Beliefnet

PURCELLVILLE, Va., Sept. 28 (AP)--The nation's first college for students who were schooled at home is not what you would call a party school.

The 90 students who will begin classes Monday at the new Patrick Henry College can expect coursework with a Christian perspective, mandatory morning chapel services and a requirement to show "evidence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Men and women won't be permitted in each other's dorm rooms.

"It'll be a refuge from sex, drugs and rock and roll. Well, at least sex and drugs," said founder Michael Farris.

Farris' home schooling association estimates more than 1.5 million children are taught at home by their parents, and the number increases by 15 percent a year.

Many home-schooled youngsters are from fundamentalist Christian families who believe the schools are not inculcating morals. Other parents - some of them high academic achievers themselves - cite dissatisfaction with the quality of public education and worries about violence and drugs.

Home-schooled youngsters in recent years have won national spelling bees and other competitions.

According to Farris, the average combined SAT score at Patrick Henry is above 1,200 out of a possible 1,600, and students have turned down Georgetown, William and Mary and other top schools to come to the college, which is in Virginia's Loudoun County about 35 miles from Washington.

"The only thing different is you don't have to dumb down the vocabulary when you're teaching home-schooled kids," said Farris, a Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 1993 and founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

As for the students' unfamiliarity with classrooms, Farris said: "The vast majority have taken a class or two some place. They've been going to Sunday school for 13 years. It's not like they're walking out of the jungles of Papua New Guinea."

Kerry Medaris, 19, of Fairfax Station, said she was taught largely by her mother at home but directed her own learning as she grew older, with her mother administering tests.

"I think that's why colleges are looking at home-schoolers so favorably," said Kerry's father, John Medaris. "They are self-motivated and self-taught, and that makes for a really good student."

The college has just one major, government. Farris said he wants to expand the curriculum to business, journalism and law, and plans to seek accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a process that could take a few years.

Because the school accepts no government aid and prohibits its students from doing the same, it has the right to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Joanna Kurlowich of Columbia, S.C., said she chose Patrick Henry so that she won't have to spend her time defending her Christian beliefs to skeptical professors.

"If a professor had conflicting beliefs, I would be forced to spend a significant amount of time defending my own beliefs instead of learning," she said. "I want to learn, come out strong and ready to stand up for my beliefs."

The 43-acre campus is in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The dormitories will not be ready until November, and students will stay with host families in the meantime. The main campus building will hold classes, a dining hall and the library. Plans call for a gymnasium and other buildings in the years to come.

The construction has been paid for in cash from the $6 million the school has raised, largely from Farris' home-schoolers organization. Farris said the college refuses to borrow ``as a matter of institutional convictions.''

Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which represents public-school superintendents, said he is concerned that students at Patrick Henry won't be exposed to people of different philosophies.

"When does this child learn to face the real world?" he asked. ``They certainly have the right to do this. But I wouldn't want my kids in that cloistered environment.''

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