For 14-year-old Malia Dyson, it was an eventful school year: sailing lessons, science projects, Japanese class. But because her school in Woodsboro boasts an enrollment of one -- her -- there was no real vehicle for chronicling her fabulous freshman year.
So Kathleen Dyson, Malia's mother, found a way. Malia's school-year experiences -- along with the memories of more than 30 other families from in and around Maryland -- will be captured in their own yearbook, a home-school spin on a brick-and-mortar campus tradition.
There will be no shots of the football team (there is none) or the anime club (which has two members), but the yearbook, still a work in progress, is designed to capture the essence of the home-school experience.
"The Learning Community is spread all across the state," said Dyson, referring to the umbrella group for home-schoolers. "We don't all know each other, so this is a way to pull this community of families together."
Yearbooks are just one example of the ways this growing segment of the school-age population is redefining the meaning of school. An estimated 1.1 million children were home-schooled in 2003, up 29 percent from 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Children who are home-schooled now make up about 2.2 percent of the country's school-age population.
These home-schoolers are also creating a lucrative mini industry -- about $750 million in 2004 by some estimates. In fact, its popularity has prompted Jostens Inc., a longtime staple at high schools and universities, to add a line of yearbooks, as well as class rings, specifically tailored to the home-school market. It has a sales representative -- herself a home-school parent -- dedicated to reaching out to this group and a link on its Web site that takes surfers to a section showcasing home-school offerings.
Home-school yearbooks can range from spiral-bound affairs to professionally done, hardcover numbers offered by Jostens. Like the families who opt to teach their children at home, the books offer a unique spin on the concept -- as well as their own set of logistical and design challenges.
Because most home-schoolers operate independently, the books don't necessarily lend themselves to the typical sections found in most yearbooks: homecoming, the football team, the chess club (and frankly, even if there is a chess club, membership is probably going to be pretty small). Nor do they lend themselves to traditional end-of-school-year deadlines.
That's what Dyson is discovering. Work on Learning Community International's yearbook began in the spring, about the time most area students in traditional schools were passing theirs to classmates for those timeless inscriptions: "Have a good summer!"
About 30 of the group's 400 members chose to participate. The first deadline for copy was May, which was then moved to June and now -- fingers crossed -- to July 18, with the hope that the book will be in the hands of students by early August. It is the group's first attempt at putting together a yearbook in almost a decade, Dyson said. (The previous effort stalled because until this year there was no bookmaker to put it together.)
A glance at the yearbook -- at least the pages that have been turned in so far -- reveals an endearing mishmash of family photos, vacation pictures and hand-drawn illustrations. Every entry has its own personality, from serious to silly. Families will pay about $12 for the yearbook, which includes a half-page for each student to design -- although for a small premium students can have as many pages as they choose.
Maegan James's page is a homespun look back at her year and features a hand-drawn border of purple flowers along with illustrations by the 10-year-old.
"Me at Frontier Museum sawing a log," reads one carefully printed photo caption, where Maegan is holding one end of a saw about four times her size.
"Jack-o'-lanterns that my mom and I carved (mine is on the left and my mom's is on the right)," reads another.
"I liked the idea of a yearbook that she could have later -- something she could have years later to look back on," said Meagan's mother, Michelle James of Reisterstown. "When I was in high school I worked on the yearbook, and I know how much it meant to me, especially the ones I worked on."
Malia's page, another work in progress, so far features her school's unofficial mascot, Dodie, an Australian shepherd who provides entertainment during the school day by periodically attempting to herd the Dysons' three cats.
Malia likes the idea of a yearbook, especially because she's free to include whatever she chooses, rather than being locked into traditional categories. Though she's still pondering what more to add to her page of the book, she said, just watching what other people do has been educational.
"It's been fun seeing it all come together," Malia said. "I can't wait to see it when it's done.''