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Teaching kids at home

January 12, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Recalling her own public school days, Barbara Martin said she spent a lot of time reading a book under her desk when what was being taught was boring her.

"I swore then I would never waste my children's time like that," Martin said from the dining room/classroom of her Hagerstown home. "Regurgitating facts isn't my idea of learning."

Years of schooling her four children at home have given Martin a lot of insight into home schooling, which she shares by coordinating an organization that supports other parents throughout the Tri-State area and beyond.

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The Appalachian Regional Cooperative began in the Boonsboro area about 20 years ago, Martin said. Now it operates in the nearby areas of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and serves about 150 home- schooling families.

"We have lived in several states and have always home schooled our children," Martin said.

She and her husband, Bryan, have called Washington County home for about seven years and sought the agency's support from the beginning.

Martin's oldest son, Ben, 18, is a student at Hagerstown Community College. He said he feels his home schooling has placed him on a level academic playing field with his peers.

Home-schooled students had a composite average ACT score of 22.7 in 2001 across the country, compared to a public and private school composite average of 21, according to the latest report provided at www.act.org.

The ACT Assessment is a standardized test given to college-bound high school seniors and score results are given on a scale of 1 to 36.

"I actually started taking college courses when I was 15 and I found I had everything I needed to be competent with others," said Ben Martin, who is pursuing computer science and digital animation as career choices.

Jeremy Martin, 14, said he likes being able to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it - a big plus for him with home schooling.

Pressed for any downsides, Jeremy said he couldn't really think of any.

"That is unless you count having to go on errands with my mother during the school day," he said.

The Martins' other two children are 12 and 10 years old.

Barbara Martin said her curriculum is based on her children's interests.

"Things will spark their interest and when they express that, we expand on it," she said.

The Martin family classroom often goes on the road - to museums, battlefields, historic sites and the like.

Barbara Martin said her first piece of advice to parents is to make sure they go into home schooling with their eyes wide open.

"It takes everybody to agree to it for it to work," she said. "Even grandparents have to be on board."

The number of children who are home schooled in the Tri-State area continues to rise, with few exceptions.

Since the 1996-97 school year - the earliest that home schooling statistics were available in all nine Tri-State school districts The Herald-Mail surveyed - the number of children home schooled has climbed from 1,806 to 3,302 about halfway through the 2003-2004 school year.

The Herald-Mail surveyed Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, as well as Pennsylvania schools in Chambersburg, Greencastle-Antrim, Waynesboro and Central Fulton.

Frederick County had the most home-schooled children with 1,471. Central Fulton had the fewest, with 15 this school year.

Last year, Pennsylvania's Central Fulton district had 30 home-schooled students, said Angela Marshall, secretary for the district. "For example, one family had four children and another had five children, so that's why the numbers can change so quickly."

"Two new students were just signed up on Jan. 6," said Ron Johnston, supervisor of the pupil personnel office in Frederick County, where 1,471 students are home schooled. "Our numbers fluctuate constantly."

In Washington County, Chris Binau in student services said the number for the 2003-2004 school year was around 650 as of Dec. 15. The number fluctuates as new students enter the program and others leave or graduate, she said.

"We have experienced steady growth here over the years," said Chris Coffinberger at the Berkeley County, W.Va., Board of Education office.

This school year, the number of home-schooled students stands at 280 in Berkeley County, a decrease of about 10 students from 2002-2003. But Coffinberger said the numbers are expected to rise again before the end of the 2004 term.

Figures provided by Eric Michael's office in the Chambersburg, Pa., school district show that 220 students were being home schooled there. Michael is assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"Our numbers keep rising each year," said Bobbi Trostle, secretary to the Waynesboro, Pa., school board superintendent. "For 2003-2004, we have 160 students in home school settings."

In the nearby Greencastle-Antrim, Pa., school district, the number of home schoolers for the 2003-2004 school district stands at 135, according to Debbie Timmons, a secretary at the school board office there.

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