It's a beautiful day off the south Florida coast, and the Neale family appreciates every bit of sunlight. Tom Neale's job as a writer for Cruising World magazine keeps him and his family traveling throughout the year.
Tom, his wife, Mary Ellen, and daughters Melanie, 16, and Carolyn, 14, spend the entire year aboard a 47-foot sailboat, which sails from the Bahamas in the winter to the East Coast in the summer. Because of their unique and some would say enviable situation, Melanie and Carolyn have spent their entire lives on a boat and have never been to school in a building. Instead, each takes a full load of high school classes through the Brigham Young University independent study department.During the school year, Melanie and Carolyn spend every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. working on their class work. After that, they are free to enjoy their environment - diving, snorkeling, windsurfing or relaxing in the sun.
Some 6,000 miles away in the French town of Arcine, 20 miles west of Geneva, Nathalie Chantaraud has another hectic day at home. She has been married for three years and already has a full house - one son, two stepchildren and another child on the way. Before her marriage, Chantaraud attended BYU, but circumstances forced her to return home to France and kept her from returning for her last semester. She saw independent study as the only way to continue her education.
"Independent study is very convenient for me," Chantaraud said. "I can't get to BYU or night school, and I really want to have this degree."
She is three classes away from receiving her bachelor of arts degree in linguistics from BYU, and the English class she is taking will put her one step closer to graduation.
BYU's independent study department has helped more than 300,000 people in almost every situation imaginable since its inception in 1921. The department has adapted with the times to use new technology to help students get a quality education away from the traditional campus.
The department boasts the second-largest number of enrollments in the nation. Approximately 25,000 students are enrolled in one of the 450 high school and college courses offered.
The students enrolled are as diversified as the classes.
"We've had students from every state and almost every country," said Dwight Laws, director of the program. "Independent study truly makes education available anytime, anyplace and anywhere."
Students in 68 countries are taking high school and college courses through BYU independent study from such faraway places as Belize, the West Indies, Ecuador, Macau, Kuwait, Zambia, El Salvador, Turkey and Iceland. Canada has 229 students - the most outside the United States - followed by Korea and Saudi Arabia with nearly 50 each.
Laws said most of the students taking classes from other countries are English-speaking U.S. citizens who can't get an education in English where they are.
Students can work at their own pace and place anywhere in the world and pay $75 per credit hour for courses.
Students can take classes by e-mail, World Wide Web, fax and mail. "It's not just pencil, paper and a stamp anymore to do the work, although that is still the main way," Laws said.
Laws said after they offered independent study over the Internet, the first two inquiries about classes came from Antarctica and Russia. Requests from students in Europe and other countries are not uncommon, Laws said.