No Place Like Home
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Homeschooling is of course not all upside, however. There are obstacles, even for the best-intentioned. The first and foremost concern is financial. Not only will families be out-of-pocket for supplies, curriculum and outside classes (while still paying taxes that support the local public schools), the biggest hit is that usually one parent has to stop working in order to oversee the child’s progress. Anne Falkowski, Emily’s mom, warns, “Be prepared to spend a lot of time researching and driving.”
Professor West worries about the lack of oversight, with only half the states requiring some kind of evaluation. For those that don’t, such as Connecticut, there is no way to ensure all the children are receiving an adequate education. She writes, “I do not mean to deny for a moment that homeschooling itself is often—maybe usually—successful, when done responsibly . . . My target, is unregulated homeschooling—the total abdication of responsibility by the states for regulating the practice.” She also points out that homeschooled children in states with no regulation are at greater risk for unreported abuse.
Still, more families seem intent on taking the leap. “Homeschooling is now an option to all of mainstream America because the resources are there,” says Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., president of NHERI. “Twenty years ago, curriculum suppliers would not sell to the homeschool market; now they tailor to their needs.” In June, the Connecticut Convention Center hosted its first ever Northeast Homeschool Convention, featuring speakers, programs and 187 exhibitors ranging from Flip Flop Spanish to The Etiquette Factory; convention sponsors included The Old Schoolhouse (“The magazine for homeschool families”) and Currclick (“Curriculum in a click!”).
Another indicator that the trend is going mainstream is that museums, colleges and universities are now offering many opportunities for homeschool families. In 2009, The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme began offering programs for homeschoolers. “For us, it’s a great way to use our facilities and people at a time of day when public- and private-school groups couldn’t come: the afternoons,” says David D.J. Rau, the museum’s director of education and outreach. “Our programs include an in-gallery lesson and hands-on activity. We always base the lesson on what’s being highlighted at the museum.”
Barbara Jarnagin, supervisor of school and family programs at Mystic Seaport Museum’s education department, says, “We began working with the homeschool families because they reached out to us. We have enjoyed working with them and it’s exciting to see the children grow year after year. The families love helping the museum staff test out new programs and exhibits before they‘re offered to the general public.”
Homeschooling trips can involve real schools, too. In some school districts homeschooled students can take a class or two in their local public elementary or secondary school if they have a particular interest. Many students opt instead to take classes at local colleges. “Homeschoolers seem to do very well and excel in their studies; they are typically very motivated students,” says Sarah Hendrick, associate director of admissions at Quinebaug Community College in Danielson.
Holden Speed’s brother, Tristan, explains his perspective, after taking some classes at Sacred Heart University: “I was nervous at first but I was willing to listen, take notes and participate in discussions. I was ready to learn. At the college level, I think students have to make the choice of whether they want to take their classes seriously or not. I’ve already made that choice. I have seen kids text in class, be unprepared, and even one kid who wore his hood up to hide the fact that he was wearing earphones. To me, that showed a lack of respect for others and a lack of caring for the class or his grade.”