Graduate has faith in her future

Published May 19, 2007

SPRING HILL - Aleisha Miller has been homeschooled all of her life. She can ride a horse like Calamity Jane and handle a shotgun like Annie Oakley. She's an "A" student.

"I had a knack for shooting -- my left-hand and left-eye dominance gave me an edge. At the national competition in South Dakota, I was up against a bunch of guys, and I placed 10th," she explained.

According to Aleisha, the guys thought, "Wow! She can shoot!"

Aleisha has been riding horses since age 4 and has been a 4-H member since she was 8. A winner of local, state and national 4-H competitions, she recently won grand champion honors for rabbits and for showmanship at the Hernando County Fair.

At a state competition, she scored top honors for sewing a dress. Her mother, Joan Miller, said, "She got her sewing skills from me."

Aleisha plans on pursuing her interests in animals at the Healing Arts Academy in Lexington, Ky., to become an equine masseuse and to get her veterinary technician license.

The 18-year-old is typical among her nine fellow graduates. All have earned good grades and have immersed themselves in extracurricular and community activities.

To qualify for graduation, Miller explained, homeschooled students, like their counterparts in the Hernando County school district, must complete curriculum requirements every year.

"Families check the School Board Web site for the needed credits," she said. "Then we choose textbooks appropriate to the subjects. At the end of each year, a registered teacher administers CAT5 tests, standardized placement-type tests that tell us where each child is, grade-level-wise."

Once all of the courses have been completed, no other test is needed and the students can graduate, Miller said. The students take the same SAT and ACT as everyone else for college placement.

Aleisha said she thinks she has learned a lot more by being taught by her mother at their Spring Hill home. She has enjoyed the one-on-one contact with her teacher and has been able to work at her own pace.

She liked the freedom of going to school in her pajamas when she was so inclined, and said she never worried about peer pressure or impressing any of her classmates.

"I focused on my tasks," she said. "If we felt like we had to get away from the classroom, we did. We went bike riding or hiking."

Miller, Aleisha and older brother Jayce devised field trips, interacted with other homeschool families and often held classes outside. They felt no sense of isolation and had plenty of opportunities for social networking, Miller said.

"I have great confidence in my mom's abilities and knowledge," Aleisha said. "She told us she learned a lot, too. Every day."

Family values and a strong foundation in religious faith often play into a family's decision to homeschool.

"God told Mom to do this," Aleisha said. "It was about how well we would be taken care of, and the quality of education was in her hands."

Joan, a single mom for 14 years, spends her days teaching and being a mentor to other homeschool moms. She makes her living sewing Civil War costumes for re-enactments. She said she has no regrets about homeschooling her children.

Nor does Aleisha. She has a dream, a big farm in Kentucky someday where she'll combine equine therapy with therapy for humans.

Looking forward with pride to her graduation today, she said she's ready for further education and for her adult life.

Such confidence in the future is typical of homeschooled kids, Aleisha noted. And that, added her mother, is why some families do it.

Fast Facts:

Home Circle of Hernando County

Graduation: 1 p.m. today at the Christian Church in the Wildwood, 10051 Country Road, Weeki Wachee.

Graduating seniors:

Aleisha Miller

Isaac S. Graham

Michael J. Bird

Nathan Witherell

Meredith Martin

Stephanie Mikule

William Louchs

Garrett Fuller

Daniel McTague

David Griffith