They walk among us

At first, the girl thought it was great. She was free to do what she pleased, and unlike other children, she didn’t have to follow a strict schedule when she would much rather play. Every child’s’ dream.

That is, until the boredom, loneliness and disappointment set it.

Megan Miller, a 20-year-old resident of Jericho, Vt., was home schooled from second grade to eighth grade – seven years of her life.

Originally from New York, Miller moved to Vermont before second grade. Because the school system in South Burlington was not quite as thorough as her parents would have liked, they decided that home schooling would be the best option for Megan and her older brother Jacob.

“It started out really strong, but as the years went on, we did less and less,” said Miller.

When Miller began home schooling as a young child, she remembers working with textbooks, and listening to tapes to help aid her studies. As she grew older, her studies began to falter, and she lost the assistance of even her own mother.

“In the beginning we did all the subjects. Toward the end, I may have only done one subject. It got to the point where I didn’t do anything,” said Miller, who no longer feels as much discomfort discussing the topic. “My mom got sick. At first it was physically, but it turned into hypochondria.”

Because of her mother’s lack of involvement in her work, Miller’s education suffered. Miller remembers her father, who was already working long days, would come home and perhaps look over one chapter she completed and grade it. As a child, the situation didn’t seem all bad at first, but after while, it got old.

“I felt hurt because the person who was supposed to be teaching me wasn’t. I felt kind of left out, I wanted to do the same things that people my age were doing,” said Miller. “I was bored!”

When Miller’s brother began to attend public high school, she felt like an only child, she was at home completely alone. She was torn on the subject of high school and over the years she had become a bit of a “mama’s girl” and was used to staying by her mother’s side.

Entering high school was a “terrifying” experience for Miller.

“I used to have dreams about it,” said Miller, laughing about the idea now. “I wasn’t scared of the work; I was more scared of the people. But everything worked out. I found my classes, I found my best friend.”

For Miller, home schooling is responsible for her outlook on education. Working on her second year of college as, oddly enough, an education major, now, she believes she appreciates school more than others. Not only this, but the experience affects the way she acts and handles situations now. Miller, who grew accustomed to being alone, does not need to be surrounded by groups of people.

“I don’t really remember a lot of it. I don’t know if I really don’t remember or if I blocked it out.”

Polar Opposites

For Whitney Ramage, a Castleton State College junior, the home schooling experience falls on the other end of the spectrum. Ramage, who began home schooling in kindergarten, didn’t actually attend a regular school until the 11th grade. She is not quite sure why her parents decided to home school her, only that they maybe thought it was better than the public education.

“There was a really good home schooling community in my area, so it seemed like a good option,” said Ramage.

Ramage was a part of the “Middletown Springs Area Home Schoolers,” a group of parents and children who gathered together to help educate and socialize. There were approximately 10 students Ramage’s age who made up the core group. But the number varied. Other home schoolers from neighboring towns would sometimes join their group, increasing the number to about 30 students at times.

“It was kind of like school, but we went house to house,” she said.

The home school group gathered in the various houses for classes Mondays and Wednesdays. Students would take about three or four courses on each of those days. A variety of subjects were covered including English, art, biology and poetry.

“We had a Spanish tutor who we bartered with. We paid her by catering her wedding. We made a lot of egg rolls. All she had to eat at her wedding were egg rolls and coleslaw,” said Ramage through a laugh.

During the rest of the week, the students studied independently from textbooks.

But this group did not just educate the students, they engaged the students with field trips, community service, and charitable events. Field trips included visits to the Shelburne Museum, the wind farm, Montreal and they were done at least once a month or every two months. “Walking” classes were not uncommon, which meant a class would be conducted while going for a walk.

“It was a really healthy lifestyle.”

But not everything was easy.

Ramage did not have a firm grasp on one subject, math. None of the parents felt comfortable teaching the subject, and when a man offered to teach math, it was difficult because of the different levels of the students.

The entire group entered high school in the 11th grade. Ramage assumes their group must have seemed like a click at first, but it was natural to stick together since they had for such a long time.

“I really feel like it gave us all something really valuable, in terms of the way we viewed our education,” said Ramage, adding that she firmly believes due to home schooling, she gets a lot more out of classes.

