Published 8:29 pm Monday, July 19, 2004
By By Lindsey Sherrill
In a community with several public and private schools, there is a large group of students and educators which often tends to go largely unnoticed.
Twelve years ago, Donna Owens, a former resident of the Atmore area, along with several other parents, formed a support group for the growing number of home schooling families in the area. Today, the group, Homeschooled Kids &Co., has over 30 member families from Atmore, Walnut Hill and Molino.
"We've seen a change in the group since the original home schooling families," said Anne Sherrill, who has been home schooling her four children for 11 years and has served as a past president of the group. "They tended to be huge families with eight to 10 or even more kids. Now we see more average families with two or three kids or even single child families home schooling. I think it's because people are no longer worried so much about socialization issues."
HK&C offers recreational and educational opportunities to supplement the home education. "We aim for at least one activity a month," Sherrill said.
Regular activities include "play days" at the park and parties such as Christmas, Valentines Day and end of the year events. The group holds spelling bees, achievement exhibitions and performs a spring musical. They have taken field trips to a wildlife sanctuary in Pensacola, Turtle Point, the Atmore Advance office, the Atmore Public Library, Pensacola Historical Village, the Bratt Corn Maze, Bebe's Farm in Bay Minette. HK&C has done community service projects as well, such as singing at the SAIL center and nursing home, raising money for the Central American Well Project, raising money to help after 9/11, and hosting an annual food drive for Atmore Christian Care Ministry.
Many of the families are also involved in community arts and theatre through the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts. This year, HK&C plans to offer a six-week physical education course as well as art and music classes.
New plans for the year call for more activities geared specifically for high school and junior high students. "We've talked about having someone in charge of planning for the older students to meet their needs," Debbie Swartzendruber, public relations director for the group, said. "In the past, most of our field trips have been for the elementary age group. We're working to change that this year."
As part of that effort, a drama for high school students will be performed in addition to the spring musical. The students will do more service projects as well.
"There are so many opportunities," Swartzendruber said. "You have to pick and choose. There's no way you can do everything in a year."
HK&C is a group for parents as well as students. A Mom's Night Out is held at least twice a year and the group helps to give the parents, especially stay at home moms, opportunities for networking and socialization. Curriculum sharing and participation in the Scholastic Book Club and Book-it program are also benefits of the group.
For the families in the group, the reasons for home schooling are as diverse as the families themselves.
Carol Hochstetler, president of the group, said her family began home schooling to suit her children's learning styles.
"All was going well until I had one child who didn't quite fit the box. We started pursuing options, different boxes, and we chose to start home schooling that child. Then we decided that if you're doing one you might as well do them all. Home schooling is really working for him because he doesn't learn like the typical child, even though he is very intelligent."
Swartzendruber said she and her husband, Anthony, chose home schooling before any of their children, Christian, 11, William, 9, Austin, 7, and Kaylynn, 5, reached school age.
"The Lord led us to a decision a little at a time. The kids had always been home with me and when it was time to send them to school, I couldn't imagine them not being at home. It was a gradual step, and we continue to learn. It's a lifestyle, not a schooling choice," Swartzendruber said.
Most home schoolers will agree with Swartzendruber's definition of home schooling as a lifestyle. "Most people from the outside looking in don't realize that it's not a way of schooling, it's a way of life," Sherrill said.
While more and more people today are seeing home schooling as a viable education choice for their children, many still remain apprehensive about how to begin or their own abilities as educators.
"A mom called me last week about home schooling because she was afraid she might miss something important," Swartzendruber said. "I told her that if your child knows the basics-reading, writing, arithmetic-and has a love of learning, you're not going to miss anything. The important thing is to teach your children to be excited and have a joy for learning. The rest will come."
Hochstetler added, "You have to know your style and their [your child's] learning style. I tell new home schooling moms that rather than listening to friends and all the things you read, which can be overwhelming, know your child. As a mom, you know your child better than anyone, whether or not you realize. Sift through all the extra information and choose what works and go with it."
Another concern many parents have is that home schooled children may lack opportunities or have trouble in college. Swartzendruber, Sherrill and Hochstetler all refute this claim. "There are as many opportunities for activities as you want-a lot or a little," Swartzendruber said.
"Home schooling has given us even more opportunities. It's been an eye opener," Hochstetler said, referring to how her oldest children, Lacey, 14, and Tyler, 12, will be traveling internationally this year with Teen Missions International.
Sherrill, the only one of the three to have a child in college, addressed the issue of graduation and college. "I believe home schoolers are well adjusted, functioning members of society," she said. "People worry so much about being accepted into colleges and how their children will do, but studies are starting to show that home schooled children may actually do better in college. In fact, there are colleges now that specifically recruit home schoolers, such as Patrick Henry and Bob Jones University."
Today, there are also more and more resources for home schoolers to have the official high school transcripts and documentation vital in the college application process. Locally, Atmore Christian School and Grace Fellowship can serve as "umbrella schools" to assist home school families. There are similar opportunities for home schoolers over the Florida line. Another opportunity for high school students, dual enrollment, which has been offered in Florida for years, has recently become available to home schoolers in Alabama as well.
The issue of socialization still remains by far the largest worry or argument against home schooling. However recent studies by the National Home EducatioN researc Foundation and the Univeristy of Florida show that the worry that home schooled children will be somehow socially maladjusted or abnormal is unfounded.
While many naysayers of home schooling say children require peers their own age, Hochstetler disagrees. "I love the idea of kids not always relating to their own age group. It helps them in later life because it gives them the opportunity to work with younger and older people. Of course, things like church and the home school group help to give children age appropriate times too. Mine have not suffered a minute."
Swartzendruber adds that home schooling also gives siblings a closer bond and that the mixing of the different ages actually improves their education. "Sibling involvement reinforces what they're learning as the older ones help teach the younger, and the younger children are exposed to what the older ones are learning," she said.
Swartzendruber, Hochstetler and Sherrill are all available for anyone interested in joining HK&C or seeking to learn more about home schooling in general. For information on the Atmore Christian School umbrella school program, call Swartzendruber at 368-1275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information, contact Carol Hochstetler at 368-5722. For information on home schooling in Florida, contact Anne Sherrill at 327-4250.
(Editor's note: Lindsey Sherrill is the daughter of Anne Sherrill.