Home-schoolers start a new honor society

Home-schoolers nationwide are creating their own honor society to give above-average home-schooling students an equivalent honor to show college admissions offices.

Local chapters of Eta Sigma Alpha, the home-schooling movement's first honor society, are popping up in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Iowa, New York, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Today, there are more than 20 chapters nationwide and more are opening every month, organizers said.

The new society reflects the increasing recognition of high academic achievement by home-schoolers, whose standardized test scores have eclipsed those of their counterparts in public schools.

Last year, home-schoolers averaged 1092 on the SAT, compared with the national average score of 1020, according to statistics compiled by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Home-schoolers have also been participating disproportionately in national competitions, including the National Geographic Bee and National Spelling Bee.

Last year, 12 of the 55 finalists at the National Geographic Bee were home-schooled. In 2001, eight home-schoolers made it to the finals of that contest. Four home-schoolers finished among the top 10. In 1999, David Beihl from Saluda, S.C., became the first home-schooler to win the geography bee.

Last year, a home-schooler placed third in the National Spelling Bee. In 2001, 27 of the 248 finalists were home-schoolers — the same number as 2000, when a home-schooler won the contest.

Home-schooling parents said Eta Sigma Alpha is one way to recognize outstanding home-schooled children and give them an advantage when applying to college.

"Home-schooling is often looked at as just parents giving grades to their children," said Dawn Collins, of Jackson, Tenn., a member of the Network of Home Educators who home-schools her daughter, Emily, 8.

"But we have to be realistic in what colleges are looking for," she said. "Colleges look at what type of service work children do and their grade-point average and what activities they are involved in. This is one way our students can get help with getting college scholarships, and every family knows that is important."

Mrs. Collins and the Network of Home Educators have recently submitted an application to open a second chapter of Eta Sigma Alpha in Tennessee.

The National Honor Society and the National Beta Club do not accept home-schooled students because they only allow chapters that are affiliated with accredited educational institutions. For example, National Honor Society members are chosen by at least seven faculty members.

The first chapter of Eta Sigma Alpha was founded in 1999 in Houston, Texas, by Joanne Juren, a former public-school teacher and assistant principal who wanted to find a way to recognize outstanding home-schooled students and help them be competitive in the college admissions process.

Ms. Juren said college-bound home-schoolers are ultimately judged by the same criteria as students from public or private schools. So having an honor society to join will give home-schoolers equal footing in the college admissions process, she said.

"It opens doors immediately into honor programs, scholarships and colleges," said Ms. Juren, who also is the executive director of the Home Education Partnership of Texas. "There are so many success stories in home-schooling. This is a way for those successes to be recognized or honored by the outside world."

In founding the chapter, Ms. Juren said she set high entrance requirements. To be a member of Eta Sigma Alpha, students must write a letter of interest, have a 3.5 grade-point average or better, and have personal recommendations.

They must also meet minimum scores on college entrance exams. That could be 1200 on the SAT, 26 on the ACT, or a ranking in the 90th percentile on any of a number of other tests, Ms. Juren said.

To compare, the National Honor Society requires a 3.0 grade-point average; however, individual chapters can set higher standards.

"It's an excellent thing to put on your application," Ms. Juren said. "This has given us, the home-schoolers, the same footing our public-school counterparts have."

Still, there are some home-schooling parents who are not eager to have children join the honor society. Those parents said they are more interested in providing their children with a spiritual upbringing, something that their children would not get at a public institution.

"I don't think having an honor society is necessary for a family like us whose purpose is to raise godly children and give them spiritual and moral underpinning," said Kathleen Lenzen, a member of the Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association in Lincoln, Neb., who home-schooled her three children during the 1980s and 1990s. All of Mrs. Lenzen's children went to college.

"Academic excellence was a byproduct. Having an honor society wouldn't have made a difference. What is an honor society going to count for in eternity?" Mrs. Lenzen said. "I'd rather have an honest, moral God-loving person that may sweep floors for a living, than a dishonest CEO of a company."