2007-12-28 / Schools

A part of the team

Program gives home-schooled students a taste of high school
By Eliav Appelbaum eliav@theacorn.com

WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers HOME TEAM- Freshman Samantha Romero and junior  Janine Marderian from  Northridge are both home-schooled but play varsity soccer for Grace Brethren High School thanks to a new school program that is the pet project of third-year Principal John Hynes. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers HOME TEAM- Freshman Samantha Romero and junior Janine Marderian from Northridge are both home-schooled but play varsity soccer for Grace Brethren High School thanks to a new school program that is the pet project of third-year Principal John Hynes. Samantha Romero is a homeschooled student who plays soccer for Grace Brethren High School's girls' soccer team.

How is that possible? Well, Samantha, a freshman forward who leads the Lancers with eight goals, is allowed to play California Interscholastic Federationsanctioned sports through the Grace Academy, a program Grace Brethren offers to homeschoolers from kindergarten through 12th grade, granting them all the benefits of students who attend the private school.

"Even though I'm not at the school, I'm still able to connect with people," said Samantha, 15, who has been home-schooled on and off since the seventh grade. "I feel like I'm a part of the school."

In its first year of existence, Grace Academy is the pet project of third-year Principal John Hynes.

The academy has two levels of membership, associate and Lancer.

Associate members can attend classes on or offcampus and participate in clubs and other electives. However, associate students are not allowed to partake in athletics and counseling services.

Lancer members can participate in sports and almost everything else. The only perk a student won't get is a Grace Brethren diploma. Instead, students will receive a Grace Academy diploma.

About 60 homeschooled students are enrolled in Grace Academy. Hynes said that about 20 to 30 families are in the Lancer program, which costs $500 for one family per year. The associate fee is $150 per family.

Hynes estimated that five to seven Academy students participate in athletics, although he thinks that figure will grow in the spring.

To put the Academy's figures in perspective, in relation to the regular student body Grace Brethren has 425 students, of which 250 are in ninth through 12th grades.

"This program is designed to allow home school families to basically interact with our school on a variety of different levels," said Hynes, the vice principal for academics at Chaminade High School in West Hills from 19932005. "The No. 1 reason we did this is because the Christian community has such a large number of home school families. . . . We're blessed with the school we have. There's an obligation there to reach out to their families."

In only its first year, Grace Academy has accommodated more students than Hynes expected. On top of his regular work at the junior-senior high school, the principal must keep tabs on the home school students.

Lancer members are required to submit academic progress reports every six weeks. Hynes must also verify that each Lancer takes a minimum of 20 units of curriculum equivalent to coursework at Grace Brethren.

"We're already getting a lot of interest for next year," he said. "We're going to have to hire an administrator so I don't have to run this by myself."

Hynes has had the idea for the Academy in mind for a long time. He'd wanted to start a similar program at Chaminade; however, it never gained enough momentum at the West Hills campus. Hynes gained insight on how similar home school programs worked at Desert Christian Schools in Lancaster, Orange Lutheran of Orange and Trinity Pacific of Thousand Oaks.

"We borrowed ideas from everyone," Hynes said. "All the schools were extremely open and willing to help."

Samantha isn't the only Academy student on the varsity soccer squad. Freshman Haley Johnson of Simi Valley and junior Janine Marderian of Northridge also contribute to head coach Andy Silva's team. Janine starts at goalkeeper, and Haley has notched one goal while learning how to play a new position at forward.

"I think this is a great opportunity for the home school students, who don't a have chance to play interscholastic athletics, to be a part of our athletic programs," said Silva, who has been coaching girls' soccer at Grace Brethren since 2001. "It's been helping on our team in that we have some players that are pretty dynamic. . . . We haven't had a good goalkeeper in probably three years. Both Haley and Sam can play striker and outside wing. Sam is a naturally gifted leftfooted player who makes very nice crosses. It's a delight to have her out there."

Samantha has also joined the school's choir and participated in the drumline during football games. Samantha's mother, Sally Romero, said her daughter hopes to play softball.

"They're really welcoming. This is such a small community of people; they know there's a new person, and they've all been there before," Samantha said. "They want you to feel comfortable."

In the meantime, Hynes continues to search for other ways to tweak and improve the program and the school in general. The principal hopes to one day imitate Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute. He envisions the Academy eventually going online.

Currently overseeing the school's curriculum overhaul, Hynes wants Grace Brethren to stay one step ahead when it comes to education.

"We need to be on the front end of all this," he said. "One of the reasons I came here was that I saw a school that had a very, very good product but wasn't quite reaching its potential.

"What I loved to do at Chaminade was building academic programs, making it the best it can possibly be. This Academy really represents a move forward for Grace Brethren Schools. . . . This is a very exciting place right now."

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