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A Daniel Island discussion: Learn at school or school at home?
By Jennifer Johnston
May 1, 2013 - 9:26:18 AM

Therese Jacobs gives hands-on math instruction with daughter Georgia (6) while her preschooler Grace (4) watches intently.
The Jacobs boys, (L-R) Ben (9), Will (12), and Ian (10), work through lessons at their own pace.

Most words that begin with the prefix “home” have a universally agreed-upon positive or negative connotation. Homemade=delightful. Homework=drag. Homecoming=happy. Homesick=sad. Homer (the run)=woohoo! Homer (the Simpson)=doh! But there is one such similarly-rooted word that appears to incite fairly widespread divisiveness: homeschool.
The Daniel Island News recently ran a survey, asking residents of the island to weigh in on their experience with, and opinions of, homeschooling. 81 people participated in the survey, and perhaps less remarkable than the quantifiable results (see sidebar) was the “open” feedback participants were invited to share. Like the steady rhythm of a well-matched ping-pong contest, the responses volleyed from one side of the debate to the other, with neither side appearing ill-prepared to defend their stance.
While it is unknown exactly how many Daniel Island children are currently educated in a home environment, we do know that in the 2011-12 school year, just under two million children in the U.S. and approximately 30,000 children in South Carolina were homeschooled. For both the nation and our state, this represents close to 4% of the 5-17 year-old population. Particularly with the advent of online or “virtual” schools, the percentage of K-12 students getting their reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic from home is on the rise. And it is safe to assume Daniel Island will be following that trend.
“For those who don't know anyone who homeschools, I think they'd be pleasantly surprised at how unstereotypical we are,” muses resident Therese Jacobs. “No more long skirts and nursing four year-olds.” Jacobs’ sense of humor surely serves her well: she is currently homeschooling all five of her children, ranging from preschool to sixth grade. “I originally began to homeschool because we were moving across the country from Arizona and I didn't want to pull my son out of school part way through the year and make a rushed decision about a school in this area,” Jacobs recalls. “When he tested really well at the end of the year, I was hooked.” For the three years that followed, her children were educated from home, but last year she sent her three oldest to a private Catholic school while she continued to homeschool her kindergartner. Jacobs felt this gave them all a valuable first-hand experience with a more traditional learning environment, but in the end they have determined that homeschooling better suits their needs.
Jacobs tells us that folks are often awe-struck when they learn that she is homeschooling four elementary-age children and a preschooler. Her response is to ask them if they’ve ever been in a classroom with a ratio of 1 teacher to 22 (or more) students of diverse age, ability, and personality. “I get to spend the day teaching only four (grade-school age) children whom I know inside and out,” reasons Jacobs. “Sure, they know how to push my buttons, but I know exactly what discipline technique will have them straightened out and back to work in minutes flat. I absolutely admire and respect teachers and all they accomplish during the day. They make my job look like a breeze.”
Though there are a number of programs under which homeschooled students can study, virtual public charter schools are gaining marked popularity. Like traditional public schools, charter schools do not charge tuition, and charter schools must address the entire state curriculum for all grade levels offered. Students are required to meet all state graduation requirements, and the schools are required to administer all state standardized testing, which is conducted under monitored conditions. All public charter schools are subject to state laws regarding professional licensure for school staff.
Clay Eaton, Director of Public Relations for the SC Public Charter School District, tells us that approximately 8,000 South Carolina public school students are presently learning full-time in a virtual public charter school. Those students are in all grades (K-12), but roughly half of those students are in high school. As of January 2013, approximately 460 students in Charleston County and 350 students in Berkeley County attended a virtual learning environment. Of the ten SC public charter schools that are set to open next year, one is a virtual learning school that will serve the entire state, and another will integrate virtual learning as a significant aspect of a brick-and-mortar school's operations (blended learning).
The Jacobs kids use Kolbe Academy as their base program, substituting the math curriculum with Math-U-See because they have proven to be more visual learners. Their mom is their primary educator, though the children also receive outside Latin, science, theology and writing instruction once a week. “Most people would be amazed at how much support and programs are available to make the teaching part so much easier for the parents,” Jacobs contends. At the end of each year, her kids take the Woodcock Johnson III exam to diagnose and evaluate their progress so that they remain on-track and challenged. The Jacobs family is active in two different Catholic homeschool support groups. The kids also get social and athletic outlets with karate, golf classes, music lessons, church choir, flag football, and basketball.
But despite what appear to be legitimate, comprehensive alternatives to classroom learning, skepticism about homeschooling remains at large. Island resident Joannah O’Connor has had a career in education for 24 years, working primarily with students with disabilities. After retiring from the Massachusetts public school system and relocating to Daniel Island, she started up her own educational consulting and advocacy business, helping parents negotiate the special education process and advocate for their needs. She also writes a column titled “Ask the Consultant” for Something Special magazine. And she happens to have a pretty strong point of view on the idea of homeschooling. “Parents who homeschool their children are often not trained educators,” O’Connor states. “They are not held to higher standards of being highly qualified in a subject area.” She also fears that the curriculum at home may not have the same rigor, alignment to state standards, or accountability through regular assessments as traditional public schools.
