As most students on Maui gear up to go back to school this week, 13-year-old home-schooled student Alioune Sall is getting ready for his two-week theater camp in Maine, after just finishing six performances of "Fame: The Musical" with the Maui Academy of Performing Arts last week.
Sall would not be able to explore his interests in theater and the arts as much as he has if he were still enrolled in a public or private school, his mother, Kisha Milling, said. After enrolling her son in both public and private schools, Milling decided home schooling was an option that would provide a positive learning environment, good social conditions, high academic standards and creative extracurricular opportunities.
"I try to follow his interests, and those interests lead into other things. We go off on tangents, whereas in school, you can't answer all the questions because you're held to a curriculum and what (students) need to know for the tests," Milling said.
She began home-schooling her son when he was in the 5th grade, and she works with him and other home-schooling parents on Maui to tailor a specialized, flexible curriculum.
"We blend a lot of the arts with our home school so we have a combination of both, which I feel is missing in a lot of other institutions because of funding." Milling said. "He has an opportunity to take piano, acting, dancing, singing and also learn math, science, history and writing."
"He's doing a lot of different things that I know would be challenging to balance if he was in a school," she said.
Last school year, Maui County had 434 registered home-schooled students, according to a spokesman from the state Department of Education. Statewide, there were 5,141 home-schooled students.
State law requires that all school-aged children be enrolled in some form of school, whether it be through a public, private, charter or home school. Any parent, regardless of educational background or training, may opt to home-school children, said Board of Education spokesman Alex Da Silva. There are certain requirements that each student must meet, like filing a notice of intent with the principal of the student's district public school, filing an annual progress report and submitting standardized test scores after grades 3, 5, 8 and 10, Da Silva said.
Home-schooled students may opt out of standardized testing if a request is made by a parent and approved by a school principal.
Home-schooled students may still earn a high school diploma by taking secondary education test at an adult community school.
"I sympathize with schools who have to take 30 children from all different ages, backgrounds, experiences and interests. They have to get all the kids going in the same direction on the same page. It's impossible to ask," said Gail Nagasako, home-schooling parent and author of "Homeschooling: Why and How."
Nagasako's son, world-renowned in-line skater Thumper Nagasako, was home-schooled for most of his life on Maui, up until his junior year of high school. Then, he attended Baldwin High. He tested for his high school degree halfway through his senior year and scored in the top 5 percent nationwide.
"The best aspect of home schooling for me was that I could fly through my schoolwork and get back to learning in the real world," Thumper Nagasako said. "There's so much wasted time in the school system."
He described his home-school experience as "world learning," in which he was able to take weekly field trips and participate in hands-on learning in the things that he was actually interested in.
And, contrary to popular belief, being home-schooled did not hinder his ability to interact with others. If anything, he said, it made him more comfortable speaking with not only other students but also adults.
"A strong aspect of home-schooling is that the child socializes with peers his age as well as younger and older, we aren't segregated into grades so . . . (we) consider everyone as a peer," Thumper Nagasako said. "I think home-schoolers can talk to adults a lot easier than most schoolers because of this."
His mother's book, published by Hillcrest Media Group, aims to disprove the popular notion that home-schooled students miss out on positive socialization.
"In a school model, the whole idea is that the child is the receptacle, and you as a teacher are putting knowledge in," Gail Nagasako said. "A home-schooling model is more about curiosity and following your student's interests. It's more of a mentorship."
Gail Nagasako noted that just as public school is not suited for every student's needs, neither is home schooling. It is merely an option, and it is "quite possible" that certain kids who started their first few years in a home school may do better transitioning to a public school.
"There is no cookie-cutter solution for every family," Joei Tyra, a member of the Maui Homeschool Friends group, said. "A lot of parents are afraid to home-school in Hawaii because they feel parents need to be working or that children will be socially isolated, but there are so many people home-schooling on Maui for multiple reasons."
The Maui Homeschool Friends group is a network of more than 100 home-schooling parents who work together to put together field trips, social activities and community outreach opportunities as well as curricula for their students.
Hawaii - and specifically Maui - gives young learners a rich environment where they may explore beautiful landscapes, historical and cultural sites and diverse wildlife, Tyra added.
"Our children can be experiencing physics based on waves and surfing, and science based on the landscape of Haleakala and the indigenous plants and animals there. . . . We are probably better off than anyone else in the country because we have beautiful weather. We don't have to worry about the seasons. There are constantly things going on for energy and water conservation. Philanthropic options are huge, and there's always something to do," Tyra said.
Members of the group and their home-schooled children have in the past taken field trips to the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens as well as excursions in the early hours of the morning to study sea turtle hatchlings and their journey from the beach to the ocean.
"There doesn't need to be a stigma surrounding home schooling anymore," Tyra said. "We're not a bunch of hippies."
For more information, visit the Maui Homeschool Friends Facebook page.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This article includes a correction from the original published on Sunday, August 4, 2013. The story omitted that home-schooled students may opt out of standardized testing if a request is made by a parent and approved by a school principal.
The Maui News regrets the omission.