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Home schoolers get out of the house

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The Holiday Inn banquet hall was packed with teens clad in tuxedos and taffeta. They danced the macarena, sipped lemonade, and cast interested sidelong glances at one another. The Orlando, Fla., event had all the trappings of a standard high school prom, with one exception: There were no high schoolers present.

All the teens at the Orlando prom were home schoolers.

There are approximately 2 million home schoolers in the United States, a figure that has increased 15 percent in the last 20 years, according to the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore. As home schooling enters the mainstream, the adults who promote it have sought more ways of getting home schoolers out of the house, to broaden their social circles, and help them acquire the leadership credentials needed for college applications.

What's been helpful are the homeschool "networks" that have sprouted up across the US. As a result, studies show that almost 90 percent of home school students are now involved in group activities.

"Most of the social opportunities that are available to non-home schooled kids are available to our kids as well," says Bruce LaSalla, a physics teacher from Ephrata, Pa., who with his wife has home schooled all four of their children. These include sports, field trips, quiz bowls, science fairs, band, orchestra, choir, and dances, including proms.

"Home schooling isn't just for hermits anymore," says Susan Richman, a home-school mother of five who founded PA Homeschoolers in Kittanning, Pa., with her husband to provide standardized tests, online classes, transcripts and diplomas to home school students in the state.

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