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New York City

Homeschooling Resources On- and Off-Line (Part II)

Homeschooling, as an alternative to traditional, classroom-based education, has been growing in popularity across the United States for several years. It is now legal in all 50 states, but each state regulates it differently. New York State has some of the more stringent rules, asking that homeschoolers and their parents submit Intent to Homeschool to their school district, in effect, registering them as having been discharged from the system. Yet, they are still required to submit quarterly reports and take standardized tests after each academic year in order to track their progress.

“Whenever the child finishes their educational experience, whether its homeschooling or not, they need to be prepared for a position in life,” said Matt Bromme, superintendent of southeastern Queens’ District 27.

Thus, he explained, homeschoolers and their parents meet with their neighborhood school’s guidance counselor in order to come up with a plan of study that will “help the child move successfully forward.”

With 30 elementary schools from Ozone Park to the Rockaways, District 27 has 35,000 students in grades one through eight, only 102 of
who are homeschooled, according to Carmen Perrone, the principal neighborhood coordinator of the district. Each school district has
a coordinator like Perrone who keeps track of and advises elementary and junior high-level homeschoolers. They, in turn, are supervised
by the Office of Attendance at the Central Board of Education. The high school superintendencies have their own homeschooling coordinators.

One hundred and two students is not much in comparison to the whole district, but the district does not receive any money for these students,
as far as Bromme can tell. Yet, the district provides them with curriculum guidance, books when available, as well as services such as speech and occupational therapy.

“We have a wonderful, good relationship with our homeschooling parents,” said Perrone. One of the reasons she has to keep track of homeschoolers is to make sure that should a student want to return to school, he or she is at a level that to rejoin would not be a problem.

Although homeschooled students are required to have a curriculum, according to Perrone’s colleague, Mark Sherman who, among other duties, is the attendance coordinator, this does not mean it has to be structured.

The term unschooling has been coined to describe a method of homeschooling in which the student’s interest directs the course of study, which may mean he or she does not follow a book or testing schedule. According to Perrone and Sherman, this method still has to be approved by the district as being in the best interest of the child’s education.

“We want the child to be successful,” stressed Bromme. Homeschooling is “an option for a parent,” and as far as they take it, the district has to support the decision. At the same time, homeschoolers, because they are not part of
the system as students, are not allowed to
take any courses at the schools, even extracurricular activities such as sports or music, as it is a liability.

The school district can help with curriculum, but homeschoolers have many other options. While unschoolers learn on their own through reading and projects, other homeschoolers choose curriculums, both on- and off-line.

One option is online coursework, or even
an online diploma. The Florida Virtual School (FVS) is one school that exists only in cyberspace. The school is publicly funded in Florida and is free to Florida residents, but students do
not need to be from that state to enroll. Bruce Friend is the FVS’s Chief Academic Officer. He hires faculty, works on course standards
and oversees the registration of the over 6,000 students, 40 percent of whom are home

“Students come from all walks of life,” he explained. Many students use the courses as supplemental to their other studies, and homeschooling parents will often enroll their children in the classes that “they aren’t quite comfortable teaching,” such as upper level math, AP classes and computer science.

From English to physical education, all the classes are taught by one of the 70 teachers who work out of their homes. “The coursework is always there,” said Friend, which is one of the benefits of online learning.

Students can take as much or as little time on the assignments as they want, and as they complete them, the teacher’s grade and provide feedback. The FVS is one way of having courses taught at home, on the computer. A variety of correspondence courses also exist, but finding the right one can be overwhelming. The Internet can be as daunting as it is helpful.
An initial web search can yield hundreds,
if not thousands, of pages, all touting the latest and greatest in homeschooling courses, materials and activities. Many of the web sites have been created by individuals who have put up their own links. While the information can be useful, the number of the sites can be overwhelming. Homeschooling organizations can recommend sites, and most have a links section
on their website to other good online resources. A good place to start is the John Holt Newsletter at www.holtgws.com.

Of course, the internet is not the only place for homeschooling resources. In fact, most
homeschoolers say that their primary resource is their good, old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar library. Parents and students should try to get to know a librarian at a local library. Besides reading lists, books, magazines and research material, libraries offer study and research courses, host readings and activities, provide a place to surf the Internet and other, invaluable tools. Museums are also good places for activities. Most museums have tours, and many, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, have classes for children all year round. For specific courses, such as science, homeschoolers may opt for non-online tutors while other families may team up for different subjects, each family teaching one subject. The possibilities are endless.

Here is a short, non-comprehensive list of resources that could be useful to homeschoolers and their parents:

* For New Yorkers, the State Education Department has a Q&A site that clarifies many issues at www.emsc.nysed.gov/rscs/nonpub/

* Ann Zeise, a homeschooling mother in Milpitas, California, has put together a vast site of homeschooling resources at www.gomilpitas

* Some magazines and newspapers offer reduced rates for homeschooled students. Just call and ask them.

* Homeschoolers in New York can find Regents exam preparation at www.emsc.nysed.
gov/ciai/testing/regents.htm #


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