August 5, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

By the time most kids get to high school, they are familiar with how school works. They know how to maneuver through an eight-period day, how different teachers have different expectations, and how to get along with all kinds of people. But what happens when the child enters high school never having attended a traditional school? What if, for the previous eight years, your school was your home?

Kathy Bessmer has homeschooled 14 of her 16 children (that’s not a typo) through eighth grade. (Her youngest two are not yet school age). By the time her children are ready to enter high school, she argues, they each have had a well-rounded social experience. What can be tough, though, is making sure the academic transition goes as smoothly as possible.

“It was a little bit of an adjustment for their first semester of their freshman year,” says Bessmer. “They were very accustomed to my teaching and expectations, so they knew what to expect from me and what I expected of them. They kind of had to learn about what other teachers’ expectations were.”

Mary Lincoln, a school counselor with Lewis and Clark Middle School, explains that, like the Bessmers, children that have social connections outside the home will make the shift to public school smoother.

“For parents who homeschool—what I call the ‘right way’—meaning they have their kids involved in sports, music, something that get’s them out in a social situation—it’s a much easier transition because the kids have the social skills.” Lincoln says parents don’t always consider the social aspect of homeschooling. But it is a big deal.

“If the kids aren’t socialized, they don’t know appropriate responses,” she explains. “They don’t know how to read body language and non-verbals.” Homeschooled children often may not have the same exposure to different cultures and lifestyles as children in the school system do. “They haven’t been around girls wearing hijabs or people who look different than they look,” says Lincoln. “So it’s different and they don’t know how to interact.”

Even the structure of a traditional school day can be strange and overwhelming. “I think some [people] are not familiar with how school works: being on an eight period day; that each teacher may have a different approach to something or a different way to handle a situation. Or having pretty solid deadlines that maybe they’ve never had before.”

Knowing who to go to in the school to answer questions and help resolve issues is important for any child, Lincoln says.

Helping formerly homeschooled students learn their new role in the public school can be an adjustment. Also, Lincoln says it can be difficult for these new students to know when to seek help and from whom in certain social situations. “It’s important not to wait too long, until the situation gets out of hand.”

More and more parents are choosing to educate their children at home. There are still a wide variety of reasons for doing so. Lincoln explains that some parents, knowing their own children best, can push their children a little harder than teachers in the public schools, allowing them to excel at a quicker rate. Others may choose to shield their children from certain aspects of today’s fast-paced society. Some parents want that familial closeness that homeschooling brings. Others may consider homeschooling a way to protect a sensitive or special needs child from being bullied or being lost in the crowd. Whatever the reasons, homeschooling is becoming more and more mainstream.

“There are a lot of good connections for homeschooling parents in Omaha and people are making these connections.” Lincoln says.

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