One southside home-school group has 200 children participating this fall, reflecting an increase in home schooling over the past several years.
The state does not track the number of home-schooled students, but national estimates show the number is increasing. And local groups set up to offer academic and extracurricular activities to home-schooled students say they are continuing to hear from new families.
Every year, the Indiana Association of Home Educators gets more requests for information about how to start the process of home schooling, board member Lisa Heady said. The organization does not keep membership statistics but is one of the largest in the state.
“People are regularly calling and emailing about where to find groups or how to get started. There are several large, large groups. It’s certainly not decreasing,” she said.
Families list three main reasons for home-schooling their children: being more involved in their children’s upbringing, helping them achieve more academically and being dissatisfied with public schools.
A southside group, Southside Educators Encouraging Knowledge, or SEEK, reports involvement this fall of around 200 children from 64 families. Academics are one of the big reasons families choose to home-school, and the types of families choosing home schooling is changing, according to Ann Figy, a member of the group’s leadership team.
As more families have gotten involved in home schooling, the number of resources available to them has grown. Organizations such as K12, a national, accredited online school, and Indiana Connections Academy, a state-run online school, have risen in popularity in recent years, along with the more traditionally religious cooperatives.
Johnson County and the southside have multiple cooperatives for families, including Southside Christian Homeschool Academy, Classical Conversations of Greenwood and SEEK. Cooperatives promote a sharing of resources, including teachers able to teach higher-level high school courses. Most gather once a week and feature activities such as drama.
The academic courses often are sought after by families for their children’s transcripts, which are needed for college admission, said Sherry Weir, a home-schooling mother of three.
Weir tracks Indiana Core 40 requirements to make sure her children meet the honors requirements, which helped her oldest child get an academic scholarship.
“We look for those courses (in cooperatives) because we want to make sure what they are receiving is rigorous,” Weir said.
Center Grove area mom Amy Jones and her husband, Mike, have five children. One has graduated from IUPUI, another is studying engineering at Purdue University, another is studying informatics at Indiana University, and two others still are at home.
“The expectations these families have is normally one of excellence,” Jones said. “Around our cooperatives, most of the students are already in college courses before they finish high school.”
Fred Beerwart teaches science courses for SEEK. A retired inventor, he places a premium on instructors having worked with the material they are entrusted with teaching. A teacher who has mastered the subject matter is preferred, even compared with someone with a teaching certificate, he said.
“The important thing is fundamentals, learning how to think clearly, logically, analytically and as a problem solver,” he said. “If you can master those things, you can do anything you want.
For his physics class, Beerwart records a lecture that students must listen to before Tuesday class meetings. During the class itself, he works through problems on a whiteboard with the group. The group also has an online tutoring session later in the week, as do many SEEK courses.
Adapting the education model to where each child is cognitively is a strength of home schooling, said Debra Radke, director of Classical Conversations in Indianapolis. Also important is promoting a sense of community within the cooperative so that the moms teaching can draw support from one another.
“Home schooling can be pretty lonely if you let it,” Radke said. “You can be alone for hours and thinking nobody else struggles with the same things your child is. It’s good to find some like-minded people and to help provide the same backbone of curriculum, to make sure we helping everyone succeed.”
One of the attractions to home schooling for parents is being with their child most of the day.
Amy Jones sees an opportunity to be more closely involved in her children’s lives.
“I’m not giving the responsibility for teaching them to someone else. It’s mine,” she said. “It’s such a rich lifestyle. You get to really know your kids for one thing. You get to share their experiences.”
Combining life experiences and education is a big part of the draw to home schooling for Fred and Julie Beerwart. Their daughter Abby is a senior in high school and a national-level qualifier in classical singing competitions.
With the traveling the family does for Abby’s singing, the Beerwarts have enjoyed the chance to blend educational opportunities with each new venue. Trips to Washington and Boston, for instance, became American history and government lessons. A trip to Hawaii included an earth science lesson as the family visited a volcano. Abby was able to study Italian for a month in Italy with a home-school academy.
“It’s just been a unique opportunity to teach her,” Julie Beerwart said. “There’s a lot of freedom to do well.”