Her own farm where she can train horses; or, how homeschoolers gain

Anna Grace Ireland, 17, of Wildwood, Ga., is one of 75 home educated graduates in the Chattanooga area. The horse lover would like to run a clothing boutique and plans to study business.

An unremarked Chattanooga ceremony every May is that of the graduation of the homeschooling class. About 75 young men and women are wearing mortarboards and gowns this year in a procession that includes people who have never stepped into a public school and whose ideas are shaped very much by their parents and a biblical free market orientation.

The graduation brochure for the homeschoolers is the same every year, as if a design change might upset some picky old relative who is used to a succession of youth passing out of schooling age without having been to school.

It is an artless document that contains no ads and no photos — just text. But that fault suggests that the people who parade across its pages tend toward words — and very often the Word — rather than the image that has become the standard of lowbrow modern culture.

The brochure for the event Saturday at Abba’s House church on Hixson Pike carries a 200-word essay from each grad. The snapshots, some written by parents, don’t tell everything and may touch on hagiography.

But they suggest that the 75 grads are a class apart, worth watching.

The professional callings of several rise from very early experiences. Brittany Hartley, for example, has been an assistant of her dad’s illusionist presentations since age 6, and plans to attend Lee to study business management. She aspires to work in the fashion industry, in which she hopes to “be a light for God.”

Homeschool students are an important pool of future leadership for the city, state and nation. Several claim an interest in the operation of God’s providence, and to be firmly under His sovereign will.

• Garrett Hill came into the world “with an amazing plan already placed on my life by the wonderful and only God I serve.”

• Taylor Owens says little about himself in his 200 words, but rhapsodizes about the goodness of God who, “despite his greatness as a holy God, [has] shown grace and compassion upon me.”

Like students in government schools, homeschoolers remain strongly convinced of the need to pour family capital in universities, convinced that enrollment will propel them toward the horizon. Anna Grace Ireland’s notion of delight of being aloft, however, is distinctly equine: “Flying has always been my dream,” she says, “but my wings have hooves.” The horse lover plans to take business courses at UTC and run a boutique.

Miss Ireland, 17, said in a chat she has been riding horses since 9 and got her first one at 14. She got hooked on the equine life when she got Andy, an appendix quarter horse, which she keeps at Heatherfield Horse Park in Trenton, Ga. She took riding lessons there, and worked for Betsy Chandler, the manager, cleaning stalls in exchange for boarding the horse. One of her dreams is to run a farm like Heatherfield.

But taking a job at RiverCity Apparel on Frazier Avenue has given her a yen for a line of work that is intervening but could also become a lifelong passion. Women’s clothing. Miss Ireland works at the Chattanooga shop three days a week, and wants to learn all about the business. She can’t wait to accompany the owner, Jane Kemmer on buying trips to Atlanta, she says.

Submission to God

God has taken into his bosom many homeschooled children early. Many tell of conversions at age 3 and 4. For Kelsey Stansell, her moment of repentance came at the death of a special aunt, a decease on the heels of the death of a grandmother for whom the family had been caregivers.

The self-direction of homeschooling has widened the vistas of experience for grads. Elizabeth Juarbe speaks for the group when she says home education “has resulted in more time to pursue my interests, stronger family bonds and time for the Bible and God.” Elizabeth hopes to pursue a trio of interests: elementary education, business and Bible.

Of course there’s a bit of self-congratulatory horn tooting in the sketches, but not loudly. One readily finds a countervailing submission, the tone of which is caught by Garret Hill: “God deserves every piece of his glory to show out through my accomplishments. So as life continues, I’ll strive to become a brand new creation in Him everyday.”

An animal lover who was turned away from the vet trade by science class dissections, Amanda Renfro “has grown up with a strong sense of God’s presence” and is often “heard talking and singing to her creator.”

The Bible is important to local home educating families, if the student sketches are an indication. Future missionary nurse Elizabeth Karnes gives a third of her space to quoting scripture as to why she must vanish to foreign climes in service to others for God’s glory.

Laura Pietrantone memorized more than 2,000 Bible verses and composes haunting melodies for friends and family. Several grads quote verses of scripture.

Missions and hijinks

Several are interested in missions. Christina Michaels took several mission junkets in her younger days, and plans to share an optometry calling with the poor in far places, and will take a mission trip to Haiti this summer. Haleigh Poe became interested in foreign orphanages from an adoption trip to China in 2005. Elizabeth Poston will join a Roman Catholic order, Sister Servants of the Eternal Word. Mary Suggs toiled on four mission trips, two to Louisiana and two to Uganda. “She plans to return to Uganda in June as she is quite certain her heart never left.” Mary Grace Zeglen has done mission trips to Mississippi, Mexico and Haiti. This summer she is returning to the orphanage in Haiti, Maison des Enfants de Dieu.

Christian homeschoolers are generally geared toward loving commitment in marriage, but few of the grads reveal plans to marry. One who has been found for love is Emily Hamfeldt. “Sometime in the near future I also plan on marrying my fiancé, Nicholas Beatty,” she says. “We have been engaged for a little over five months, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him.” At least one wedding between two homeschooling families is pending.

Christians are unlike those committed to a secular vision of the world with its hard materialism and competitiveness. They are more trusting, and more confident. As they marry, they are likely to have big families such as those in which several grew up. Homeschool graduate Hannah Morse is one of 11. David Chandler is “the second-oldest of eight children and has a heart for family,” his brief declares. Iain Nash, a doctor’s son and a longtime computer code writer, is one of six. Haleigh Poe, who took the adoption trip to China, is one of five. Jessie Kathryn Martin adorns her parents’ flock of seven. Micah Cox, who was a member of the graduating class who was killed in a car crash March 21, was the youngest of seven.

Alex Spanjer, one of four children, overcame life-threatening allergies. “He has a great interest in historic aircraft, and loves being around anything that flies. His love of reading is constantly introducing him to interests, and he continues to amaze family and friends with his vast knowledge.”