OHIO VALLEY — Some families in southeastern Ohio are taking a different approach to learning. Opting out of a traditional public education system, they are pursuing the alternative lifestyle known as “homeschooling”.
“The benefits for our family are so many, it’s hard to list them all,” explained Jessamy Bright, of Middleport, who is the primary teacher for her girls, Siena, age nine, and Lucia, age three. “Freedom and flexibility in learning, opportunities for field trips, and socialization and friendships with many different age groups are a few of my favorites to bring up in talking about homeschooling. I love that we live a lifestyle of learning that isn’t restricted to a classroom during school hours. And, since I’ve been blessed to be able to stay at home and work from home, I actually get to see my children grow up and work with them on a daily basis .”
According to the Ohio Department of Education, the numbers of homeschooled students in Gallia and Meigs County fluctuate from year to year. In 2011, there were 70 homeschooled students enrolled in Gallia County and 65 in Meigs County. When combined, that’s up just a bit from 2006, when there were 53 students in Gallia and 67 in Meigs.
The numbers are based on self-reporting guidelines, so the actual number of homeschooled children may actually be much higher. Ohio law says parents of homeschooled students are required to report basic annual data to the superintendent of their school district, but the state has no means of enforcing or monitoring this obligation. It is roughly estimated that Ohio has 77,700 homeschooled students this year.
Bright said she chose to homeschool her girls partly because of her own experience as a homeschooled student, but also because she and her husband “wanted a say in how our children were brought up and what was being taught to them on a daily basis”.
There are many reasons parents explore this alternative. Some local families say they have a strong desire to be more hands-on with their children’s education.
“Many factors initially influenced our choice to homeschool,” said Nora Ellis, a mother of four who has been pleased with the results. She is the primary teacher of three students ranging in age from six to eleven. Her oldest is a 17-year-old Post-Secondary Education Options student.
“We’ve found our children enjoy the engagement of independent learning as well as the flexibility they have to do other things. Instead of being in a classroom seven hours a day, they are able to complete their required work and explore their interests,” said Ellis. “Two of the children use the time to study more animal and engineering science while one pursues classical ballet.”
Ellis said the task seemed daunting before they gave it a try.
“Like many homeschoolers, we had thought about home education for years,” Ellis said. “It was overwhelming to think that we would be solely responsible for teaching our kids; add in the personalities of our children, and it seemed unbelievable to try. We found out early that classroom modeled teaching wouldn’t work for our broad age-range and began assigning independent learning assignments. The children became more independent and responsible with each task they had control over completing. Soon, they were expanding their learning to areas outside of the scope of their curriculum.”
Some families who homeschool are driven by dissatisfaction with public school and a lack of other options. A less common motivation among families involves meeting the special needs of a child with physical or mental health problems that public schools find difficult to accommodate.
“Our decision to home school [our son] was prompted by his overcrowded and understaffed kindergarten class,” explained one local mother. “He came home delirious and with a concussion on his second week. We were not informed by the school of his medical emergency and found out later that his teacher wasn’t even aware that anything had happened in class. The decision was simple and supported by the school superintendent.”
In this particular case, the other children in the family attended public school. Only one was homeschooled.
Some families find a blended approach is best because what suits one child may not work for another.
Teresa Shiflet, of Rutland, is the mother of two sons — one is enrolled in public school and one participates in a program with Ohio Connections Academy, which is one of several virtual schools offering a full online curriculum for Ohio students from Kindergarten through high school graduation.
“OCA provides their students with books, and computers for free,” Shiflet said. “The students also have teachers for every class. So this program differs from traditional homeschooling in the fact that I as a parent do not have to select the curriculum, nor do I have to teach. My son is held accountable to his teachers who report to the state just like a teacher in a traditional school setting. The education that he is receiving is competitive on a national level.”
Families have many curriculum options and use different methods to achieve homeschool success. Online or virtual schools make homeschooling easier than ever before. But, not everyone goes that route.
Faye Tillis, of Meigs County, is the mother of two homeschooled students – Anna, age 13, and Joey, age 10. With a degree in secondary education and several years of teaching experience, she says she prefers to design their curriculum.
“I can adjust not only what my kids are studying but the pace at which they are moving through the material according to their strengths, weaknesses and interests,” Tillis explained.
But, that’s not the only advantage of homeschooling.
“With my husband’s weird work schedule, there would be about a week each month he would not see the kids at all if they attended a traditional school,” Tillis said. “As homeschoolers, we can spend time together — including eating at least one meal together — every day. We have the opportunity to take a vacation in the middle of winter, or adjust our schedule for impromptu field trips. We can take a day off in the middle of the week and make it up on Saturday if we need to.”
Best of all, there is no homework.
“When the bus for public school kids goes up the road at 6:20 a.m., my kids are still in bed,” she said. “When they are finished with their written work — be it 1 or 5 p.m. — they are finished.”
Tillis said her family experiences other benefits, as well.
“Yes, we have bad days and grumpy days just like the rest of the world,” she said. “But for the most part, the environment is positive and encouraging. My kids actually get along great the majority of the time, and we don’t have any bullies — or drugs or alcohol.”
It’s a lifestyle choice for Tillis and many families like hers.
“As a Christian, I know that my kids are being taught in a way that is consistent with a Biblical worldview, which is very important to us,” Tillis said.
Ellis has a bit of advice for parents who may be considering homeschooling.
“Parent-to-parent, the most important thing to remember is that each of us has unique interests and learning styles,” Ellis said. “Don’t let a weakness in science, math, English, or anything else become your barrier to homeschooling. Choose a curriculum in that area that will be interesting to both of you and embrace it as an opportunity for your child to see you have fun learning something that is hard.”