Being in the group was a positive experience for Ramage.

“I don’t think I could have done it on my own. Education is all about input. My parents were really very diligent in making sure we got a lot of input.”

Becoming more accepted

Stories such as Millers’ and Ramages’ are becoming less and less rare. The stories vary from the good, the bad, and everything in-between. Each experience is unique. CSC senior Matthew Karczmarczyk also went through the home schooling system, and feels he made it out just fine.

“I’m used to hearing “Wow you were home schooled? I can’t even tell!”‘ said Karczmarczyk.

Home schooling itself is increasing in the United States. According to the National Center of Education Statistics Web site, it was estimated in 2003 that the number of children home schooled in the United States was about 1.1 million. In 1999, the approximate number of home schooling students was 850,000, meaning the number of home schooling students increased by about 29 percent in four years.

About two or three home schooled students enter Castleton State College each year, according to Maurice Ouimet, dean of enrollment.

“Each year Castleton enrolls students who come from home school backgrounds. Some students are home schooled through grade eight, and others do a combination of home school coursework, college dual enrollment coursework, and correspondence high school coursework right through grade 12. There are many opportunities for home schooled students and high school students in general to take college courses before they even graduate,” said Ouimet.

As education professor Richard Reardon believes, the stigma of home schooling has been lost in the past few years. Having his own experience home schooling his son and through his encounters with a home schooling family when he lived in Florida, Reardon can see why the numbers are rising.

“From a personal stand point I have seen it can be advantageous,” said Reardon.

The Ups and Downs

“In my experience, I think the success of the home schooling depends on the motives,” said Reardon.

Reardon sees home schooling as a rather appealing option for those who truly think they have a reason for taking their child out of school and teaching them from the home. If the intentions to home school are wrong, it can backfire.

The attractive side of home schooling is one-on-one interaction, and the ability to work at your own pace. Sophomore, Jacob McLaughlin, was home schooled from second grade until his entrance to college. McLaughlin enjoyed his home schooling experience because he didn’t have to worry about being behind, and on the opposite end he was not held back either.

“The advantageous thing in learning by yourself is learning how to teach yourself skills,” said McLaughlin. “I felt better prepared than others coming into college.”

The biggest concern with home schooling is the lack of social interaction with other students, which may cause the child to become reserved and awkward in social situations. Though the stereotype is not always true, home schooled children are not always social outcasts.

Karczmarczyk actually believes he is rather well spoken, and not any more awkward than anyone else is. McLaughlin believes through home schooling he learned how to interact with many different groups, not only those his age.

Come prom time, Karczmarczyk admitted he always felt a twinge of disappointment.

“I didn’t want to be home schooled at the time. I was like ‘this sucks,'” said Karczmarczyk.

For Miller, some of the socialization she missed out on was actually a blessing in disguise.

“I didn’t have the social life everyone else had, but also I didn’t have to deal with the drama everyone else had in middle school,” said Miller.

The real solution to any problem with home schooling, according to Reardon is an, “opportunity for a balance, the best of both worlds with some sort of access to a school environment.”

This way, students would get the socialization they need, but still receive the individual attention in the home.

The observation of peers

Out of 20 CSC students surveyed, 100 percent said they know someone who has been home schooled. Out of these same 20 students who have friends or know home schooled individuals, only six of them said they know anything about what home schooled students do on a day to day basis.

Everyone knows it exists, and that people do it, but rarely do they realize how different the lives of a home schooled student can be.

They do, however, know enough to make decision on if they wish they had ever been home schooled by what they have been told. Eighteen out of 20 said they do not wish they were ever home schooled.

“I personally wouldn’t have wanted to have been home schooled. I’m super social and I’d be afraid that that would take away from the social aspect of school,” said sophomore Talia Roy, who hopes to become a Spanish education teacher.

“I do think that home schooled kids can be a bit different than your “typical” student because they did miss that part of socialization, but I don’t think it necessarily hinders them much,” said Roy.

Home schooled students enjoy hearing the experiences of others who went through home schooling as well. When Karczmarczyk meets someone who was home schooled, he said he just wants to look at them and say, “You made it out too!

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