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Starting to homeschool midway through the academic year
By E.S. Zagorsky Goldberg/Education
Friday, December 17, 2004

Reprinted with permission from Parents and Kids: A Guide to Smart Parenting from Baby to Preteen

Justin, Melissa and Sarah Kellogg of Barnstable left their public school for December vacation just like the rest of their classmates. Unlike their peers, however, the Kelloggs didn't return to school in January. Instead, the kids joined the more than 20,000 other children who are homeschooled in Massachusetts.

Dee Adams, the Kellogg children's mother, says she was unhappy with the quality of education her children were receiving in elementary school, adding that homeschooling would improve their education while "letting us impart goals and values that our children won't receive out in public school."

But why now? Why not just wait until the school year ends? For some, it's easier to make the transition while the school year is in process.

Nissa Gadbois, who homeschools her four children in Charlton while running Navigo, a local support network for homeschoolers, says that families "might have considered homeschooling over the summer, but hadn't been entirely ready, physically or emotionally, to take the plunge at the traditional start of the school year."

Gadbois, who began homeschooling midyear eight years ago, says a few extra months spent gathering information and making a game plan can make all the difference for families who, around January, "reach the final straw."

For the most part, families seem to cope well with changing their schooling midyear. Dr. Susan Lee, a psychologist in Arlington, suggests letting children be involved in the decision to homeschool, and giving them opportunities to say goodbye to the teacher and class.

"Parents should be aware that it takes some time for kids to get used to not being in school. Kids in school have very structured schedules and are used to being told what to do when," Lee says. Parents themselves have to adjust to the new role of "teacher," which may feel daunting to some new homeschoolers.

Lee says that it's normal for parents to be nervous at first about taking on the responsibility for educating their children.

"Parents may be anxious to accomplish something or be productive," she says. Instead of going full-steam ahead, she encourages parents to slow down and tune in to their child's needs. "Family members need to respect each other's feelings, talk about their hopes and expectations, and listen carefully to each other," she adds.

Lee says that there are many popular myths about homeschooling, including the one that homeschooled children don't have ample social opportunities. She suggests arranging for children to meet other homeschoolers shortly before leaving school or immediately afterward. Parents also need to make sure their child continues the social connections they have built through school.

Gadbois agrees, saying that "kids need to be assured that they will be able to keep up with their old friends through community-sponsored activities and play dates."

The Process

Each local school district in Massachusetts supervises its own homeschooled students. Most districts require families to file a letter of intent, and to then submit information at least once per year showing the child's learning progress. Many parents submit portfolios of their children's work, while others write up a narrative letter or show test results.

Homeschoolers, like students in private schools, don't take the MCAS standardized test. Some districts allow homeschoolers to participate in sports, social events and some classes. The Massachusetts Home Learning Association's Web site contains a wealth of step-by-step information about homeschooling, as well as a link to join their active e-mail discussion list.

Getting hooked into the homeschooling community is important for most families. Lynette Culverhouse, a former teacher who started the Mystic River Learning Center in Watertown, which offers supplemental courses for homeschooled children, finds that many families use the learning center as an entry point into the larger world of homeschooling.

"Especially for families who are just beginning to homeschool, the whole process can seem mystifying" she says.

Children may attend from one class up to the three full days each week the center is open. This flexibility allows some parents to homeschool while working part time, and gives other parents an opportunity to "get their sea legs" when starting to homeschool.

Another popular way of getting to know what's available on the local educational front while also meeting other homeschoolers is through the Family Resource Center, which offers hundreds of scheduled field trips and enrichment programs around New England.

Homeschooling groups report seeing an increase in interest midyear. Leigh Vozzella of the North Suburban Home Learners has found that attendance by newcomers at NSHL support groups surges around the time of school vacations. Vozzella and other NSHL parents now run homeschool information nights throughout the year to help parents who are looking for guidance and advice.

Success Stories

Thirteen-year-old Sarah Lutvak of Wellesley, who began homeschooling in January 2004, says that she was tired of being bored and uninspired by most of her classes and by the "focus on clothes, boys and coolness." The first assignment given by her mother was writing a "position paper" that convinced her parents, relatives and local school officials that she was making a well-informed choice.

Parent Cindi Lutvak, who began homeschooling her 11-year-old son last fall, says taking her daughter out midyear "had a very positive impact for her. She felt that she could have an influence on her own life and education."

Lutvak says that her children are "more relaxed, rested, happy, confident and inspired."

"Homeschooling," she says, "is clearly the right choice for my children now."

Joan Horowitz, formerly of Sharon and now living in New Mexico, took her daughter out of public high school eight years ago after her daughter became the target of a bully.

Looking back, her only regret is not taking her daughter out of school sooner. Horowitz ended up homeschooling all four of her children, the youngest of whom is 15 now, and working for years to help her daughter overcome the traumatic effects of coping with the harassment the bully inflicted.

"If your child is seriously unhappy or unable to learn in the situation she finds herself and you can't resolve the situation by working with the school, what is the point of continuing down that road?" she says. "There's nothing magical about finishing up the school year and sometimes, finishing that year will do even more harm to your child. Why risk it?"

Resources

Family Resource Center
www.FRC.info

The Massachusetts Home Learning Association
www.mhla.org

Mystic River Learning Center
www.mysticriverlearningcenter.org

Navigo
www.navigo-online.com

North Suburban Home Learners
www.nshlonline.org

( E. S. Zagorsky Goldberg, RN, MSN is a mother of three from Malden.)

Massachusetts Home Learning Association

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