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Alternatives to High School & High School Diplomas in California

Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling®

Unschool your Teen

Many parents contact Homefires asking for ways to emancipate their teens from traditional high schools. This section offers some suggestions that you'll find helpful.

Before you start worrying about getting a high school diploma you should know that many colleges and universities do not require them at all - Stanford University and Harvard University, two of the most competitive colleges, are just two examples of schools that do not require high school diplomas.

There is a terrific book called Bear's Guide to Earning High School Diplomas Nontraditionally by Tom Nixon. It offers a directory of the many possible ways to get a high school diploma including online and independent study high schools, equivalency exams, university-based high schools, charter schools, alternative high schools, and more. It blows the lid off of the usual, mundane method of getting a high school diploma. To read an article by the author CLICK HERE.

Tom Nixon's book is a remedy for all of the square pegs that don't fit into the round holes of traditional public and private high school programs, as are the following resources...

Homeschool Transcripts

Available in California...
California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE)

If you would like to leave high school, and would like to have a diploma, you can take the California High School Prociency Exam or CHSPE. It is administered twice each year. Passing the CHSPE earns the equivalent of a high school diploma in CA, and allows students to seek employment without a work permit, and also lets the student move ahead to higher education. Passing CHSPE does not exempt you from attending school unless you are 16 or over and have verified parental permission to leave early. You may take the test if you:

  • are 16 or older (no upper age limit) or
  • have completed at least one academic year of the 10th grade, or
  • are enrolled in the 2nd semester of 10th grade

For further information you may call California Proficiency Testing at 1-866-342-4773 or visit the website at http://www.chspe.net.

Available Nationwide...

Passing this test is considered by CA law to be equivalent to a high school diploma for purposes of employment by all state and local public agencies. You must be 18 to take the exam. Contact the GED Program Coordinator at 1-800-331-6316.

More Options for High Schoolers


There is an alternative, private high school in California through which teens can leave the traditional school system and earn a high school diploma without stress. Beach High School has no classrooms and has graduated more than 1,000 students. Most of the students, some homeschoolers and more public school leavers, obtain a diploma over a very short period of time so they can get on with their lives. The diploma is based on a very minimal portfolio because one of Wes Beach's most basic beliefs that has grown out of his experience is that, when a kid says she (or he) can do something, she probably can. One of the students he had some of the strongest doubts about now has an M.D. from Stanford. Beach High School does not provide any direct instruction or instructional materials. What they offer is legal cover, guidance, documentation, and moral support. They work with students at a distance via e-mail, phone, and fax.
Contact: Wes Beach of Beach High School
Phone: 831/462-5867
Fax: 831/464-3849
Email: beachhi@cruzio.com

The School of Choice

Center for Gifted Homeschoolers, San Jose

The School of Choice's "Center for Gifted Homeschoolers" is an Interfaith ISP, which offers a project-oriented classical curricula in a private San Jose day school, which meets the University of California's A to G requirements. Working on flexible schedules at affordable prices (scholarships available), friendly teachers in large high school buildings lend space to homeschool groups and give a smorgasbord of middle school, high school, and AP level classes in most academic subjects, plus drama, art and athletics.

Homeschooling contact: Robert C. Arne
Address: 3800 Blackford Ave., San Jose, CA. 95117, (near 280 and Saratoga).
Phone: 408-887-5108
E-mail: robert@schoolofchoice.com

Nature Study Program for Teens on the San Francisco Peninsula

The areas of study covered in the program include:

  1. Field Sciences -- Biology, Botany, Ecology, Taxonomy, Zoology, Anthropology, and Ornithology.
  2. Earth Based Skills -- Fire Making, Tracking, Basketry, Food Preparation, Bird Language, Primitive Tool Making, and Natural Building Materials.

The backbone of the program resides in learning one piece of land intimately. Using a local county park (Huddart Park) enables the group to discover subtle patterns during each season. Throughout the year they will also use a program van to explore diverse landscapes around the Bay Area. Overnights and Field Trips may include Pescadero Marsh, Coyote Hills Regional Park, Ano Nuevo, and Bair Island.

This program is staffed by two instructors, Scott Brinton and Elaine Hirson, who bring degrees in Natural History and Wildlife Conservation and Alternative Energy and Sustainable Community Design to this program, and they have tons of experience working with teens in summer camps, backpacking and rock climbing trips, as well as teaching nature skills to teens. They prefer to consider themselves mentors rather than teachers. They generally avoid lecturing students -- and create experiences for students to discover and develop critical thinking, cooperative teamwork, problem solving, and research skills. Presentations by experts and naturalists in the areas of wilderness survival, tracking, environmental sciences and more, also enhance the program.

