Home schooling a better choice for some
Bill Lyons instructs a group of third and fourth graders in a science class with One Day Enrichment. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:09AM
NORTHLAKE — It’s called home schooling, but Amy Ropinski’s three girls of do leave their Northlake home.
“My oldest child is a very social kid,” Ropinski said. “She goes to Spotlight Youth Theater. We have children meet each other and spend time together.”
Likewise with Toni Hugger of Northlake, who has five boys and one girl.
“Swimming, piano and art classes are done outside,” Hugger said.
While both mention their Christian faith, Hugger said it wasn’t her prime reason for home schooling.
“It’s more for academic reasons,” Hugger said. “You can individualize every kid’s program. My 11-year-old was reading when she was 3. In kindergarten, she would have been bored to death.”
Ropinski, in contrast, said faith is the biggest reason she and her husband home school.
“What it means to be a follower of Christ,” Ropinski said, adding that enrolling three children in a Christian school would cost too much. “We don’t believe it’s the school’s main role to teach that.”
Both mothers also mention not exposing their children to certain topics of other children’s conversations, or as Ropinski phrases it,“retain their innocence.”
“We know the pressures for kids to conform to whatever trend was really high,” Ropinski said. “First graders talking about boyfriends and girlfriends and how they looked. Kids at younger and younger ages are being exposed to more and more mature things.”
“It’s one of the perks,” Hugger said. “They’re going to hear it eventually but …”
Their reasoning is reflective of a wider trend.
When the National Center for Education Statistics last reported on homeschooling in its 2009 Condition of Education report, the number of homeschooled students was pegged at 1.5 million students, or 2.9 percent of all children and teens between 5 and 17. If the national ratio holds true for Illinois, the number of home schooled children in the state would be closer to 66,800.
When asked their reasons for homeschooling, 36 percent of parents said the primary reason was to provide religious or moral instruction. Another 21 percent were concerned about the school environment, while 17 percent were dissatisfied with the academic instruction in their local schools.
Every year, Hugger evaluates whether to send any of her children to school. This year, her 6-year-old boy is attending a Montessori school. She made the choice based on his “personality and their ability to connect to him. He’s better off in that kind of environment right now.”
There are challenges. Ropinski said she’s had to do a lot of learning before teaching.
“I’m relearning algebra,” Ropinski said. “I hate algebra. That’s another big benefit of home schooling. We’re really learning together.”
For Hugger, a challenge was how to transition from summer break to studies at home.
“It was very difficult to get them back into the swing (of education),” Hugger said. “We stopped our summer breaks and now take intermittent breaks through the year.”
While some states require parents to provide authorities with test results or use a state-approved curriculum, Illinois leaves parents alone to decide what to teach, when to teach it — or whether to let the child’s curiosity lead the way, a philosophy known as “unschooling.”
The parent also is free to decide when a high-school-aged student has met the requirements for a diploma.
Under the state’s compulsory attendance law, parents may be asked to provide evidence that the child is being taught the same subjects as would be taught to public school children of the same age. Technically, a parent who isn’t offering age-appropriate instruction in the English language in six specific disciplines is in violation of the law.
The required “branches” of education are language arts, math, biology and physical science, social science, fine arts and physical development and health.
Staff Writer Karen Berkowitz contributed to this report