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Public schools draw stern criticism from home school parents

May 15, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

Marla and Joe Camarano's 6-year-old son has shown an IQ of 155 on some intelligence tests, but they complain about the monotonous lessons in his school that don't challenge his ability.

And they are upset that teachers use recess as a punishment tool in the classroom.

Marla Camarano said teachers take minutes off recess time or eliminate it completely if students talk too much or violate other class rules.

The Camaranos say they can't believe a school system would eliminate something so important to kids as exercise.

"I'm a teacher myself, and children need more exercise, not less," said Camarano.

Lesley Whalley described her 5-year-old daughter as a delightful child who had an immense desire to read, sometimes finishing up to seven books a day. And she loved drawing.

When Whalley's daughter entered kindergarten, she became aggressive and withdrawn. At times, her teacher said she could only draw with one color, which Barbara Martin says dampens a child's creativity.

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"It crushed her. We were really, really worried," Whalley said.

The parents made the comments during a conference on home schooling Saturday at the Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown.

About 35 families came to the day-long conference to learn how to take their child's education into their own hands.

Conference organizers said that 15 years ago there were hardly any families in the county who taught their kids at home, but there are more than 200 today.

Martin, a home schooling parent who organized Saturday's conference, said parents who teach their children at home like the freedom of being able to concentrate on subject areas that their children excel in. If children are allowed to explore a subject area to its fullest, it often results in an immense interest in learning that spreads to other subjects, she said.

Martin believes it is best to let a child's curiosity lead the student into other subject areas rather than forcing the student to learn a skill that is difficult for the pupil.

Forcing a student to master a skill is a common method of teaching, but it can frustrate a child and turn the pupil against education, she said.

Martin said one of her children loves astronomy, so she got every instructional item she could about space. She soon noticed her son's imagination growing like a "web" into other subject areas.

She said the method of learning is no different than when adults immerse themselves in subjects or tasks they are interested in or realize they need to master to excel in their job or in society.

"You learn it when you need to. Why can't we trust our children to do the same thing?" Martin said.

The conference was sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Cooperative, a nonsectarian group of home schooling families from Hagerstown, Frederick, Md., and Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The conference briefed parents on home schooling laws in the Tri-State area, curriculum resources, learning styles and how to remove a child from public school.

Although home schooling laws vary between states, parents are usually required to review their school "portfolio" with the local board of education to ensure that basic subject areas are being covered, said Billy Greer, who runs Fun Books, a Pasadena, Md.-based book supply company for home schooling parents.

Home school students don't usually have any trouble getting accepted into colleges, he said. There are more than 500 colleges that have home-schooled students, including St. John's College in Annapolis, which seeks out home-schooled students, he said.

"It's growing enough that schools recognize it," Greer said.

Washington County Board of Education member Doris J. Nipps said in an interview later Saturday she is aware of concerns about how gifted students are taught in the county.

School officials started Project Challenge, a program for those elementary students, but they realize the effort needs to be expanded, Nipps said. The school system expects to hire a full-time administrator for expanded gifted programs, she said.

Regarding exercise, all student are guaranteed a certain amount of physical education during a week, Nipps said. There is also a recess time, although that is considered a privilege, she said.

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