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Home school or not?

Adults who were home-schooled have mixed feelings about how to educate their kids

Adults who were home-schooled have mixed feelings about how to educate their kids

August 29, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

When a vacation evolved into a three-year adventure across the Atlantic Ocean, the world became Jennifer Carpenter-Peak's classroom.

Circumstance forced Carpenter-Peak's parents to home school her, a fourth-grader at the time, and her sister while they lived and traveled by sailboat. During the trip, their classroom could have been somewhere on the Azores, a group of volcanic islands near Portugal, or in the tiny ship cabin where she and her sister slept. Recess might have meant a retreat to Caribbean island beaches or taking in the view offered up by the Madeira Islands, off the coast of Africa.

But once Carpenter-Peak re-entered public school as a seventh-grader, she soon learned that her experience set her apart from her peers. Like the rest of society, her fellow students did not know much about home schooling.

Though home schooling is becoming more mainstream - the U.S. Department of Education has pegged it as the fastest growing segment of school enrollment - there is a generation of adults like Carpenter-Peak, who were home schooled when home schooling wasn't so popular.

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Home schooled parents share the unique perspective. They were home-schooled; now they have children of their own. Now they must decide what is best for their own kids: to home school or not to home school?

It's not an easy decision.

Carpenter-Peak, who has a degree in engineering, chose to home-school her two sons, Lhasa, 7, and Dakota, 11. When Dakota's old enough, she plans to enroll him in a public high school.

"I don't want public school to be foreign to them," Carpenter-Peak said.

Heather Burgos, 24, of Hagerstown, never went to a formal school until she enrolled at Hagerstown Community College. Burgos, a competitive kayaker, is finishing a degree in recreation management at Shepherd University.

She and her husband Juan, 30, don't know if they will to home-school their 15-month-old son, Juan Jr.

"I'm not against public school," said Juan Burgos, who attended public and private schools, but was never home schooled. "I think the best thing is you have options."

More acceptable alternative

Home schooling is not a new phenomenon, said Laura Derrick, president of the National Home Education Network, an advocacy group for home schooling parents and other organizations that promote home schooling. Derrick said the practice dates back centuries but started to fade after the mid-19th century, when the first wave of compulsory school attendance laws emerged.

In the 1960s, the social climate led to a resurgence of home schooling among progressive, young parents, Derrick said. Evangelical Christians and fundamentalists latched on to home schooling in the 1980s.

The spectrum has since broadened to include parents who are dissatisfied with schools' ability to educate their children, parents who fear for their children's safety, and parents who simply want to be closer to their kids.

According to the most recent national data, 1.1 million students - a little more than 2 percent of all students in the nation - were home schooled in 2003. In 1999, 1.7 percent of U.S. students were home schooled, said Chris Chapman, a statistician for the U.S. Department of Education, in a telephone interview. A report with more recent data will be released in October. Chapman would not reveal whether the proportion of home schoolers has changed since 2003.

Jack Klenk, director of the U.S. Department of Education's office of non-public education, said home-school enrollment growth was notable, compared with public and private school enrollments, and was fueled, in part, by changing social perceptions.

"The public has accepted this as an option." Klenk said. "This might not have been the case 20 years ago."

From home school to middle school

Carpenter-Peak, now 44 and living in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said her parents decided to home school during the three-year trip because they didn't have a choice.

Her father decided to take the family on a sailing vacation, but the vacation grew longer and longer, until it was clear the family would not be back home any time soon, Carpenter-Peak said.

They drove from their San Diego home to Connecticut. They sailed to Nova Scotia, then across the Atlantic and cruised in the Azores islands, the Canary Islands and the Madeira Islands. They returned across the Atlantic again, to the Caribbean and the Venezuelan coast before ending up in Mississippi.

Carpenter-Peak's mother decided to home-school when they left Nova Scotia. She used lessons from the Calvert School, a Baltimore-based organization that provides curriculums for home-schoolers. Carpenter-Peak said she uses Calvert with her own kids.

After three years, Carpenter-Peak and her sister were back in public school system. Transitioning into seventh grade wasn't easy, Carpenter-Peak said.

"It was hideous," Carpenter-Peak said. "We hated it."

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