Home schooling sees growth in Oak Park area
A spirited group of seventh and eighth grade students keeps teacher Elizabeth York on her toes during a civics lesson at One Day Enrichment, a group that allows home school students to gather in a more conventional setting. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Med
Updated: November 15, 2012 8:24AM
OAK PARK — Oak Park is unconventional in many ways, but may mirror a national trend in at least one instance: a rise in home schooling.
One Day Enrichment, an Oak Park-based program that offers fine arts, lab science and other classes weekly to supplement home school curricula, involves about 40 families, a significant increase from when program co-director Carol Canada founded it seven years ago, she said.
One Day Enrichment draws about 100 students from preschool through high school to its program at Judson Baptist Church in Oak Park. Families come from near-west suburban communities and Chicago neighborhoods as far as Hyde Park.
In 2007, there were about 1.5 million home-schooled children, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That was a 74 percent increase from eight years earlier.
START BY DEFAULT
“I say I started by default,” Canada laughed, explaining that her decision to home school arose from administrative issues in her former Indianapolis school district that prompted her to try it as a temporary measure.
“Once we started, I got to know the other families. It was working, and we still do it,” she said. Her own children now range in age from 5 to 15.
Carol Van Santen, of Oak Park, has a 5, 8 and 10-year-old in their first year with One Day Enrichment.
“We backed into it as well,” she said, when Oak Park’s kindergarten went from a half-day to a full-day program. Though her oldest child thrived in half-day kindergarten and the family bought its house to be near village schools, Van Santen was uncomfortable with the full-day concept.
“I visited a couple families and watched what they did, and decided to try a trial home school year,” she said. “We enjoyed the family time and being able to choose what our kids were learning. I kind of feel gypped now that someone else got to teach my oldest to read.”
For Oak Parker Anneke Taglia, the decision to home school her children, now 7, 8 and 12, was more active.
“I pulled my kids from school. My oldest was in fifth grade and our lovely evening rituals were obliterated by homework,” she said. “I was spending so much time working on homework with my son, I thought I might as well home school. I had to save my family.”
SUBJECT TO THE LAW
By Illinois law, home schooling families must educate children in subjects including math, language arts, physical, biological and social sciences, fine arts and P.E./health. Within that, they can develop their own curricula.
Though there is no state requirement that home schoolers be tested, some families opt to do so, to be sure their children’s learning is on track with their grade level, said Cindy Miller, of Oak Park, whose youngest child is 14. Miller has a 21-year history of home schooling.
“It’s not like we’re teaching to the test, necessarily, but it’s feedback,” Miller said.
When selecting their curricula, parents aim for broad goals and let lessons unfold according to their children’s interests. Miller will take nature walks with her children, to watch birds. When her high school-aged children have been ready for advanced study, she’s enrolled them in Triton College online courses.
One facet of home schooling parents enjoy is full-family involvement in the learning process.
“We have conversations as a family and it’s so worth it,” Taglia said, recalling when a drive past the Hemingway Museum on Oak Park Avenue prompted a discussion of Greek architecture.
“I think my favorite part is watching the older ones teach the young ones,” Canada added.
Parents also enjoy the closeness that develops among siblings, and among fellow home-school kids.
“Their friendships are more rich,” Van Santen said. “They have more free time to develop their interests and friendships develop.”DIVERSIFICATION
Demographically, families are diversifying along with rising interest in home schooling, research shows, including a 2008 study by California State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro that concluded the pool is becoming more racially diverse.
Although Canada and her One Day Enrichment Co-Director Jenny Ginter identify as Christians, the program welcomes all, Canada said, and includes families from various backgrounds. In addition, though many home school families include one stay-at-home parent, families with two working parents have also been successful.
One Day Enrichment families generally gear toward college and say their children aren’t hindered – and may even benefit – from home school status when they apply.
“I’ve had two graduate college and have two in college,” Miller said. “Colleges are learning that, for the most part, home schoolers are good students. They can really sit down with a text and apply themselves.”
Taglia added, “We’re teaching our kids Latin and Greek. For English, their test scores are off the charts.”