In Ames, Iowa, home schoolers and the public school system are joining together in a team effort to help children reach their educational goals.
Thirty-three students from kindergarten to 4th grade wait outside the door of the school gymnasium for their turn to watch the children's theater performance. Following the program these students will go back to their classrooms, not at school, but at home. These children are part of the Ames Community School District's Home-Based Education Program.
In 1991 the Iowa Legislature enacted a bill that set in place a unique option for Iowa's home-schooling families - dual enrollment. Dual enrollment offers (but does not require) the opportunity for Iowa home-schooling students to enroll in their school district for academic or instructional programs, to participate in any extracurricular activity offered by the district, and to use the services and assistance of the appropriate area education agency. What that means for families and school districts is that home education can be a team effort in alternative education.
Ten years ago my husband, Harvey, and I decided to educate our children, Anna and David, at home. Although we chose to home school, we wanted to remain active members of our public school community. We were committed to the Ames School system: our oldest daughter, Shelly, continued to be educated there, and we believed that at some time we might choose traditional schooling for one or both younger children. In a larger context, we believed that we must support quality education for all of our community's children.
Not only were we committed to our district, but we found that our district was committed to meeting every child's educational goals—even in nontraditional settings. Working with our elementary principal, Judy Haggard, we began an informal program that allowed home-educated children to participate in special activities within the school system. As a group we met after school hours to use the gym, computer lab, and media center. Ten years later our program serves 37 families—77 students in kindergarten through 9th grade.
Activities at a local nature center
We began an informal program that allowed homeeducated children to participate in special activities within the school system.
Of course, dual enrollment is not without problems. One major issue is whether the state aid for dual-enrolled students is enough to cover the district's expenses. Another is the amount of time a student can attend school and still be considered “home schooled.” On a more personal level are the concerns that home-educated children represent an extra burden for teaching staff and the school schedule. Some critics even argue that home-educated children do not have a place in our school buildings.
Nevertheless, taking the team approach to home education has real benefits for the public school. In Iowa, the school district can receive state aid for those home-schooled children who choose to be part of their school community. Even more important, home educators who feel connected to their schools will support those schools more fully—and support of the community is critical to public schools.
Home educators in our district attend school functions and feel that they are part of our Ames School District community. We even have home-educating parents who volunteer in classrooms.
If parents decide to put their children in school, the trust and respect generated by our Home-Based Education Program allows families to feel more comfortable in choosing public school as their educational choice. And working with home-educating parents shows that we all recognize that our goal is to help each child reach his or her educational goals.
Can we see new possibilities for the public school acting as an umbrella for some types of alternative schooling? Can we search together for our new directions in education? The challenges will be great, but what an exciting journey we have begun.
Mary Terpstra has been a Home Educator for 10 years and is Coordinator of the Home-Based Education Program. She can be reached at 223 E. 6th, Ames, IA 50010.