But what is equally concerning to O’Connor is the possibility of stunting a child’s social development. “Homeschooled children can lack the social skills that children who attend school acquire as they deal with day to day issues with adults and peers,” she suggests. The veteran educator does admit, however, that home education is not without potential, provided all the checks and balances are in place. “I have worked with homeschooled students over the years and think that it can be a great thing,” O’Connor concedes. “But it needs to be regulated better and parents need training on how to make sure their children are accessing the Common Core Standards so that they are prepared for college or careers."
Having witnessed on her own turf the acclimation of homeschooled kids to a classroom setting, Daniel Island School third-grade teacher Lara Karam-Rodgers can attest to the conspicuous challenges such a transition can pose. But she believes that home can be a viable venue for education as long as the parent/teacher can meet the challenge, adding, “I also feel that the social interaction with other peers is important. As long as children are allowed opportunities to collaborate with other children in an educational setting, homeschooling can be a great path!”
Aligning whole-heartedly with the pro-home side is PCI Certified Parent Coach Chris Donavan, who teaches classes within the public schools, at churches, and as a private coach with individual clients. She works primarily with parents of teens, and tells us that she has done extensive research on homeschooling.
“In my opinion, it should be renamed something like ‘schools without walls,’ Donavan says, “because the idea has progressed so far and is so common that good parents are banding together to hire excellent teachers and professors, and allowing their children to learn ‘in the field.’”
Donavan has four children and four step-children of her own, ranging in age from 16 to 30, and tells us that she was happy with the public schooling her kids received. However, she goes on to say that she would not make the same choice if she were raising young children in today’s educational environment: “I would definitely homeschool. The schools have been required to focus more and more on testing, and I have sadly seen field trips and teacher/student led investigations diminish.”
Donavan believes that teachers now are given fewer liberties to teach to their students’ learning styles, plan field trips, and incorporate different books. Subscribing to the notion that most children’s brains aren’t wired to read until they’re between the ages of six and eight, Donavan feels todays youngest students are pushed too early, resulting in pressure, frustration and, ultimately, a distaste for school in general. Her recommendation? Allow for physical movement, creativity in curricula, and a delayed emphasis on reading so that children learn it when they can love it.
But it’s not just literacy and location that motivate parents to homeschool. Island resident Danielle Theobald is the primary educator for her three children: Brogan (fifth grade), Caden (third grade), and Emerson (preschool). Theobald looked to homeschooling not only to better suit the distinct learning styles of her children, but also for the option to make it more faith-based. “I wanted to give my children an education that's based upon a Biblical worldview,” she explains. “Homeschooling enables them to work at a pace that is in line with their individual needs, and offers my husband and I the time and opportunity to train and nurture them according to our family and Biblical values.”
Theobald and her children take part in Classical Conversations, a program that provides everything from teacher resources to testing services for families conducting a home-centered Christian education. The family is also affiliated with the Legacy Christian Home Schools support group, which connects Charleston-area homeschoolers and offers a lending library, field trip opportunities, and fellowship socials. Theobald’s kids appear to have a solid understanding of the benefits of their educational arrangement. "You get more one-on-one time with your mom and dad,” reports son Caden, “and can form a stronger relationship." His big brother Brogan concurs: "I get to spend more time with my mom and dad. I can learn better one-on-one."
Yet another islander, Holle Knowles, homeschooled her two older children from pre-school through most of sixth and seventh grade, respectively. “I started looking into homeschooling before my husband and I even got engaged,” Knowles recalls. “I was drawn to the idea of being able to personalize an education based on my children's aptitudes, interests, and needs.” But when Knowles, her husband Thor, and their three children moved to Daniel Island last May, the couple decided to enroll their middle-schoolers at DIS. “We intended from the beginning of our homeschooling adventure to send our kids to public school around late middle school. For us, it was just a matter of finding the right public school and environment. Enrolling our older kids at DIS was a big factor in moving to Daniel Island from Atlanta.” Knowles reports that the move to a traditional school was an easy, enjoyable one for daughter Isabella and son Trystan. She plans to homeschool her pre-K son, Hugh, starting next year, while Isabella enters high school at Academic Magnet and Trystan returns to DIS.
For her part, Therese Jacobs’ reasons for homeschooling have evolved as she has witnessed benefits that she wasn't necessarily expecting. “Our most difficult day of homeschooling is nothing compared to last year when the boys were in school,” she relates. “We spent our afternoons bogged down with hours of homework, projects, and teary, tired kids. Sprinkle on some afternoon extracurricular activities and an attempt at squeezing in dinner and it was a recipe for one miserable family life.” Today, Jacobs relishes that morning time when the kids are well-rested and best able to focus, and they have the flexibility to participate in “after-school” activities, such as golf and music lessons, in the middle of the day.
Jacobs also cites the ability to infuse other teachable moments into the day, as well as the avoidance of “unsavory behavior” on the school playground, as added benefits of teaching at home. She says that her sons were thrilled at the idea of studying at home again following their year at private school. Still, she acknowledges that their arrangement does not exactly allow her much time to herself, and is quick to point out that a home-based classroom is not a fit for every family: “I always tell parents that they have to make the educational decision that they feel is the best for their child and their family. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but it is definitely for us.”



