Homeschooling Numbers on the Rise in Fairfax County

Posted on Apr 28 2010 in General by

Note: This article shares about the growing popularity of homeschooling in Fairfax County. It also refers to some of the changes that have come to homeschooling. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9IuJ2vQT_I for more of homeschooling’s history.) The requirements the article mentions for homeschooling are for the homeschool statute–for an overview of all the available options, see www.heav.org/law/flow1.html.

From the Fairfax County Times. Wednesday, March 31, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Home schooling numbers on the rise in Fairfax County
Networking, flexibility make option more attractive for Fairfax parents
by Holly Hobbs | Staff Writer

Fairfax County parents are increasingly turning to home schooling as an alternative to public schools for their children.

Since 2005, the number of students learning at home in the county has grown 23 percent, said Lori Hershey of the Department of Special Services. This is compared with a 6.5 percent rise in public school enrollment during the same time, also recorded by the school system.

The reason for the increase is that home-based instruction has become easier, more acceptable and attractive in Fairfax County, local parents of home-schooled children said.

“These numbers don’t surprise me,” said Janice Lum, whose eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son are two of 2,330 students being educated at home in Fairfax County. This is the family’s first year of home schooling.

“The area is becoming increasingly congested; some people are no longer satisfied with the system in general, including the financial decisions impacting the classroom setting,” Lum said. Lum also attributes the popularity to a growing body of knowledge about effective home schooling and “general myth-busting that is occurring within society.”

Like many area home-schooling parents, Lum belongs to a network of families holding classes at home, chatting online about lesson plans and meeting for group classes. Thanks in part to these networks, the days of spending lessons glued to the kitchen table are gone, parents said.

The educational opportunities available to children during school hours could fill weeks, said Mary Sutton, who home schools her eight- and nine-year-old daughters. She and her daughters take art classes, piano lessons, gymnastics, and more, Sutton said.

“The hardest part of home schooling is managing to stay at home and do school,” she added.

The flexibility of holding classes when and where they wish is one benefit of home schooling, parents said. But one drawback is that her daughter misses school, Lum said.

“She sees her friends and is still actively involved in school activities, but she would enjoy and prefer to be with her friends all day long,” she said. “This has been hard for me and has weighed heavily on me.”

Parents who home school their children must register the child through the Fairfax County Public School system each year and are required to submit an annual progress report to the system showing–through standardized test or composite score–that the child has progressed and is on track. At a minimum, the parent must hold a high school diploma.

Lum is a non-practicing registered nurse with a master’s degree in theology. Sutton holds a bachelor’s degree in geology and geophysics and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Both mothers said they were not home-schooled and that they struggled with the decision to home school their children.

“I never wanted to home school,” said Lum, adding that she toyed with the idea for three years before deciding to “bite the bullet.”

“In a nutshell … it had just gotten to the point where [my daughter] wasn’t learning enough of what we wanted and too much of what we didn’t,” she said.

Kathy Kuhl, who helps run a science and biology lab program for the parent group, Centreville Homeschool Enrichment Support Services, began home schooling her son in fourth grade after a learning disability began interfering with his classwork.

“My son is bright, highly distractible, and dyslexic,” Kuhl said. “He was coming home from school emotionally exhausted and was starting to think he was stupid.”

What started as tutoring during the summer and spring break became home schooling, she said, adding that her son is now a student at Northern Virginia Community College.

Colleges are seeking home-instructed students because of the quality of education they get at home, parents said.

Local colleges and universities have seen a boom in the number of home-schooled applicants.

George Mason University has seen a steep increase in the applications from home-schooled students, from 38 in 2008 to 66 in 2010, said Dean of Admissions Andrew Flagel. Admission numbers are up in general this year, he said.

“But the applications from home-schooled students, while a smaller percentage of the total, have clearly grown at an even faster rate,” he said.

Home-instructed students are accepted at a slightly higher rate than public or private school students, Flagel said.

Officials from several state universities said their schools do not track the success rates of home-instructed students once they enter college.

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