Area families discuss benefits of homeschooling
Editor’s note: The following is the second of a two-part series on homeschooling.
When it comes to homeschooling, there are a number of families in the area that participate.
THE GERACE FAMILY
Gina and Joseph Gerace have seven children and have been a homeschooling family for nine years. Gina does the instructional part while Joseph works as Chautauqua County Sheriff. Joseph respects his wife’s hard work and acknowledges, “I have a different attitude about homeschooling now.”
Gina explained about “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and led her onto her current path.
Her oldest son was in middle school and was very involved in extracurricular activities and sports. She had a first-grader and a second-grader and two babies. Gina was very involved in school activities, trying to juggle the activities of her son with those of her elementary school children.
“I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted. I thought ‘something’s got to give.’ I prayed and I thought. I realized school was getting in my way,” she said.
Gina explained she knew the children would be fine educationally in school. She spoke to Linda Swanson, the elementary principal at Southwestern Central School.
Swanson encouraged her saying, “If anyone can do this, you can.”
Gina has a bachelor’s of art in elementary education with a concentration in nursery education. She also has a bachelor’s of science in psychology and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She considers it a privilege to homeschool her children.
“I like being able to be with the kids all day, to know where they’re at. I like to watch them grow and have conversations with them,” she said.
For the first four to five years, she said she questioned herself. Gina wanted to make sure she provided opportunities for her children. She had to juggle the different aged children as well as the different learning styles to determine the best curriculum for each. She calls herself an eclectic homeschooler, although she uses some Christian based books and does infuse scripture into lessons. Gina doesn’t doubt herself anymore.
Her oldest son stayed in school because he was doing well there. At the end of every year, she offers her children the option of going to school the next year. While a couple children have thought about it, none have yet chosen that option.
She belongs to a support group Loving Education at Home (LEAH) and said the chapter leader is wonderful.
Jill Meyer was at the Anderson-Lee Library with her four children. Her son Leif, 10, was working on a mask as part of a “Where the Wild Things Are” afterschool program.
She said she homeschools Leif as well as his younger brothers Elijah, 7, Vigo, 4, and Percival, 2. Although Vigo and Percival are not old enough to be registered as homeschooling, Jill considers the preschool activities she provides are homeschooling. She uses a version of the Charlotte Mason curriculum geared toward Catholic families. She often attends programs at the library with her children. She lives within the Silver Creek district.
Susan Hillman has two children, Kamaron and Isaac. Isaac has special needs and is in school in the Silver Creek District. Susan spends time working with the school to see his individual educational plan (IEP) is followed. Kamaron is homeschooled.
Hillman believes she does a lot of homeschooling for both of her children. She says her philosophy is to enrich her children’s lives. She takes her children to programs at Albright Knox held on First Fridays, and says many homeschoolers attend this. Among other trips, she has taken her children to Gettysburg. They also enjoy workshops at Home Depot and programs at public libraries.
Hillman also discovered a reading clinic at SUNY Fredonia which Kamaron attends. She says this is untapped treasure.
She and her children recently attended an open house at Camp Gross. While there she picked up some bluebird houses. Isaac and Kamaron learned how to make a craft called Ojo De Dios and showed the finished product to their mother.
She said, “We tend to be communicative and let people know we are homeschooling.”
Hillman says she belongs to a group called the Grapebelt Homeschool Group who facilitate organized activities such as art lessons. Information about the group online is not timely, but specifies all types of homeschoolers are welcome.
Lenhart’s daughter, Katie Dolphin Lawrence, now nearly 16, has been homeschooled since birth. She will be entering 10th grade this fall. Lenhart and Katie Dolphin have decided they will continue the process through high school.
“The most satisfying thing about homeschooling is we decide together what we are going to do. We can learn what she wants to learn within the framework,” she said.
Lenhart wrote an article about her process that was published in “Countryside Magazine.”
She wrote, “Homeschooling has given us the freedom to explore topics of interest, some of which are not addressed in school. For example, I place a big emphasis on nutrition as the basis for health. We start lessons in the garden or at the farm stand, find different recipes, prepare fresh whole foods and learn nutritional values at the same time. We make bread, yogurt, and cheese, incorporating math and science.”
Early (preschool) years with Katie Dolphin included reading to her, adding and subtracting with cheerios, collecting natural objects outside, and learning from everyday activities such as a trip to the grocery store or the doctor. At that time, they lived in Florida.
Just before kindergarten age, the family moved to New York state. While attendance at school is not mandatory until first grade, Lenhart asked the district (at the time Gowanda) to place her on the books so that the lessons she taught would be documented.
Lenhart was not comfortable with either the very structured lessons or the idea of letting children learn without anything formal at all, so she creates her own curriculum. She found children’s books at places such as the Salvation Army or at yard sales. She ordered some books and workbooks she thought would be helpful and mentioned using Goodminds.com where she found a reading program prepared for Native Americans in Vancouver that emphasized animal characters which Katie Dolphin loved.
Katie Dolphin has learned through 4-H, the library and other community resources. She volunteered at the library and even worked with a local veterinarian in Springville for a year in a mentoring relationship.
The two have just moved to Fredonia. In contrast with a more rural environment, Lenhart has found that resources are more easily accessible. She mentioned activities such as art lessons for homeschoolers with local artist Tom Annear. She has also enjoyed working with local homeschool families.
When interviewing Lenhart, Katie Dolphin and Allegra Woolson arrived at Lenhart’s home. Lenhart has a writing group in which Katie and Allegra participate and the girls were clearly big fans of J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote “The Lord of the Rings.”
Allegra said she has been in both school and homeschool so she knows both sides.
She said, “It’s (homeschooling) much less uniform than public school. There is a lot more freedom in what you do and when you do it. It’s active and participative and you learn at your level.”
Katie Dolphin said, “I’m glad I was homeschooled. I would not change my experience. I appreciate that if I have an idea I can work on it and get credit for school, not have to do it in my spare time.”
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