Interested people should contact the Nature Studies Program at the Riekes Center at 650-298-3405 or 650-364-2509 or email nature@riekes.org.


Art & Film is offered to all students in the San Francisco Bay Area from late middle school through college. It offers you a Cine/Club on Friday nights that introduces you to classic films and is followed by a terrific discussion. On Saturdays it takes you to visit galleries and museums, treats you to a picnic, a commercial film and discussion afterwards. It offers you free tickets to the symphony, opera, theater, and dance performances throughout the year (donated by the city's cultural institutions), it runs a Film Workshop which helps students produce their own films, A Shakespeare film festival in August, and takes its most devoted students for a month in Europe every other year. It's the only program of its kind in the nation, and its free! You only have to sign up on the web site, and attend the events you want. You join with your feet. Art & Film represents students from 42 public, private, and home schools in the Bay Area. The students are diverse, but the most devoted students (the ones that attend almost all the events) fit a certain profile you might recognize:

  • They're bright, self motivated students that have some real issues about their schools and the type of education they're getting.
  • They don't think they're learning enough, or being challenged or excited enough.
  • They complain about the busy work, the information and testing that their schools have become obsessed with.
  • They love film.
  • They also find the arts something that sounds interesting to them.
  • They don't often fit in at their schools because they sometimes have unusual opinions, a different way of looking at things, or they like to discuss ideas.
  • They're frustrated with the status quo and bored with their everyday routine walled in by school and home. These students find a home at Art & Film and begin to flourish there. They bring their friends, and tell others.

Schools have changed radically in the last five years. Funding has been withdrawn from the arts programs first. Most schools have retreated from the demands of a diverse student body by placing an almost single minded importance on science, information and, above all, testing. Other needs in a student's life are seldom addressed. What about experiences that stimulate your imagination? That touch your emotions? That help you gain self awareness? That excite you to talk about what you like about something or don't so that you can start to develop critical judgment? And what about getting you really excited about something that's awesome, or beautiful, or that blows you away? Our students are experiencing moments like this all through the year, sometimes weekly. Because that's what experiencing great films, music, art, theater and dance is all about. Art & Film makes the arts an active and vital presence in your life. It's nothing like school. You go, you do, you move around, you see things, you talk about them, and you have fun. Nobody talks down to you. It's voluntary. If you don't want to come to something, you don't. You're under no obligation, but if you throw yourself into the schedule, you'll see the difference.

The director for Art & Film, Ronald Chase, has had a long career in the arts - as artist, as a film maker, as a designer working in opera. You might even have heard him on local NPR radio, as he is an arts critic there. Some of the Art & Film mentors are photographers and artists, some designers, film makers, architects - some are people who just love the arts, and take time off because they think it's interesting to spend some time with young people. They give you a great opportunity to get another, different perspective about the world from them.


Homeschooling — California Style

At 10 am on Saturdays you meet with other students for coffee in the heart of the downtown art scene -- at Starbucks above the waterfall at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. You hang out with friends and catch up on what's happened during the week. Then you're off for a visit to museums and galleries. By noon parents have set out a terrific picnic-- French ones like the ones our students created when they visited Paris. Then it's off to a film, and after the film, a discussion, where you talk about your reactions, your likes and dislikes. You learn to get around town.


On Friday nights Art & Film offers free classic films at the Randall Museum or the Dolby Labs screening room. Our pre-film social comes with free refreshments and you can meet new members and friends. The program features introductions to the films and a discussion afterwards. You'll see greatest films and gain a terrific film background. The discussions are exciting.


You're offered free tickets to the opera, symphony, dance and theater performances all year. Students who go often receive over a thousand dollars in free seats. You'll not find an opportunity like this anywhere else but at Art & Film.


Professional editors, cinematographers, and film makers help you make your own films. Our films consistently win film awards and our graduates enter the best film schools in the country. Offered free six months during the school year.


Our most devoted students can travel with us for a month in Europe. Open to top seniority students (some receive grants) our trip in 2001 took students to London, Paris, Italy and Spain. Our students claimed it was the high point of their lives, so far. It can be yours, too.

Contact San Francisco Art & Film for Teenagers at 415-864-2026 or visit the website at http://www.artandfilm.org or http://www.europeforteens.org or email the Director, Ronald Chase at rchase@chaseartfilm.com.


Here's a list of recommended books for homeschooling teenagers, by title, chosen by your Homefires Editor for their outstanding features and editorial excellence. As a result of a commercial relationship between Homefires and Amazon.com online booksellers, these titles can be purchased directly from Amazon.com by following the links below. (Note: Amazon.com is solely responsible for fulfillment of book orders placed through these links.)