Attendance doubles at annual home-school prom

Photo: David McGregor. Katie Romanoff dances with Chance Rigdon at the Moon Over Paradise Prom for home schooled students at the Historic Courthouse in Lawrenceville on Saturday night.

Photo: David McGregor. Katie Romanoff dances with Chance Rigdon at the Moon Over Paradise Prom for home schooled students at the Historic Courthouse in Lawrenceville on Saturday night.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- As the band slew Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Call Me the Breeze," the girls bounced in flowing gowns, their tuxedoed beaus thrown tragically out of step. One guy in a fedora launched something resembling The Twist. Their more bashful -- but equally dapper -- counterparts watched from afar, poking at buffet food.

"We having fun?" the long-haired lead singer rhetorically boomed.

An upstairs ballroom at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse, a cavernous space bedecked with "Moon Over Paradise" balloons and stars, reverberated with an affirmative roar.

It was 7:30 on Saturday night. The Homeschool Prom was rocking.

Like the three previous years, home-schooled ninth- to 12th-graders from far and wide congregated at the courthouse on a March night, slow-danced at arm's length and crowned a king and queen, just like students in more formalized school systems. Organizers say the three-hour soiree allows the teens the opportunity to blossom a bit, to socialize in a fun, casual and safe environment.

"I love dancing, I love music, I love friends, I love people," enthused Stone Mountain junior Jesse Schwed, 17, who plans to study English and Japanese at Temple University.

Prom attendance has swelled from a handful of revelers to about 60. They descend from as far as Kennesaw and Madison, attracted by increased Internet promotions on home-school websites, fliers at libraries and old-fashioned word of mouth, said Renee Arant, an organizer and Gwinnett Historic Courthouse supervisor.

Tickets set couples back $60. Proceeds covered decor, courthouse staff, caterers and the band, an Athens light-country, light-rock outfit.

"I think it really gets the kids out of their element, gets them out of their environment and gives them the opportunity to cut loose a bit," Arant said.

A similar prom was held in Stone Mountain a couple years ago, but the courthouse shindig is the only one active in the Gwinnett area now, Arant said.

While proms may be rare, home-school advocates stress that socialization for pupils is not.

According to the Georgia Home Education Association, most home-school children are active in church, music and sports activities, along with scouting programs.

"Generally ... home-school children receive completely adequate socialization," association leaders maintain on their website.

Georgia law requires that "teaching parents" have at least a high school diploma or GED and that each school day consist of 41/2 hours. The state requires that attendance records be kept and submitted monthly to a local superintendent.

One perk of the prom, attendees said, was its looseness.

Alongside trivia, the highlight comes with the crowning of king and queen. Prom-goers select the enchanted pair based on a brief bio listing their academic and volunteer prowess.

Said last year's queen, Monroe resident Ashley Phillips, 18, now a Perimeter College student, "This is something we get to do, when we wouldn't usually get the chance."

Her king, Chance Rigdon, 19, has a unique vantage point: A Grayson High School grad, he was asked to several home-school proms.

"A lot more chill, a lot less regulations," Rigdon said, comparatively speaking.

Parent chaperones Tyrone and Stefanie Steele, who school their five children from home in Dacula, kept their distance on couches in a former grand jury room. They'd brought their daughter, Marissa, 13, and her crew of giddy freshman friends, met through a Gwinnett home-school network the Steeles called vast but close-knit.

"They've been talking about it since last year's prom," Stefanie smiled.

"Because of her personality, she needs to get out and do things like this," said Tyrone. "If I was doing this for a public school, I'd be right in there (monitoring the situation). You couldn't pull me out of there."