Saturday, October 6, 2007

Homeschooling in St. Louis


A friend that my husband and I went to college with (that's where we met) e-mailed me this article out of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Her family ended up on the front page of the paper because of their involvement with an article on homeschooling. It was a really good, positive article and thought that I'd share it here - enjoy!


Bellefontaine Neighbors — Weekdays in the Perry household start like those in any other. The kids brush their teeth, dress, grab a quick breakfast. Then, they make their way to school — at the dining room table. Anna, 7, tries to focus on her workbook. Bekah, 5, squirms in her chair and plays with 2-year-old Danielle, who needs a nap and starts wailing. Books are stacked on every surface. Little posters with insects and alphabets dot the walls, stand-ins for typical dining room decor. "Welcome," says their mother Kim Perry, smiling amid the disorder, "to our classroom."

The Perrys are part of a growing home-school movement. In 1999, according to federal statistics, there were 850,000 home-schooled children in theUnited States. In 2003, that number rose to 1.1 million. Some estimates put the figure today as high as 2.4 million. "It's certainly on the rise, there's no doubt about it," said Brad Haines, executive director for the Missouri-based Families for Home Education. "Exactly how fast is up to speculation." Before their four children were born, Kim and her husband, David, decided they were going to home-school them. They had the most common reasons for doing so: They wanted an alternative to the sometimes violent culture of American public schools, and they wanted to educate their children with a Bible-centered focus. "People always ask me, 'Why do you want to stay home with your kids?'" Perry said. "I tell them, they're my kids. I want to have a positive impact on them. I want to raise them according to my values not someone else's." Neither Missouri nor Illinois tracks students who are educated at home; the two states have some of the loosest regulations on home-schooling in the country. A parent doesn't have to tell authorities they're deciding to home-school their children, and home-schoolers want to keep it that way. Efforts in both states to tighten the rules have been extinguished as quickly as they flared.In both states, home-schooling support groups have flourished and multiplied. Membership in support groups suggests the number of home-schooled children in the St. Louis area is 6,000 or higher. "I get calls from people all the time, from people who want to pull their kids out of public schools," said Perry, who is on the board of an 80-member home-school group. "We've been growing by a third every year."


CONNECTIONS

In both Illinois and Missouri, parents who home-school their children, in effect, set up a private school, usually with the mother as teacher and father as principal. Neither needs any particular academic qualifications. There are lesson plans they can follow, and bookstores cater to home-school families. For many families, though, the most important resource has become the Internet, which has linked even isolated households and helped support groups organize field trips, athletic events or classes. "It's certainly made it a whole lot easier," said Wayne Walker, minister of The Affton Church of Christ, who home-schools his two children. "You can find like-minded people, more information." Walker sends a 20-plus-page weekly e-mail with a list of available classes and activities to a host of home-schoolers every week. Like many home-schooled children, his participate in many activities. "It's really provided an opportunity for our children to meet friends," Walker said. Home-schoolers say they feel more connected to a community. "We've chosen to be at home, but if we wanted to, there are so many classes, we could be gone all day, every day," Perry said.


MEASURING STICKS

Education authorities say they worry that, because home-schooled students aren't required to take statewide achievement tests in many states, including Missouri and Illinois, students may not meet expectations. Science class in a home-school household, for example, might veer from teaching evolutionary theory. A science course might instead have a name like "God's Design for Heaven & Earth," as it does in the Perry household. Home-schoolers say the diplomas they confer on their children are evidence of a solid education. So are the transcripts they submit to colleges. Increasingly colleges say they agree. "They were so used to dealing with traditional transcripts and grades," said Ian Slatter, of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Now the overwhelming majority of colleges have home-school admissions policies or a home-school admissions officer. "The University of Missouri and the University of Illinois have learned how to evaluate home-schoolers, though they receive relatively few applications for admission. "We're trying to do more to reach out to them," said Barbara Rupp, director of admissions at the University of Missouri. "I see a big difference in the level of sophistication of transcripts. But, yeah. Mom and Dad are assigning grades." Regina Morin, director of admissions at Columbia College, says the school is seeing more home-schoolers apply each year. "They tend to be better than their public school counterparts," she said. "They score above average on tests, they're more independent, they're often a grade ahead." "Traditionally colleges can be afraid of them," Morin added. "They don't know how to assess them." The home-school community concedes that not all kids emerge college-ready and that some parents aren't up to the task. "This is not an escape," Haines said. "It's a choice you make and stick with."


ggustin@post-dispatch.com 618-624-2438

1 comment:

Ange said...

Found you through paperback swap. Just stopped in to say "hi"