Home is where the school is
August 21, 2014
Like most teachers in mid-August, Shelly Mathis has been preparing for the upcoming school year.
She cleaned out her school supply closet and prepared a new curriculum. She set up her classroom.
But Mathis' classroom has just two students: her daughter, Liberty, a sophomore, and her son Ben, a seventh-grader. She's been their teacher since the beginning.
"Home schooling was never my plan, but Liberty started asking to teach her how to read when she was 2. So I asked my teacher friends how to do that and they got me started," Mathis said.
“Every family structures it for what works for them. That’s the beauty of home schooling. It is unique to the family and the parent who is doing the teaching.”
Home schooling parent
Mathis has offered her children the opportunity to attend West Grand public schools at any point along the way, but they never chose to.
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"My kids love it … We can fine tune exactly to the level of the child and either slow things down or advance them as needed," she said.
For example, Ben loves math, so he started an extra math class this summer and will move on to study pre-algebra before he starts eighth grade.
Home schooling allows the Mathis family to reap benefits like greater schedule flexibility, more time together as a family, and catering to the student's individual learning style.
Deciding to educate kids at home is a personal decision and families do it for a myriad of reasons. If a parent works a non-traditional schedule, they can still spend time with their child. If the student is a night owl, lessons can start at two in the afternoon. An auditory/kinesthetic learner can listen to a lecture while out for a walk.
"Every family structures it for what works for them. That's the beauty of home schooling. It is unique to the family and the parent who is doing the teaching," Mathis said.
Although he's only been on the job for seven weeks, West Grand Schools Superintendent Mike Page understands families' desire to choose what is best for their children. That's in spite of a projected $8,282 his district will not receive in the 2014-2015 school year for each child that is educated at home.
"We're the only school in the district so this is their one choice," he said. "Being new to this community, it will take me some time to try and find out why some of the people are home schooling. If it's something the district is doing that we can improve upon, then it's definitely something I'll be looking into."
Choice is the way the families see it, too. Dissatisfaction with the public school is not necessarily motivating them to keep their kids at home. Rather, the option to create a program that works best for the student makes home schooling attractive.
Marcy Monnahan, a Kremmling parent and teacher of two girls, ages 17 and 10, sees it that way. Her older daughter went to public school until second grade, and then played middle and high school volleyball and basketball.
"It's not that they are unhappy with the public school," she said of her home school community. "But any child that doesn't fit into the level at the public school — whether they are advanced in a subject or it is challenging for them — isn't necessarily getting what they need. At home, you can adjust their learning to fit their needs."
East Grand Superintendent of Schools Jody Mimmack points out the school district has strived to make improvements based on parent feedback and input.
"For a small rural school district we have many options. Every year we add more," she said, referring to Middle Park High School's year-old "snow sports academy" and increases in Advanced Placement offerings.
Requirements, cost, and college
Although home schooling is deregulated in the state of Colorado, by law families are required to meet certain requirements. They must provide written notification of intent to the public school district. The student should be schooled a minimum of 172 days per year, with an average of four instruction hours per day.
Standardized achievement tests are also required every other year starting in third grade.
Melody Blake of Granby acknowledges that there is a financial cost to home schooling her kids, one she is willing to pay.
"It's definitely a sacrifice. We have to pay for everything. And usually a parent has to stay home," she said. "But I feel it is well worth the investment in our kids."
Home school students do not receive state funding unless they are enrolled in an accredited online school.
Monnahan would appreciate some of that funding for supplies or computers and field trips, but she values the freedom afforded with less government involvement.
"I spend very little per year on books and curriculum — about $500 per year. If there were no strings attached I would love to get $2,000 per year per child. That would go a long way," she said.
Communities of support
Two organized groups offer support and community for home schooling families, as well as group field trips and community service projects. T.L.C. stands for Teach, Learn, Connect and meets monthly in Kremmling. The Grand County Home School Educators' Association meets weekly in Granby.
"A big concern is the socialization," Blake said. "We do a home school group activity once a week. My kids are in community sports. We are active in our church. They get a lot of socialization, with other kids as well as adults."
Another concern is preparedness — both socially and academically — for college. But a 2009 study found that home-schooled students attending a small college in the Midwest had slightly higher GPAs and were more likely to complete their degrees in four years than their peers.
"My understanding is that it is not difficult for home-schoolers to be accepted into colleges or universities. They have to be very disciplined to get their work done at home," she said.