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First Day Back to (or Away From?) School

It’s all in the way you look at it. You see, for us, home is school. So I guess you could call the one day a week that my two oldest children spend in a traditional classroom setting “school away from school.”

Brotherly love: Pals Kellen and Kerrick prepare for a day of “school away from school.”

Brotherly love: Pals Kellen and Kerrick prepare for a day of “school away from school.”

We have always homeschooled our children, beginning when our oldest son, Kellen, was about 3. At that point we knew, given his lengthy list of food allergies and the severity of his symptoms, that it would be all but impossible to keep him safe in a regular school environment. Instead we flung ourselves headlong down the homeschooling path—an adventure I certainly hadn’t anticipated—and we’ve never looked back. (Though food allergies served as our original impetus, many other factors continue to sustain and motivate us—such as the opportunity to provide the kind of individualized, one-on-one instruction that fosters a love of learning, as well as the gift of time to create strong family bonds and instill important character qualities through life lessons.)

One of the best books I ever read when I initially began researching the idea of educating our children at home was Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Works, by David Guterson. Written almost two decades ago (and several years before then-public high school English teacher/homeschooling dad Guterson made it big with his novel-turned-movie Snow Falling on Cedars), the book so intelligently and eloquently supports the notion of parents teaching their own children as a natural course of action—especially in the face of an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with the state of public education. The fact that Guterson himself was, at the time, a part of that system lends both irony and credibility to his writing. (Which, by the way, is just beautiful: I remember being moved almost to tears by one passage in the book that describes the subtle but incredibly meaningful transference of knowledge from a grandfather to his grandson.) And although Guterson distinctly made the case that institutionalized education is errant, he also laid out a vision toward the end of the book for a mutually beneficial partnership between homeschooling families and local public schools, decrying the notion that such a relationship need be adversarial. I remember thinking his idea was a nice one, but that it was probably a bit too pie-in-the-sky to ever really work.

Then, just before Kellen reached kindergarten age, I discovered that such a program actually existed right in the city where we live. Created by homeschooling parents with the cooperation of a local school district, C.A.S.A. Vida (the acronym stands for Community Assisted Schooling Alternatives, but is pronounced like the Spanish word for “house,” followed by the Spanish word for “life”) provides a way for homeschooled children from kindertgarten through sixth grade to attend one full day a week of extracurricular classes (art, music, P.E., technology, Spanish and some science) together in a classroom setting at a local public school. No standardization, no assessment or grading. Simply enrichment on top of the heavy lifting handled by homeschooling parents (who prefer to provide their own instruction in major subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, history and more science). The students learn alongside other homeschoolers of multiple ages under the direction of teachers who have come out of retirement to participate in the program (and who love that they can do what they do best—teach!—without the incredible pressure of preparing students for standardized testing).

It’s all about the backpacks: Pirates of the Caribbean for Kellen, and Power Rangers for Kerrick.

It’s all about the backpacks: Pirates of the Caribbean for Kellen, and Power Rangers for Kerrick.

Kellen is now beginning his fifth year in the program, and Kerrick is starting his third. We’ve experienced incredible support and understanding from both the staff and other students with regard to Kellen’s food allergies, and he has never had a reaction while in attendance. (Of course, he takes his own lunch, and I’m on campus keeping an eye on things occasionally, too). Their one day away from home each week gives both me and the boys a bit of a break from the 24/7 homeschooling routine. They get to experience a small taste of what traditional school is like, and I get a minute to breathe and regroup. We miss each other during the day, and we come together at the end of it eager to share what went on while we were apart, as well as refreshed and energized to start our schedule again.

We catch a bit of flak sometimes from other homeschoolers who frown on any interaction with the public-education system. But that’s OK. It would be difficult for me, I think, to adopt a completely separatist stance on the issue considering my admiration for the gifted professional educators in our extended family—all of whom, by the way, are in complete support of our homeschooling efforts. They say (and I agree!) that we really have the best of both worlds. Homeschool parents opposed to such a program also express their fears that it might cause homeschooled children to resent being taught at home and could create in them a desire to attend traditional school. All I can say is that that hasn’t ever yet been the case for us. In fact, I vividly remember Kellen saying sometime during the second year that he attended C.A.S.A. Vida as I picked him up one afternoon, “Mom, one day a week is enough.” I couldn’t agree more.

August 13, 2009   6 Comments