Home-school prom attracts teens from across Oregon

From Oregon Live

TIGARD, OREGON – May 19, 2012 – Kendra Burton, a homeschooled sophomore, had dinner with 17 of her other homeschooled friends at her house before the prom on Saturday. Burton and her friends take classes at Village Home, a center that organizes field trips and classes for homeschooled kids in Beaverton. Alysha Beck/The Oregonian

Kendra Burton straightened and dyed her hair a deep red. She bought a new pair of Converse high tops to match her knee-length black dress. She didn’t wear a corsage. She’s allergic to many things — dust, pollen, grass — but mostly, she says, she just thinks corsages are weird.

The 15-year-old tugged nervously at her dress as her dad, Kristar, shot the requisite in-the-yard-pre-dance photos. Her date, 16-year-old Coogan Matteson, wore a ‘70s inspired suit with corduroy pants. Finally, Kendra’s mom, Bobbie, thought, I’ll have a picture of the couple.

Kendra and Coogan are both homeschooled. For all the grimacing as dad kept clicking on the camera — just one more photo, he said — Kendra admitted she was happy to have what any other high schooler has: prom night.

“When we’re older and people are all talking about prom, we would have been like, ‘Do do do. I didn’t get to do that,’¤” Kendra said. “Plus, it’s just fun. It’s cool to go to a dance.”

Oregon Home Education Network sponsored the first homeschool prom in 2005. A homeschool mom, Annette Salsman, said her teenage sons wanted the same rituals public school teens have. Saturday night, the network held its biggest prom yet at the Ballroom Dance Company in Tigard. Teens from Salem to Hillsboro paid $30 each for the formal.

In the last decade, the number of homeschool students in Oregon has nearly doubled — to 21,154, though that number excludes students who attend online charter schools or whose parents don’t register them — which means events like the dance have become more popular, too. Two hundred teens from across the state attended in 2011, up from 100 a few years ago. And every year, says OHEN President Alison Jakel, younger and younger kids beg to attend, too.

“It means the same thing as it would to any high school teen,” Jakel said. “As much as high school teens look forward to their prom, our homeschool teens look forward to theirs. They love that it’s a big fancy night out. They look forward to the music.”

Jakel admitted when she first chaperoned a dance, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Her kids were still young, then.

“I walked in and said, ‘Oh, so they do dance.’ I thought they might be ballroom dancing,” she said. “But no, they were dancing just like any other teens.”

Even though homeschooling has become more prevalent, other students still treat her like she’s somehow not a normal teen, Kendra says. They think she misses out on every important moment of growing up.

“People always say to me, ‘How do you meet people?’ I guess they think we just stay at home all day,” she said. “I do have friends, I promise.”

Kendra turns out to know a ton of people. Enough to fill a pre-prom dinner party, anyway. By 5:30, two dozen or so teens wearing their hippest, nicest formal wear filled the family’s Bethany home. They snacked on shrimp and finger-foods, drank sparkling cider as Beyonce and Justin Timberlake tunes played.

Burton knows most of the teens — including Coogan, who lives in Northeast Portland — from Village Home, a Beaverton community center that hosts extracurricular classes for home- and un-schooled students across the Metro area. This year, she takes art and psychology classes at Village Home, as well as a class geared toward designing the set for the annual homeschool play. She’s a member of a homeschool mock trial team there, as well as a Lego robotics team and a Destination Imagination team that’s headed to the global finals in Tennessee next week.

Saturday night, she and her friends took a minivan caravan to the ballroom. As they headed to the dance floor, Jakel handed out ballots for prom kings and queens. Because the teens come from all over, they appoint several different categories of kings and queens.

The competition looked stiff for Best Dancer King. The Running Man made an appearance. So did breakdancing. A group of boys wearing matching vests mixed Jerk Dancing, Krumping and B-boying into a routine.

Kendra’s crew huddled near the center. A few of the boys did the worm. The girls did exaggerated waltzes. Kendra laughed at Coogan’s swing moves.

And when the first slow song played 45 minutes into the dance, the couple giggled together for a second. As the wallflowers retreated to the sidelines to check their cell phones, Kendra wrapped her arms around Coogan’s waist, and they swayed.

The moment was simple enough. They barely moved. But 10 years from now, she’ll remember it.

Categories: Education

2 replies »

  1. I never attended either of mine, or any of my homecomings either. I spent those nights with the “bros” behind the bong. My non-attendance was due to my extreme unpopularity, although I rationalized it as a brave rejection of “prep” fashions by a nonconformist rebel. Now I realize I was just a loser, but it doesn’t bother me.

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