By PETER SAWYER
CAMPBELL COUNTY—Many parents are going back-to-school shopping to prepare for the start of the district school year next week. Their children need outfits, backpacks and school supplies. For most, the experience is similar — summer vacation ends, and it’s back to the classroom. For others, however, going back to school doesn’t mean leaving home.
There are approximately 100 homeschoolers in Campbell County, according Sharon Carson, attendance coordinator for the Campbell County School district.
Why home school?
Parents homeschool their children for a variety of reasons.
Just ask Denise and Lloyd Myers, who have two middle-school-age children—Wyatt and Jacqueline.
“I believe that I’m really in charge of my kids and their upbringing more than the school system,” Denise Myers said.
Denise Myers also enjoys the flexibility homeschooling provides.
She was intially attracted to homeschooling because public schools are overcrowded in California — where the Myerses moved here from.
“My son is ADHD,” Denise Myers said. “They wanted to put him in special [education]. He has no problems with learning — he has problems with sitting still.”
At home, Wyatt has the freedom to stand when he learns — which isn’t available in a crowded classroom, she said.
Homeschooling also gives students one-on-one attention — which isn’t usually as available in a public school classroom.
Pam and Brian Winter have six children.
The Winters began homeschooling when their oldest child was in the fifth grade to provide their children with a better education. But their purpose has since changed.
“We feel our children were given to us by God,” Pam Winter said. “We were given the privilege and responsibility to raise them up and train them. We didn’t want to give that up for someone else to do.”
The Winters want to be able to spend their life with their children, teaching them school subjects from a biblical worldview and how to live their faith in everyday life experiences.
“It’s more of a way of life than education,” Pam Winter said.
Two of their children are still in school.
How does homeschooling work?
Homeschool students are required to spend 180 four-hour days working on academics.
The Myers maintain a schedule similar to a public school.
“We keep about the same school day,” Denise Myers said. “We start by nine o’clock and work till we’re done.”
They continue class throughout the summer, but with shorter days to keep their minds fresh, Denise Myers said.
The Winters also try to keep a Monday-to-Friday school week. But homeschooling offers flexibility when it’s needed. If the Winters have scheduling conflicts during the week, they can have school on Saturday.
Their school days are also shorter.
“We probably get done (sooner),” Pam Winter said, in reference to the school day. “We’re probably done by 1 (p.m.).”
Home school students are also required to meet state academic standards. Campbell County Director of Schools Donnie Poston called homeschooling “gray” — meaning there are a variety of ways homeschoolers meet the standards.
“You have parents who do a legitimately good job (homeschooling) their kids,” Poston said.
Homeschool students can register with the Campbell County School System and state curriculum is available online, according to Larry Nidiffer, secondary education technical career director. Any books or materials must be purchased online by the home school parent.
“We do not supply anything to the homeschool parents other than the testing services,” Nidiffer said.
The homeschool students registered with the public school system are required to take state tests—currently the TCAP—their fifth and seventh grade years, Carson said.
“We contact them and they go to a location of their choice and they take the TCAPs,” Nidiffer said.
Soon, the state test will change to the PARCC test.
If home school students don’t perform well on the state tests, they can be put on probation and given a year to improve.
“You can refuse to approve a homeschool program if the (students) don’t meet the requirements,” Poston said.
Homeschool students can also register with a church homeschool program — such as Gateway, Home Life Academy or Oak Ridge Outreach Academy, which notifies the school they are enrolled.
“A parent may choose another curriculum,” Nidiffer said. “Maybe a church-supported curriculum or another independent curriculum.”
The Myers and Winters are enrolled in an umbrella program called Home Life Academy, which is accredited and follows state guidelines.
Home Life Academy “oversees” students’ education, Pam Winter said. Parents submit courses of study for approval. Home Life Academy doesn’t select a curriculum for students, but parents are allowed to choose their own.
“Most of the umbrella schools here, you choose your own curriculum,” Pam Winter said.
Home Life Academy does approve the curricula parents choose for their children — making sure they meet standards. When a school year is completed, parents report grades to Home Life Academy. Home Life Academy advises parents about how many credits are needed for graduation. When students complete their education, they receive diplomas.
Tennessee Virtual Academy
A new option for homeschooling is the Tennessee Virtual Academy, which allows children to enroll in public school and attend class from home.
“They have the curriculum,” Nidiffer said. “They give you the materials. Your classes are done online. You also do all the state required testing.”
K12 provides the Tennessee Virtual Academy — or TNVA.
“They do the teaching, the testing, the whole nine yards,” Nidiffer said.
Valerie Miesel enrolls her four children in TNVA.
“You enroll with the academy, and they take care of everything through the public school,” Miesel said.
Miesel’s children spend 180, six-and-a-half-hour days in class.
“They follow the regular public school calendar,” Miesel said. “They have normal breaks just like the public schools, which begins here Aug. 9.”
Next Friday is the first day of school for students enrolled with TNVA, and it’s a half-day — just like in public school, Miesel said.
Miesel’s younger children have one teacher each. Her older children have a teacher for each subject.
“They have math, Social Studies, Science, reading, all the subjects,” Miesel said.
The classes are online.
“They’re required to go online with their teachers,” Miesel said. “They have classes almost every day.”
“You can’t see all the other kids,” Miesel said. “But you can see the teacher.”
Students can see and hear their teachers in real time. Teachers and students interact with one another. The teacher can ask the students questions, and the students can ask the teacher questions. The students keep the microphones muted until it’s their turn to speak.
All work is submitted online, and the students also take state tests.
“They have to go to Knoxville to take it,” Miesel said.
Participation in the virtual academy is free.
The Miesels previously homeschooled their children using traditional methods, but enrolled them in TNVA after moving to Tennessee from California.
“We’ve done traditional homeschooling,” Miesel said.
When they moved here they weren’t familiar with the state education requirements regarding homeschooling, but knew state requirements are met through K12.
Miesel began to like the Virtual Academy.
“It was too much for me to teach all the classes, make all the lessons,” Miesel said. “It (K12) frees me up from having to make the plans and teach the classes.”
How do homeschool students make friends?
The Winters, Myers and Miesels are involved in a co-op called Epic Praise in Christ—or EPIC. EPIC is a group of families involved in homeschooling that meets together regularly for activities.
“We’re starting our fourth year,” Pam Winter said. “We just enjoy the fellowship of getting together. We do enrichment classes, field trips. It’s good for our kids to have fellowship with (other homeschoolers).”
Last year, EPIC met every-other week for an astronomy class. After the class, they ate lunch and played games.
The families involved in EPIC also get together for field trips twice a month.
The Miesels plan to be involved in EPIC. Last year, they were involved in a group that met in Kentucky.
“Co-ops are great,” Miesel said. “That’s usually where the kids get their extracurricular activities.”