Sweet Home Academia | AspenTimes.com

Sweet Home Academia

Annie Addison

Paul Conrad/ Aspen Times weeklyPracticing her cursive writing, Katarina Kowar, 6, pauses to study a new word. Katarina says the hardest part is connecting the letters. "It's very complicated," she says, "especially when you are doing more than one letter."

Giving the teacher an apple is a time-tested way of securing a place as the teacher’s pet – unless the teacher is your mother and the school is your home. There are already plenty of apples in the fridge, just yards from the classroom, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that lunch will not be cafeteria-style starch and limp green beans. Nor will the curriculum or the school hours be the same as those at public schools. And those are the lures for Roaring Fork Valley residents who choose to home-school their children.For some, like Bonnie Kowar of Basalt, it’s the freedom to structure her children’s day. “It gives me a lot of flexibility,” she said.Others, like Caroline Cerise, see home-schooling as an alternative to public school that allows her to teach Christian values. “I don’t really approve of public schools,” said Cerise, a mother of eight, with a ninth on the way. “With home-schooling I have more control over my children’s environment.”

Cerise was home-schooled as a child in Denver. “Some parents from our church got together and started their own ‘private’ Catholic school,” she recalled. She attended the unconventional school through 10th grade. “I liked it. It was small and I was very shy when I was young. So it felt very homey to me.”Critics counter that home-schooled children tend to be shy and have difficulty adjusting to life outside the home, according to a 1992 study out of the University of West Virginia.”That’s baloney,” said Cerise. “My kids are just as much or more outgoing than I was and they’ve got plenty of friends from their church to play with. They’re surrounded by family so they don’t have to go through the peer pressure” in public schools. Shawn Cerise, 13, set down his Hardy Boys book to put in a good word for home-schooling. “It’s great. You can do school whenever you want and do things around the house.”Structure in home-schooling varies as much as the individuals who choose to home-school their kids. Cerise admits she is “laid back” in her schooling, interspersing it between chores on their Basalt farm. “I try to get in at least a few hours of schooling in a day,” she said, adding that school is in session throughout the year.

Kowar, who has three young children, home-schools from September through May. In the summer, her children stay active by going on field trips with other home-school families and pursuing individual activities. “We home-school because we wanted to offer our kids as many opportunities as possible,” said Kowar. “I teach them three hours a day and that leaves the rest of the day for ballet, horseback riding, skiing, piano, music classes.”It’s a well-rounded education that goes beyond academics. I believe home-schooling builds self-esteem and individuality.”Kowar is not so much anti-public school as she is pro-home school. “I looked at other schools, but this just seemed to fit as far as morals, behavior and the socialization of children; it’s better than what you get from a large group situation.”But Kowar also understands that home-schooling is not for everyone, not even all of her own children. “Kat (age 6) wants to go to public school. Every child is different and the beauty of this valley is we have choices.”Kat will attend the Aspen Community School this fall, Kowar said. “She was starting to get a little restless at home. She wants to be with her friends and spread her wings. I didn’t want to take that away from her.”Shawn Cerise, on the other hand, said public school “doesn’t really matter. I don’t really think about it.” His cousins, who live next door, and his friends in Denver are enough for him.

Opponents of home-schooling have two major concerns: The parents’ qualification to teach and the socialization of home-schooled children.Dawn Lamping, spokeswoman for Home School Network, a home-schooling organization for Roaring Fork Valley women, understands the concerns, but thinks they’re flawed.

“Yes, there are wacky, neo-Nazi, child abusers who ‘home-school,’ but they’re not the majority,” Lamping said, who home-schools her two children. “It’s hard not to be frustrated with those stereotypes. People criticize some of the home-schoolers for being fundamental Christians, but isn’t that the way of America – the freedom to choose?”Home School Network, which began as a Christian organization a year ago, is now all-inclusive, Lamping said.”We’re very diverse, we don’t promote one methodology or one religion. I really want to get that point across. We just want to live our lives the way we choose – for our own family, not for everyone else.”Lamping, who has a master’s degree and an educational background, does not believe a person needs to have a similar background to be a good home-schooler.”With a motivated mother and a motivated child and with guidance and nurturing, you don’t need a degree to be successful,” Lamping said. “We at the Home School Network see ourselves as educators, we take our work very seriously. We’re putting effort into raising healthy citizens.”

There are thousands of home-schooling programs in the country. One of the best-known is the privately-owned Baltimore-based Calvert School, which has provided home-schooling services for nearly 100 years. Calvert School offers detailed daily lessons in all major subjects and the lessons are designed to appeal to different learning styles. It provides curricula for kindergarten through 8th grade that balance the basics like reading and math with subjects like history, geography, science, art and literature.Colorado law lays out three forms of home-schooling: 1) Establishing a home school that adheres to Colorado public school district requirements, including attendance hours and standardized testing, 2) an umbrella school, which is a private home school that is not subject to district requirements or standardized testing and has the most amount of curriculum freedom, and 3) public schools at home, where home-schoolers agree to state regulation and answer to resource teachers that give the individually chosen curriculum. It is mastery-based and students must take standardized tests.Kowar chose Connections Academy, a new form of free public school that students attend from home. Connections Academy sends a daily lesson plan over the Internet that includes music, drama, art and science experiments. “I call it ‘School in a Box,'” Kowar laughed. “They give me all my materials for free, including a computer and printer. They also give free support from teachers with master’s degrees. I can talk to them anytime I want to, and they check in with you once a month.”

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Cerise, who prefers the “umbrella” school model, chose Lady of the Rosary, a Catholic-based education program. She supplements that with Switched On School House, an interactive program that uses computer discs, to free up some of her time. Both programs offer the basic foundations of education, but science is taught from a Creationist viewpoint. How parents structure their home school is up to them. Cerise tries to duplicate a public school room as best she can out of a corner in her living room.”I don’t have any set times,” Cerise said. “Sometimes the farm interferes with the day and the kids will go out and cut the hay, but I try to get in at least a few hours a day. In the winter, I teach for about six to seven hours a day.” Cerise lines up her children’s desks in a row. “We all sit down together. I even have a desk. I try to get as close to a school as I can, to help with focus,” she said, although she admits her 2-year-old can cause a bit of ruckus. Cerise admits it’s a lot of work.

“Yes, it is exhausting,” she said with a sigh. “But it goes with the job of being a parent; it’s just another aspect of being a mom.”Kowar finds freedom in home-schooling. “It gives me flexibility to schedule activities. It gives nice structure to the day and I see how nice and well-behaved my children are when they are given interesting things to do during the day, rather than go to the grocery store or do errands.”Home schooling also gives her children the opportunity to explore things in depth, Kowar said, something most children are unable to do in larger classrooms. “A [public school] teacher can’t stop the class for one child’s interest. But my children can spend days or weeks on that one topic.”Cerise plans to continue home-schooling her nine children through high school. “I get to watch my children progress and learn, and I know I’m the one responsible for that. As a kid, I always thought I’d grow up to be a teacher, and I guess it happened.”Annie Addison’s e-mail address is aaddison@aspentimes.com

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