when she looks at our children's work, she is looking at it in terms of our best interest.
I cannot say for sure that our enrollment in NARHS has changed how our homeschool is looked at locally, but ever since we signed up, we no longer have had problems with the local school administration.
My daughter recently graduated from NARHS. Although she stated many times that she didn't really need a "real" diploma, getting it provided a much needed milestone psychologically. We had our own little ceremony when she finished the last of her school projects, but she didn't feel graduated. Having that NARHS diploma in hand encouraged her to start applying to colleges.
I was struck by our situation v. another homeschool family that I know whose son is also applying to colleges. One of the schools to which he was applying wanted to see the official transcripts of the places to which he took classes. By contrast, Kira's official transcripts are all now held at NARHS-much less effort on our part.
And, basically, that's what it comes down to: NARHS isn't necessary for most homeschool families. It is a service that has helped our family and many others over the past few years. It may be helpful to you, too.
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