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HOMESCHOOLING: AN URBAN OPTION

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by CG News Desk

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Homeschooling has long suffered the reputation as a last resort for conservative, rural parents who hesitate to send their children to public schools. For years, homeschooling has been the educational method of choice for some conservative Christians, and recently both Jewish and Muslim homeschooling organizations have formed as well. The popular image of a homeschooling parent is a distrustful, isolated person who longs to shield children from the "bad influences" of public - or even private - school. But talk to the parents in your New York City neighborhood and you may find some surprising opinions and practices regarding homeschooling.

What is not so well known is that secular homeschooling organizations far outnumber religious ones in terms of size. Both the culturally conservative and the modern urban parent are contributing to the growth of homeschooling, in New York City as well as nationwide.

In 1996, there were 1.23 million homeschooled children in the U.S., as evidenced in a National Home Education Research Institute survey. New York State's homeschooling rates are growing at a rate of 17 percent per year; however, this does not include New York City statistics, which are currently unavailable. The New York State Home Educator's Alliance (NYCHEA) estimates that approximately 220 families belong to their organization, and that these families generally have two to three children involved in homeschooling.

New York State homeschooling regulations New York State has some of the most restrictive homeschooling laws in the nation, among them these regulations: -Homeschooled students cannot be awarded a high school diploma. -Homeschooled students are not allowed to participate in interscholastic sports. -School districts are not required to loan books or provide any other instructional material to homeschooled students.

New York State also does not require any specific credentials for parents or others providing home instruction.

Linda Tagliaferro, a writer and New York City parent who recently sent her homeschooled son off to college, points out that school districts differ in their response to homeschooling. "When my son turned six, my husband and I went down to our school district office - which we didn't have to do - and explained that we had both taught in college, that I spoke seven languages, and so forth. The people there tried every argument to convince us not to homeschool."

Why would New York City parents homeschool? No one can deny that New York City parents have schooling options available that simply don't exist elsewhere: private schools, charter schools, a myriad of independent and faith-based schools - not to mention the option of going outside one's own district to a more desirable public school. So why would a parent choose to homeschool?

Francois Joiris of NYCHEA believes that most parents who are able to commit to homeschooling over the long-term do it for positive reasons - in other words, they don't decide to homeschool because of school violence, dissatisfaction with the "system", or because their child's school is too far away or otherwise unsuitable. They do it, Joiris says, because, "They enjoy their kids, and they enjoy the 'fun' aspects of teaching their children. The parents I've seen who homeschool for basically negative reasons never stick with it."

Linda Tagliaferro remembers several years ago, in the midst of an asbestos scare in the public schools, receiving calls from parents concerned about their child's safety and seeking information on homeschooling. "They were desperate, and, lacking money for a private-school education, wanted to know how they could homeschool their kids!" For the most part, though, she agrees with Francois Joiris that parents homeschool for overwhelmingly positive reasons. "Parents want to know, 'How are my children learning? How are they growing up?' I loved learning myself, and I loved being with my son. It was the best option for me."

How do parents decide on a curriculum? Joining a local, national, or religious homeschooling group can be a huge help in obtaining a curriculum from which to teach - NYCHEA welcomes parents of preschoolers as well as older children into their organization; they organize cultural outings and other events for parents who might be trying to decide whether or not to homeschool.

There are also scores of online resources for parents, offering a seemingly endless variety of curricula. The volume of material on the Web - not to mention mail-order publishers and other resources - is daunting, and obviously requires some committed research on a parent's part. Parents must keep in mind their child's learning style, interests, strengths and weaknesses, and any cultural or religious themes they want to impart. Museums all around the city offer classes and other programs for "school groups" which are available to homeschooling groups, even when they are comprised of just five or six children.

The matter of socialization Malinda Loflin, Manhattan mom of two toddlers and a veteran teacher in public and private elementary, junior, and high schools, and currently a head teacher in a special education program, says simply, "There are lots of public school teachers like myself who would homeschool, given the choice; we know what goes in the schools, and many of us don't want that for our kids." Countering the claim that homeschooled children miss out on important socialization, Malinda says, "Parents choose whom their kids play with - why shouldn't they choose the atmosphere in which they'll learn?" Citing such traditional school routines as walking in lines, not being allowed to talk in class, and schoolyard fights, she points out, "I don't want my kids to be subject to that kind of 'socialization'."

Bryon Gordon, a New York City parent and a former public and private school teacher for over 12 years, and a homeschooling supporter, says, "Socialization starts with play, and children can sometimes have a richer experience if they play with a mixed-age group; in traditional schools, kids are segregated by age and grade. Cultural groups can provide wonderful socialization opportunities - and let's remember the cultural richness in this city. Parents who are sensitive to it can find avenues to open up growth.

"Of course," he continues, "homeschooling would be dangerous if the family just kept to itself, but often these families branch out. They want to connect."

Linda Tagliaferro notes that her son participated in music school, Boy Scouts, and many other "after school" activities, and adds that, "We were outside the house all day long. We interacted with everybody. He reached a point where he considered adults his peers. "

Several public and private school administrations contacted for their opinion on homeschooling refused, for this article, to state an opinion on either the subject of mainstreamed vs. homeschooled children's socialization or any other aspect of this educational method.

What about college admission? New York State does not offer a high school diploma to homeschooled students. Francois Joiris of NYCHEA, who notes that the "first wave" of NYCHEA's homeschoolers are now entering college, explains that virtually 100 percent of NYCHEA's 'seniors' opted for college. How is this possible without a diploma?

"This may sound elitist," says Joiris, "but the 'better' the school, the more open they are to accepting homeschoolers. Community colleges, for example, simply won't accept someone without a New York State diploma, but Ivy League colleges are generally receptive to homeschoolers." The SAT and ACT tests, which are required by virtually all colleges, are accessible to anyone. Parents can find the nearest test site and date by calling The College Board; being involved in a homeschooling organization such as NYCHEA is also a good way to stay informed of annual tests. As for parents and students nervous about test preparation, Joiris advises that Kaplan, Huntington, Princeton Review, Score Prep and other "test prep" courses can provide the same 'teaching to the test' skills that other students have.

Tagliaferro's son recently entered Fordham University. She recalls, "I told him he could go to college or not go to college, whichever he thought was best for him. Going was something he wanted to do. He knows it's important to have a college degree for the future."

"If a homeschooler is applying to colleges, the process does get more complicated," Francois Joiris admits, "but it's really just a matter of being organized. Your choice of schools will be narrower, and you'll have to do more research as to who does and doesn't accept homeschoolers. The biggest concern is the amount of paperwork colleges require - it is very important that parents have transcripts detailing what their children have studied and when, ever since they started homeschooling."

Resources -New York State Home Educators Association (212) 505-9884; www.nychea.com -New York State Home Education News (legal news) P.O. Box 59, East Chatham, NY 12060 (581) 392-6900 -Long Island Homeschoolers Association (516) 795-5554 -American Homeschool Association (509) 486-2477; www.home-ed-magazine.com -National Homeschool Association (513) 772-9580; www.n-h-a.org


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