OPINING AND OPPOSING: READERS WEIGH IN

“I think it is a great if you can devote the time and have your kids in outside activities with other children for social skills.”

“I have considered it, but so far have decided against it because of what I feel they may miss out on. We decided to put them into a private school.”

“As a former teacher, I don't believe that children learn adequate social skills in many (not all) homeschooling situations. It was also my experience that most homeschool curricula did not prepare students for the academic rigor of the high school and/or college curriculum.”

“I don't agree with it. I think you lose out on the social aspect. Our society is a social one and we need how to learn to get along with others even if we don't like them.”

“My child is being homeschooled, but I'm using a tutor (we would butt heads). It is awesome. She was so stressed in school; it was affecting her short-term memory. We were all stressing. She is still advanced and is able to spend time doing things she loves.”

“I believe homeschooling produces a child who is not realistically prepared to deal with the real world. Socially, everyone needs the interaction of other people to learn to handle life's challenges.”




“I feel that certified teachers are a key component in educating children. I also feel that children who are homeschooled miss out on important social development opportunities that public and private school environments provide.”

“I would like to homeschool, but I wonder if it would do my daughter justice. My daughter is in resource and I’m not sure if I would give her enough of what she needs.”

“Just an opinion: I think it would ruin the child's life. There is really no parent, anywhere on this earth, who is qualified to teach every subject in order to properly homeschool his or her child. Leave the schooling to the professional educators. Supplement your child's education if you feel that your school is weak in any area, or move to find a better school.”

“I believe children lose valuable life experiences by being homeschooled. As a public school teacher, I have seen students come to school after being homeschooled and they are often immature, sheltered, and socially awkward.”

“Great option for some, but lacks the constant opportunities for social interaction that traditional schooling offers.”

“Opinion only… Homeschooling is a good option if surrounding schools are substandard, provided that the parents are very well educated.”




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