Schooled at home

Homeschooling is alive and well in Chautauqua County.

One way to meet homeschoolers is to frequent libraries. Libraries are a resource for the entire community, but homeschoolers often can find needed resources and opportunities there. The Patterson Library in Westfield makes a special point of trying to aid families who chose this educational option by sponsoring “Home Away From Home,” a series of free events for homeschooling families.

Held once a month on Monday mornings from January through May, each program has a theme. This year, the programs were art, music, authors, gardening and drama. Stories, food, activities and library skills were incorporated around these themes.

At the gardening event, Janet Nass from Nass Daylily Farm in Westfield helped the children and parents plant seedlings. Mayev and Ana Rogers, students who are her homeschooling neighbors, helped her show others how to make pots out of newspapers.

Nass said, “There is less peat available now. These (pots) are inexpensive and a way to recycle.”

Several families at the event agreed to speak about homeschooling.

Cherrie Odell from Ripley has four children: Tiffany, Heather, Joel, and Chloe who are 26, 24, 14, and 6, respectively. She has homeschooled her children during the elementary years, choosing to send them to school for high school. Tiffany was valedictorian of her class and Heather salutatorian of hers.

“Homeschooling gives them a good foundation. It is important to read well,” Odell said.

Odell says she is more comfortable homeschooling now than she was initially. She knows homeschoolers in North East, Pa.

Jenna Heim said she had been homeschooled as a child. She has five children: Grace, 12; Emma and Joshua, both 9; Micah, 7; and Sammy, 5. Heim is trained in elementary reading and K-12 special education and taught in public school. She thought homeschooling is something she would try and she loves it.

Grace said, “I love working with my mom.”

Heim said, “Homeschooling allows weaving all things together. The education is seamless. … It’s totally different; there are a lot more resources.”

When Nass, a retired teacher, was asked her opinion about homeschooling, she answered, “For some people it’s super; for some it’s not.”

SOME NUMBERS

Statewide figures are from the New York State Education Department. The number shows an increase from the 2007- 2008 school years to the 2012-2013 school year in absolute terms. Because the number of school-aged children has decreased overall, percentages have also increased. While the number of students fluctuates, approximately 18,000 students have been homeschooled each year.

The latest figures issued by the U.S. Department of Education are from 2007. In that year, an estimated 1.5 children were homeschooled, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003.

Some sources say the number of students increased to over 2 million by 2010. That number is based on a study conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute. In the actual study, the author, Brian D. Ray Ph.D., was confident that the true number was between 1.734 million and 2.34 million.

Reasons for homeschooling vary. According to the U.S. Department of Education, many parents cited a desire to provide religious or moral instruction (36 percent of students). Next in popularity was a concern with the school environment, such as safety, drugs, negative peer pressure, (21 percent); dissatisfaction with academics (17 percent), and other reasons such as family time, finances, travel, and distance (14 percent). Still other reasons cited were the desire to provide a non-traditional approach to education (7 percent of students) and a child’s health problems or special needs (6 percent).

NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT REGULATIONS

States vary in how much they regulate homeschooling and in the specifics of the regulations. The New York State Department of Education Part 100.10 details how instruction is provided and the responsibilities of both the parents and the district.

A parent must provide a written notice of intent to instruct at home to the superintendent of a district by July 1 for the following school year, or if they determine they want to do this later in the year, within 14 days of beginning instruction.

Once the notice of intent is received, the district must send a copy of the regulations and a form on which to submit a individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) for each child of compulsory age who is to be taught at home.

Four weeks after receipt of the materials, or by Aug. 15, the parent should submit the completed IHIP. If requested, the district is to provide assistance in completing the plan.

The regulations specify the appeal process if the plan is deemed unacceptable. The required courses are also specified. Parents are also to submit a quarterly report. Parents can choose the specific dates depending on how they define their calendar. Annual assessments are also required.

NYSED also has a question and answer summary available. Some items, such as borrowing of materials from the schools and participating in organized school activities, are left to the individual district school board policy. However, regulations concerning interscholastic sports specify that a participant must be enrolled in public school.

Homeschooling parents locally seem to have religious/moral and/or academic reasons for their decision, but lines are not that clear. Some who started for religious reasons also speak of academic advantages, while some who chose the option more for academic reasons find the ability to infuse religion or moral teachings into the curriculum is an added bonus. Every family’s story is a little different.

Coming next week: Families share their stories about home schooling. Comments may be sent to dchodan@observertoday.com