May 21, 2011

Home-schooling on the rise for a good reason, say advocates

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

VASSALBORO -- Heather Stamler never gave it a second thought.

click image to enlarge

Gwinna Remillard, left, works on her mathematics as she sits with her mother, Heather Stamler, at their home in North Vassalboro.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

She was going to sign her son up for kindergarten. It's what parents of 5-year-olds do.

But something changed when Stamler visited Vassalboro Community School during an open house.

A group of people she had never met were going to decide whether her child was kindergarten material or needed a year of pre-kindergarten instruction.

"They hung up pictures and showed which children were more mature," Stamler said. "I didn't like the characterization and judgment."

Stamler left the school looking for another way. She found it within the confines of her own home, where, over the past 20-plus years, she has schooled all four of her children.

"I can't recommend it enough," Stamler said of homeschooling. "You get the incredible excitement of seeing their learning styles."

Home-schooling parents from around the state will gather today to purchase materials and exchange ideas at a curriculum event at the Augusta State Armory.

The group organizing that event for the 16th year, Camden-based Homeschoolers of Maine, said the interest in teaching children at home is at an all-time high -- and not just among parents who do it for reasons of religion.

"Good parents seek out the best opportunities for their children. They want their children to succeed," said Homeschoolers of Maine President Ed Green. "If the present educational choice isn't working for whatever reason, alternatives are sought."

Increased interest

Green said the number of families homeschooling children increases nationally by about 7 percent each year.

"Home-schooling has become a mainstream choice among the educational choices," he said. "It's a viable option for any family willing to make the commitment."

In Maine, 4,600 students are registered with local school superintendents and the state to be schooled at home this year, according to the Department of Education.

That is down from 4,900 last year, but up from 4,000 during the 2004-05 school year.

The number of registered home-schooled students rises and falls dramatically from year to year.

Green attributed that fluctuation, in part, to the number of families that enroll children in home-based, nonapproved private school programs that help compile test results and transcripts necessary to fulfill state guidelines.

"These programs do not require approval," Green said. "The numbers of students enrolled in these programs are not included with the number of home-schoolers that file a notice of intent with the Department of Education."

The impact has been felt locally. Rich Abramson, superintendent of Regional School Unit 38, which includes Manchester, Mount Vernon, Readfield and Wayne, said the number of students leaving public school to be taught at home has been growing for the past decade.

He said about 50 students within his Maranacook school district are now being schooled at home. A total of 1,271 students are enrolled in the RSU's schools.

"Over the last year or two, we have started to level off, but I think it's more than a rural district like ours should be facing," Abramson said.

The school board has responded by developing strategies aimed at keeping home-schooled students involved at the public school.

"We do everything we can to bend over backwards to keep our kids connected," Abramson said.

Public and private

State law requires public schools to allow home-schooled students to participate in individual classes and extracurricular programs as space and materials permit, so principals in the Maranacook district contact home-school parents every year to make sure they're aware of the services their children can continue to receive at public school, Abramson said.

"If you're home-schooling, you may want to come in have your child participate in chemistry or art class," he said. "Some families are interested in doing that, and some are not.

(Continued on page 2)

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