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Homeschooling, North Hawaii-style: Parents choose different ways to educate their children

August 1, 2017 - 1:15am

NORTH HAWAII — While public, charter and private schools each serve their own specific purposes in North Hawaii, homeschooling fills yet another niche.

“The decision of how to educate a child is unique to each family,” said Honokaa parent Jonathan Walsh, who began homeschooling his daughters in 2010.

For much of history and in many cultures, homeschooling was an option available only to the elite social classes. Formal public and private education evolved in the UK and the U.S. in the early and mid-19th century, allowing families another choice. A homeschooling movement returned in the U.S. in the mid-1960s, and by 1993 home education was legal in every state.

Nowadays, an estimated 50 million children a year are enrolled in public schools throughout the U.S., but the home education rate has increased in recent years also. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the number of homeschooled children reached 1.1 million in 2003, and by 2012 the number had jumped to 1.77 million, or 3.4 percent of children between ages 4-17.

In Hawaii, 2,941 children were registered for home education for the 2016-2017 school year, according Hawaii DOE. The added that on Hawaii Island, the number of homeschooled students was 434 this past school year.

Jonathan and his wife, Marné, decided to try homeschooling for their eldest daughter in 2010, soon after she started third grade. It was something they had never anticipated for their family.

“We fell into it by necessity because my oldest daughter was in a public charter school and was bored, not challenged,” Marné said. “She loved school, but after trying another charter school, they didn’t have a lesson plan at her level in her classroom. So we brought her home and decided to do homeschooling ourselves.”

Their second daughter began homeschooling in second grade and the youngest daughter after first grade at Honokaa Elementary.

“It helped to bring them home at that age because they were able to read by then,” Marné said. “They have lesson plans all outlined for each day with four to seven topics to study.”

Jonathan is his daughters’ “learning guide” – a term used by Calvert Education, the homeschool program they follow.

“Kids have an inherent desire to learn, and as parents, our job is to find the right environment for that to happen,” Jonathan said. “Calvert has been around for over 100 years.”

The students have their own books, materials and lesson manuals to follow. Some of the curricula is online.

“I have a guidebook for each lesson so if explanations are needed I’m there to support them, answer questions and provide guidance on how to complete their tasks,” he said.

Lesson subjects depend on the child’s age. In elementary grades, math, grammar, reading, social studies and science are typical subject matters his daughters’ study, Jonathan said.

“In addition, they can study mythology, geography, art history, poetry and subjects you may not see in traditional schools,” he added.

Marné likes incorporating outdoor activities into their curriculum too.

“We have a farm, so part of the education has been about caring for the land and animals,” she said. “We have also been able to include current affairs, such as TMT and the polar shift, in our daughters’ writing assignments.”

Testing in homeschooling is handled differently for children depending on their grade level.

“For grades two through five, I give and grade our daughters’ tests,” Jonathan said. “For sixth to eighth grades we use an advisory teaching service to grade their tests through Calvert.”

He continued, “Anyone who is not enrolled in a traditional school and has requested to homeschool their children through the DOE is required to have their child undergo standardized testing during the odd grades during their education. When my eldest daughter was in fifth grade, she took the HSA test with no preparation and scored way above the minimal expectation score.”

According to Practical Homeschooling magazine, students schooled at home score higher on the ACT than public school children. In addition, more colleges are admitting homeschooled students now than ever before.

Over the past year or two, the Walshes say they’ve seen the number of North Hawaii children in homeschooling increase.

“We know around two dozen families in North Hawaii that use homeschooling currently,” Jonathan said.

Marné added, “When the Calvert Program began, a lot of people had their children in the program while traveling around the world. Thomas Edison was homeschooled.”

Children can get plenty of interaction with other kids in extracurricular activities and sports teams.

“Our daughters love people and having friends in their hula groups and on their soccer teams. They’ve learned how to get along from each other,” Marné said. “They each take on more responsibility the older they get.”

Now 15, 12 and 8, the two youngest girls are still homeschooled.

