(This story was first published in the March 8, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
Jeff Oney has been homeschooling his two daughters ever since he realized they weren’t getting the education he thought they were getting at public school.
He started supplementing his daughters’ math curriculum with materials from Singapore Math, a popular independent textbook provider, but it wasn’t long before they were ahead of everybody else.
“I think what happens with homeschoolers is that they get beyond what the average class offers and they’re really bored and if they know there’s an alternative, they’re inclined to take it,” said Oney, who lives in Reading. Oney made the decision to home school about 10 years ago. He says he’s coming across more and more people who have made the same choice.
Homeschooling has increased by 40 percent in the state in the past 10 years, according to the state Department of Education. This year, there are 2,384 students who are learning at home. It’s up significantly from 1981 when there were just 92 homeschooled students in the state. Public school enrollment, meanwhile, has declined.
“Homeschooling used to be thought of as really out there, on the fringe, but now it’s become part of the mainstream,” said Brynne Reed, the state’s home study consultant.
Some reasons people are homeschooling are because of the convenience and because of the availability of information in the 21st century, she said.
“I think part of it is families are making a lifestyle choice,” Reed said. “They’re choosing to educate their children at home.”
‘Family Ties Are Precious’
Donna-Lee Bassette has educated all nine of her children at home. Her kids go to a home school program in White River Junction once a week. They sometimes take classes online for subjects like biology, which Bassette prefers to outsource.
Bassette and her husband decided to home school their kids before they got married.
She said her kids are more in control of their own schedule and because they interact with people who aren’t their same age, they are exposed to a more real-life setting.
It’s not without challenges, however. Bassette estimates she spends more time on her children’s schoolwork than they do. She’s also made a monetary investment to make sure her kids get a good education, but the end result has made it worth it.
“The family ties are precious because we all spend so much time with each other,” she said. “We grow an appreciation for each other.”
The state doesn’t track how well home school students perform on the SAT or how many go on to college, but anecdotal knowledge shows there is a high success rate, with many students going on to higher education, according to Andy Snyder, who oversees the state’s home study program.
Works For Some, But Not Others
To educate their kids at home, parents must fill out an enrollment package and ask for disability information. Parents can either send a portfolio of their child’s work to the state at the beginning, middle and end of the school year — or their child can be tested.
“It’s a system based on trust,” Reed said.
Noah Jacobson-Goodhue recently pulled his daughter Ellie, 11, out of Hartland Elementary, partly because of the mathematic program.
“It wasn’t working and her mood was deteriorating,” he said.
Jacobson-Goodhue, who is on the school board at the elementary school, said the public school environment works well for his son, but not his daughter.
Twice a week, Ellie goes to her grandmother’s house, a retired math specialist, and two days a week, she works with her dad on language arts and foreign language-based projects.
She started going to a home school program at the Hartland Public Library the Tuesday after she stopped going to public school.
“Her mood’s improved dramatically,” Jacobson-Goodhue said.
Parents: Home School Students Aren’t Isolated
Every Tuesday, about five home school students perform movie sketches, work with video editing software and read books at the Hartland library with Children’s Librarian Amy McMullen.
Four kids drank hot chocolate at the library this past Tuesday afternoon. They acted out a picture from the book “Doll Bones” by Holly Black and discussed next year’s activities.
Some think home school students lack socialization skills, but parents say that’s all perception.
Debbie Larrimore has been homeschooling her son, Jett, since kindergarten.
“I feel like he has better skills at socializing than kids who go to school,” she said. “People think he’s isolated in a closet and he doesn’t talk, but think about what they learn in school, they’re in a classroom with 20-25 plus other kids exactly the same age with one adult and there’s this conformist behavior.”
The Larrimores have flexible work schedules. They constantly travel, visiting museums — bringing school along with them.
“There are so many curriculums out there that give you anything you need,” she said.
State: Many Advantages To Home Education
Oney thinks his daughters will be better prepared for college by educating them at home. He’s noticed a change in the public school curriculum since he was in school. “Most people imagine…school to be (the same as) what they went to,” Oney said. Of the 47 percent of students who participate in high school classes for college credit at Woodstock Union High School, 29 percent pass the year-end test, according to rankings from US News and World Report. And at Hartford High School 21 percent of the 31 percent of students who participate in the test pass it. Oney’s daughter, Louisa takes two classes for credit at Woodstock Union High School and two at home. She audits a third class at the high school. She likes learning both ways. “I like learning at home because I feel like I don’t waste as much time, but at school it’s kind of nice for the social aspect,” said Louisa, a freshman.
Oney, who is a veterinarian, has a flexible schedule. If they can’t get schoolwork done during the day, they work at night.
“One of the things that attracts people to it is you can generally cover what they cover in a public school in 2-3 hours,” he said.
Even the state education consultant listed many advantages to home education.
“Home school students are typically independent, they may have had more opportunities and can interact with other people who aren’t their own age,” Reed said.
Jett Larrimore, 13, talks with other home school students at the Hartland Public Library last Tuesday. Larrimore has been home schooled since he was in kindergarten.