Did you know that there are over 10,000 registered homeschoolers in Arizona? DSS talked to Colleen Towey (an active homeschool mom) at length about why she chooses to homeschool her three children, Sarah (11), Peter (9) and Patrick (5). We wondered how she learns what to teach the kids, how she separates the three during a school day, and how she has the patience to be teacher AND mom!
Years ago, the Toweys went to the annual Arizona Families for Home Education convention to learn more about homeschooling. The group (which includes more than 5,000 families) calmed their fears! “There is so much support. There are lesson plans and curriculum that you can purchase and follow,” says Colleen. And having the freedom to choose their own curriculum and move at each child’s pace was exactly what the Towey family wanted in a school. Not to mention the freedom to go on vacations when they wanted to, and to choose field trips and research projects that they felt were applicable and sparked their children’s interests. The Toweys still include PE and swim team (very important to Colleen and husband Brian) and meetings with other homeschool kids. Colleen confided that she was worried at first that the kids would not have the social activities or friends that public school could provide, but “was pleasantly surprised at the group support and other homeschool children that the kids have become very close to. They see the same kids weekly at PE, take field trips together, and are on a swim team together in the summers.”
Each child learns separately during the school day, but they also do things together. In addition to individual video-based learning, science projects and history projects can be done together at times (in spite of the age differences between the kids). Colleen says there are hundreds of choices when it comes to the content. “I can buy different curriculum based on how I teach and how my children like to learn,” Colleen says. The Toweys use Cathy Duffy’s book 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum as a starting point in choosing a variety of different resources for their day. And although there is no standardized testing for homeschoolers, Sarah has taken the Iowa tests and surpassed what is standard for her grade level. DSS is not surprised to hear that at all, as you can tell the Towey kids are bright, articulate, friendly and well-rounded little people.
Former charter school principal Syd Hoffman believes that charter schools are the place for a child to ‘find their niche’. It’s not a one size fits all! If music is your child’s passion, you can have more focus on music. Syd says that it is very important to try out a charter school, since all charter schools are different. She always allowed kids to come for a few days to see if it was the right fit. Although schools must all have math, science, and other basic components in the curriculum, each charter school may have more emphasis on a specific subject area. For example, you may find a charter school that offers more instruction in music, performing arts, sports, or nutrition — and those might be aligned with your core family values! Syd loves that the parents can really get involved. For instance, if you as a parent are a photographer, you might want to be in the classroom helping with that activity. Syd felt that her school (Bright Beginnings in Chandler, AZ) was more of a family. She also asserts that charter schools have very good teachers, possibly because the working conditions might be better than in public schools in some situations. The ratio in a charter school is more like 20:1 compared to 30:1 in a public school, so this also attracts great educators. Perhaps most surprising is that charter schools are public schools, so there is no extra fee to attend one of these schools versus a regular public school.
Gilbert mom Amy Wilson says there are numerous reasons that public school is still the best choice for her family. “Public school is refreshing and inspiring for my children,” Amy says. “They learn from so many different types of teachers, interact with such a diverse group of children from year to year, and I especially like that (for the most part) they are being taught subjects by people who LOVE what they’re talking about; whereas I would never want to try to teach my kids to do fractions or geometry.” Public schools are certainly full of teachers who plan out each day of learning for your child with thought, research and resources that may not be available in other school settings. Not to mention, public schools allow children the opportunity to participate in programs, trips, and activities that are age appropriate, fun, and most of the time FREE.
While public schools are free and usually close to home, private schools are also abundant in the valley. Most private schools suggest that students will receive a better education than at alternative schools (public, charter, home), but it’s up to parents to decide whether forking over the extra bucks is worth smaller classroom sizes, more individual attention, and enhanced learning environments. For the Johnston family in Chandler, the decision to send their son to private school was not easy. Dad Tom tells us, “we had to weigh the pros and cons of choosing a school with yearly tuition like you’d pay for college, but for us the peace of mind that our son is getting the highest quality, focused education in a safe, supportive environment is our top priority.”