While numerous families decide to take a child out of the traditional school system track, the reasons behind that choice are far-reaching.
Homeschooling parents educate their own children. In today’s world, however, each family sees homeschooling in a unique way and defines its own set of rules based on the family’s particular makeup.
Kimberly Erway of Brighton saw homeschooling as a way to remove her son—who has a hearing impairment—from the ridicule of the traditional classroom. Homeschooling helped her son realize his full potential, she said.
“Today my son is, finally, himself,” Erway said. “He is a confident, happy, intelligent, friendly boy, and I am the happiest parent I could have ever hoped to be. I respect that the schools work wonderfully for some kids, but I would choose homeschooling again and again now that I have witnessed its rewards.
“We are not anti-public school. We are pro-homeschool,” she added.
Others are drawn to the freedom of the schedule and the chance to learn subjects in a more immersive way. Jacqueline Parks, whose lives in Avon in the Honeoye Falls-Lima school district, has four children. Two attended public school and two are homeschooled.
Homeschooling has allowed Parks to travel more frequently with her children, showing them places around the country and other countries as well including Iceland, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Kenya, India, Mexico and Peru among others.
“Travel has been a huge part of our homeschooling as we think it is a great way to learn,” she said. “Before we traveled somewhere, we studied about the geography, geology, wildlife and history of the area.”
Jennifer Carlson has four children under the age of 8, and two are being homeschooled. The family lives in Brighton in the Penfield school district. The family uses the term “unschoolers” to describe its educational situation, meaning they do not follow a set curriculum.
“We want our children to develop a strong sense of self,” she said. “We want them to have the confidence to be who they want to be.”
The decision to start homeschooling came after Carlson took cues from her children who at times seemed to want something different from the rigidity of traditional school.
“I felt that homeschooling would offer more to my children than school could,” she said. “Many schools—and teachers even—don’t have or aren’t able to have a child’s best interest in mind.”
Homeschooling activities for children are vast—especially in a city like Rochester, parents say.
“Anything that any schooled kid does (is available),” said Melissa Carlson (no relation to Jennifer Carlson), a city resident who homeschooled her two children through 12th grade. “Parkour gym class early afternoons, visiting nursing homes during the day, sledding and skiing on weekdays without crowds, (and) family vacations in mid-September. Many of the typical community places offering classes now offer classes to homeschoolers. We have become a community to market to.”
The involvement of school districts in the lives of homeschoolers is a point of discussion on both sides.
The school districts in Monroe County offer special education classes and curriculum support, including textbooks for the homeschooling community. However, homeschooled children cannot participate in the extracurricular or interscholastic activities of schools, officials say.
Sherry Johnson, executive director of the Monroe County School Boards Association, said changing the current system, “hasn’t come up as an issue, but I’m pretty sure that all 19 school districts are on the same page with supporting homeschooled students through a curriculum and instruction, but for extracurricular and interscholastic sports they are excluded.
“Homeschool parents have the opportunity to go before the board of education just like any other community member, and if they have an issue or a concern or a desire they can act,” she added.
Some homeschooling parents believe more can be done.
“The districts don’t support homeschoolers,” Parks said. “They collect paperwork and complain if we don’t submit it on time or to their liking, and we have no access to curriculum, sports, music or clubs. I generally find it very unreasonable that my children can’t participate in school activities such as FIRST Robotics, even though we pay school taxes.”
Andrea Bergman, who lives in the South Wedge in Rochester, homeschools two children. She said the level of support depends on the district.
“Districts don’t really support homeschool families; they just collect and save the homeschool paperwork required by the state of New York,” she said. “Most families are happy if they are not hassled by their district over meaningless paperwork. Some districts are better at providing special education services than others.
“Mostly, they just ignore homeschool families because they do not receive any state funding for homeschool kids,” she added.
If the need for change is presented, the school districts in Monroe County are open to ideas from the homeschooling community, Johnson said.
“I do believe our school districts are very good at supporting the homeschool option that parents want,” she said. “(Homeschooling is) a choice, and they (parents) make that choice, and where we should support them, we do.
“Our goal is to help all kids wherever they sit,” she added.
Education is going to mean something different for all families. Homeschooling is a choice worth considering, Erway said.
“Homeschooling was the right decision for us, and it was worth all the cost, all the effort, all the lifestyle change,” she said. “It is not easy. It’s always on my mind; I’m always planning lessons, field trips and anatomy labs. I stay up late many nights to find just the right curriculum for this topic or that. It’s not for everyone.”
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