Staying home for school

Routt County sees a steady increase in home education

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— When Steamboat Springs' pioneering home educators, Del and Nina Lockhart, decided to teach their oldest child at home in 1985, they knew of only three other families in Routt County that were also home schooling.

In the early '90s, after the three other families moved away and before Nina Lockhart helped start the Christian Home Educators of Steamboat Springs, the Lockhart family was the only one in the area to home school.

But today, the Lockharts are not such an oddity as the idea of home schooling has become more popular in Routt County and throughout Colorado.

Through the organization, Lockhart has contact with more than 25 families in Routt County that home school. The county's three school districts and Christian Heritage School have a combined total of 33 students, who are registered as home schoolers.

Those numbers have risen steadily since the early 1990s and are a far cry from the days when the Lockharts' seven children were the lone students who stayed at home to learn.

"It's nice to have other people, not to be the only one who is home schooling and not seen as such an oddity," Nina Lockhart said.

In August of this year, Suzanne Barrett helped to start a second home schooling support group, Christian Home Learning Parent Exchange, which was organized to bring home schooling parents and their children together.

While Barrett, the mother of a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins, decided to home school her children partly because of religious reason, she said it was also to give her children different academic opportunities.

Barrett and her husband attended a Christian private school that had the parents actively involved in teaching, and that was something they wanted to pass along to their children.

"We knew that was a successful experience and wanted to do that again with our children," Barrett said.

As executive director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado, the largest home schooling support group in the state, Kevin Swanson said decisions such as Barrett's are becoming more and more frequent.

In the 1980s, Swanson said the No. 1 reason parents showed interest in home schooling was because of religious reasons; now those reasons have also shifted toward academics and school safety issues.

After the Columbine shootings in 1998, Swanson said his organization saw the numbers of first-time interested parents quadruple and they have not declined since.

"More and more it's for social reason. The academic reasons that we get are children aren't doing well enough in school," Swanson said.

In 1990, the Colorado Department of Education reported 2,512 students were home schooled, which increased to 9,090 in 2000.

"I think one of the reasons it's attractive in the western states is because of the independent western spirit. It's one of the reasons we have higher interest," Swanson said.

The CDE showed the Steamboat School District had six students home schooled in 1999. That number rose to 21 in 2000, and the district office reported that this fall 20 students were registered to home school.

The state requires students who are home schooled register with a school district or private school and must take a standardized test when they are in the third, fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th grades. Because the state's mandatory finance formula is based on student enrollment, schools lose $5,948 for every student that is home schooled and would have attended a public school.

Although the school does not provide funds for books or other school material, Steamboat School District Superintendent Cyndy Simms said it does give parents the chance to review the content standards on which the standardize tests are based. Although Simms said most parents do look at the content standards, she warned that if they are not followed, students could fall behind in their home schooling.

"If the parents aren't focusing on the standardized test and CSAPs, when (the children) do come back to school, the children are behind the rest of the students and would be at a disadvantage," Simms said.

Along with the desire to give her children a Judeo-Christian view of the world, Lockhart said her decision to home school her children was partly based on her bad experience at a large public school in Arizona that graduated 2,000 students per class.

"It was just that in my experience, I got lost in the cracks. I wanted to make sure my children didn't," Lockhart said.

For Lockhart, home schooling her seven children means giving them one-on-one time that is not found in a traditional classroom size of 20 students.

"I know as a parent, I enjoy looking at my children and seeing their strength and weakness," Lockhart said. "Tutoring one on one is much better in dealing with children and tailoring curriculum to them. Another thing I enjoy, children have to take responsibility for their education."

By encouraging her children to do research projects, Lockhart said they have become independent learners. And that is something that made it a smooth transition for her two oldest children to go from home schooling to college.

While place-based education is something local schools have been implementing into their curriculums for the past few years, for Barrett and Lockhart, extending the classroom outside the home just comes naturally.

While family vacations present opportunities for history lessons, Barrett said even trips to the grocery store are valuable because children can practice counting money and working with decimals.

For Lockhart's children, home schooling means they have more free time, which Lockhart said they spend by having part-time jobs, teaching music lessons or being involved in other activities such as 4-H, church groups and sports.

But Lockhart said home schooling does take a major time commitment for the parents.

"It take less time for them, but more time from Mom and Dad," Lockhart said.

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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