For most local families, school is a place where children go to learn. They come home at the end of the day, and if their parents are lucky, they share the stories of where they’ve been, what they’ve learned, what they believe and who they’ve become with their families. For the more than 70 families who have joined Andrews Home Educators, education is not something that happens in a big building far from home, bracketed by a bus ride. They’ve chosen to home-school their children, and have found that choice impacts not only education, but every aspect of family life.
“You don’t turn it off. I’m always in ‘teacher’ mode, and I’m always in ‘mom’ mode,” said Renee Ford, mother to Keegan, 8 and Amelia, 3. “We find we do it everywhere we go. Even on a trip to the memorials in D.C., we work on vocabulary, reading, history, politics, and critical thinking.”
Andrews Home Educators is a secular support group for home-schooling families, which offers seminars for parents new to home-schooling, field trips, science fair and history fair adjudication, student volunteer opportunities, standardized testing opportunities, social get-togethers and weekly co-op classes held at the Youth Center on JBA. Some classes are taught by fellow home-schooling parents with an area of special expertise, while others are contracted out to instructors who may have no other tie to the home-school community. Parents can relax with their toddlers in a room for the youngest children during the co-op classes.
Students range from preschoolers who aren’t yet required to begin any formal schooling to high school students completing their secondary education at home.
“We have a really good teen group, although there are not that many middle schoolers this year,” said Lindsay Burchette, AHE’s Welcome Coordinator, and mother to Baylor, age 9, and Jolee, age 4.
AHE’s membership is diverse. There are families who decided to home-school for the opportunity to emphasize their family’s religious and moral values, while others come to it without any particular social agenda. Some families have always planned to home-school for their children’s entire educational career.
Joanna Hemp, Director of AHE, has taught her son Josiah, age 8, since he was four. This year, Josiah’s brother, Tommy, age 4, will start preschool at home as well.
“I wanted to see my sons’ education and instill the values important to my family,” Hemp said. “We also love the freedom it provides to work at his pace, have experiences outside his classroom. He hasn’t asked to go to school, because it’s all he’s ever known.”
Others see it as a temporary solution.
“It’s not really a choice. We’re part of the 35 percent for Imagine Andrews (the on-base charter school, which reserves 35 percent of its student slots for families which do not both live and work on JBA). I put Keegan in the lottery and there was no way he was getting in, and I was not going to put him in FTE (Francis T. Evans Elementary School),” said Ford.
Stuck with a housing lease that kept them in a school district they didn’t see as a good fit for their son, the Fords decided to home-school last year.
“It’s ended up we’re enjoying home-schooling so much that it’s not a big deal that we have to home-school this year. I didn’t even put his name in the lottery this year,” Ford said. “My husband, who was not a big fan, has really come around and is excited this year. He wants to teach Keegan how to read maps, and how engines work.”
Ford’s husband had originally been concerned about “the big Ssocialization, but it’s extremely easy to meet up with other kids. Keegan gets more social time than he ever did at school. We do our work, and when it’s done he goes to play with his friends,” Ford said.
Ford is pleased that her son is able to fit more learning as well as more fun and friendship into each day, she also has noticed that Keeganand other home-schooled children she has met since becoming part of AHEenjoy an unexpected benefit of being out of the school system.
“There’s no peer pressure to grow up. He’s eight years old, and he is all about LEGO. He doesn’t have to stop playing LEGO because other kids his age think it’s not cool anymore,” Ford said. “He just finds other people who share his interest in LEGO, no matter how old they are.”
“It preserves their real interests and passions, if a nine-year-old can be passionate about anything other than video games and getting dirty, instead of what other people say they should care about,” said Burchette. “I don’t know if being an ‘outside the box, march to your own drum’ kid comes first, or if that comes from home-schooling, but it seems like a wider world, sometimes.”
Burchette and Ford both said that home-schooling has made it easier for their children to maintain strong relationships with their families.
“When a husband deploys, wives can pack up the workbooks and go home to visit the grandparents for two weeks. Whenever Dad has his day off, that becomes ‘our Saturday,’ which is great for those of us with husbands who work long hours or who are also in school. And I think my kids’ relationship with each other is better for it,” said Burchette. “Baylor reads out loud to his sister, and is teaching her an ‘animals’ class using books we find at the library.”
Though the state of Maryland has requirements for the subjects each child is required to study over the course of a school year, and provides oversight for families who do not elect to become part of an “umbrella school” organization for purposes of evaluation and record-keeping, there is room for each family to decide just what that education looks like, on a day-to-day basis. Burchette and her family elect to “school at home,” a method which looks very much like a classroom setting. Ford, on the other hand, has a more eclectic approach.
“Our first six months was out of a box and I didn’t like it. I wasted so much money last year,” Ford said. “I must have spent $1,200, but then I realized they have the same flashcards over at Dollar Tree. I have a plan we follow, but if he loves poetry and wants to spend an extra week on it, then we would. If he says he wants to learn about something, we look it up.”
Whether following a traditional, textbook-based approached or something more varied, families on JBA have found many resources available at the base library.
You can check out an unlimited amount of books here, and I was almost embarrassed by how much I check out,” Burchette said.
Burchette, Ford and Hemp agreethe joys of home-schooling far outweigh the occasional frustration at not being able to take a day “off” from the work of raising and educating their own children.
“When it’s all your responsibility, you don’t get to ‘not feel like doing’ something,” Burchette said. “I wish people had been more honest with me, that some days it’s going to be hard and some days you’re not going to love it.”
Ford shared that sentiment. “It’s like having a baby. You love them, but I want to go to the bathroom by myself.”
It all comes down to the return on investment, even on the roughest days.
“It’s almost a high when they ‘get’ something,” Burchette said. “When I see those moments, I’m sad to think of the moments I missed when he was in (public school) kindergarten.”
AHE will have its annual kick-off meeting 10 a.m. 2 p.m. August 15 at the Community Activity Center. All co-op teachers and most parents will be there, as well as representatives from the Home School Legal Defense Association, 4-H, Girl Scout Brownies and other organizations as well as a school liaison. Parents can sign their children up for co-op classes at the kick-off, or later in the school year if space allows, which often happens at winter break due to families leaving for a Permanent Change of Station. In September, the group has scheduled a “new to homeschool” meeting for parents looking for encouragement, advice, and nitty-gritty information. Learn more about the group at www.facebook.com/andrewshomeeducators, or contact Joanna Hemp at aheboardgmail.com. Membership is $30 per year per family. Field trips and some classes require additional fees.