“Our eldest daughter, Kehele, just finished her freshman year at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. Next year our second daughter would like to go to a ‘brick and mortar’ school for ninth grade,” she said. “The timing of when a child re-enters formal school, if they choose to do so, depends on the child and their interests.”

Returning to formal school can take adjusting to a more rigorous routine.

“It was very different at first to go back to formal school,” Kehele said. “But I met new friends and have learned new things.”

Homeschooling can be affordable.

“Calvert starts at just under $1,000 for an elementary student per year and can go up to several thousand dollars for high school,” Jonathan said.

But education isn’t always about the money.

“What I love most about homeschooling is maintaining our daughters’ innocence longer and really setting their core values, respect and how not to be easily influenced,” Marné said.

For the 2017-2018 school year, Puako resident Tanner Bromberg will try homeschooling for the first time. She attended third-grade last year at Parker School, but her parents wanted to try something different this school year.

“We have always wanted to take a year to let Tanner explore a bigger picture, a different way of life and gain a worldly experience of what’s out there,” her mother, Kerry, said. “This year seemed like the perfect opportunity since she launched her youth surfer magazine in March. It definitely became the catalyst for us making the decision.”

Instead of using an online homeschooling program for Tanner, her parents wanted a more hands-on experience.

“The magazine is definitely going to cover a lot of her learning, as well as ‘world schooling’ by traveling with her and letting her learn about the world and people,” she said. “This year will be all about adventures and projects. We are however going to have a math tutor to fill in the gaps.”

The Brombergs will also work with a part-time mentor or motivator to give Tanner someone she can look up to for academic guidance, as needed. In addition, they will focus on topics not usually found in traditional school.

“Tanner has so many interests and activities that her normal busy school week and increasingly heavy homework load made it so hard to do. There isn’t enough time to just be a kid,” Kerry said. “We’ve come up with so many different subjects, topics and projects to teach, based on real life, day-to-day experiences.”

She said the key has been selecting focuses that truly interest their daughter and inspire her to want to learn about them, rather than a set curriculum that has a one-size-fits-all approach.

“She’s always wanted to learn to play an instrument, so this year she’ll have the time to really explore and learn every aspect of music,” Kerry said. “There’s also the French language, which schools don’t offer here. We’ve also set goals with her to achieve one adventure where she really pushes herself outside of her comfort zone. In addition, we are planning a purposeful trip where her focus will be learning and helping others who are less fortunate than herself.”

Homeschooling regulations are outlined on Hawaii DOE’s website. It states that any parent may homeschool his or her child by filing a notice of intent with the principal of their local public school. The notice may be given on the DOE’s Form 4140, or in a letter containing the required information. The rules say that parents must have a “record of the planned curriculum,” but the plan is not ordinarily shared with the school.

An annual progress report is required. Families have a choice of showing progress via standardized test scores, an evaluation by a teacher certified in the state of Hawaii, or a parent-written report providing statements of progress in each subject area and samples of the student’s work.

The Hawaii DOE does not award credit towards high school graduation for time spent homeschooled. Diplomas from the adult community school may be earned by taking the GED tests.

Sui Lan Gomez, a kindergarten teacher at Waimea Elementary School (WES) from 2013-2015, taught the last two years at Hawaii Technology Academy. She has also been a teacher at HPA and Waimea Country School. Before joining WES in 2009, she was a homeschool teacher for four years with 7-10 students ranging in age from eight to 12, including one of her two sons. Both went on to join formal schools in high school.

“I was also able to homeschool my eldest son when he was younger and was proud to see him receive a scholarship and grant to one of the most prestigious music schools, Berklee College of Music in Boston, after excelling in music with the Honokaa High School Jazz Band,” she said.

Gomez advises that parents should re-evaluate each year and decide what the best course is for their child’s needs, and not just assume they should continue doing the same thing.

“Many of my homeschool students placed in advanced math when transitioning to middle school at HPA, Parker School and Waimea Middle School,” she said. “My younger son skipped a whole grade level when he transitioned to middle school and is now a senior at Kamehameha Schools. I know the benefits of both traditional schooling and homeschooling.”

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