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Learning at home: Homeschooling families say freedom, one-on-one learning are key benefits

Seventeen-year-old Jasmine Jackson of DeKalb is not a typical high school student.

Even though she has a part-time job and went to prom, she doesn’t spend any of her time in a classroom. She does schoolwork in her pajamas at home.

Each day, after completing lessons on her computer, she works at the library and volunteers and trains at the hospital.

Jackson has completed enough credits to finish high school a year early, but because of her love of learning and passion for volunteering, she has decided to remain a student another year.

Jackson and her 10-year-old brother Jordyn are homeschooled.

“I love being homeschooled and being able to learn at my own pace and focus on my strengths and weaknesses,” Jackson said. “I’m not sitting in classrooms not learning. I have more independence and freedom, more one-on-one learning.”

Before being homeschooled, Jackson attended DeKalb public schools. During her freshman year of high school, Jackson was involved with 14 different clubs.

“She’s always been busy doing the things she’s interested in, but now she can devote more time to her interests and her self-goals,” Jackson’s mother Angela Johnson said. “She’s on a path to be ready for college and success her whole life. She has hands-on experience. She’s mature and becoming her own person.”

According to the National Home Education Research Institute, there are more than 2.3 million home-educated students in the United States, with the homeschool population continuing to grow at an estimated 2 to 8 percent over the past few years.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, parents who choose to educate their children at home are under a legal obligation to meet the minimum requirements stated in Illinois’ Compulsory Attendance Law.

Parents are obligated to teach their children language arts, mathematics, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, fine arts, physical development and health.

Jeff Smith, assistant superintendent of the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, described graduation as when a student meets the requirements set forth by their local school board. However, if the student is homeschooled, they are not taking the classes the local school offers for graduation credit.

“In Illinois, homeschools are private and not tied to the state of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education or public education,” Smith said. “Many times a homeschool may issue some sort of certificate of achievement, but that is not normally recognized as Illinois High School Equivalency. Three IHSE tests are available in Illinois, those being the GED, TASC and HiSET.”

Instead of walking across a stage in a cap and gown, homeschool students graduate with less pomp and circumstance. Johnson said that when her daughter graduates, their family will celebrate with a get-together.

“Most of us will present our students with some sort of certificate. For students continuing on to college, there are several options,” said Colleen Rittmeyer, leader of the local homeschool group DeKalb County Home Educators. “Some people choose to get ACT/SAT testing done for their children and use that score combined with the transcript they prepare. Some people simply use the high school transcript made by the parents and go to a community college before continuing on to a university.”

In addition to homeschooling her two children, 6-year-old Jake and 7-year-old Ella, Rittmeyer conducts educational programs for homeschool students at DeKalb and Sycamore public libraries.

One of Rittmeyer’s students, Jess Wiedmeyer, 16, of DeKalb, presented Kishwaukee College with the transcript Rittmeyer had made, took placement testing and enrolled in classes.

“I attended public school, but it wasn’t right for me,” Wiedmeyer said. “I love being homeschooled because I feel like I can just be myself. There’s no drama or bullying and I have more freedom.”

NHERI reports that children who are educated at home typically score 15 to 30 percent higher than public school students on standardized academic achievement tests. 

“Statistically, homeschoolers consistently outperform their public school peers when they enter college,” Rittmeyer said. “Not as many studies are done after that, but homeschooled children themselves report that they typically feel very well-equipped to handle diverse challenges at work because of their homeschool experience.”

Cherron Page of DeKalb chose to start homeschooling her children, 10-year-old Calvin and 11-year-old Noël, in fall 2016 for academic reasons.

“My son, in particular, was way ahead of his peers in both math and reading and we were told by the teacher, principal and school psychologist that he could not move up a grade nor were there any opportunities for enrichment at the elementary level in math,” Page said. “Since he has been home, he has been learning math two full grade levels ahead.”

Page’s children attend a co-op once a week for classes. Page also uses some “unschooling,” allowing her children to self-direct their education, letting them decide what to learn based on their interests.

To interact with other children their age, homeschooled students often attend meet-up groups, socialize with friends and attend community events and activities.

“There is an unfortunate myth that homeschoolers are weird, awkward and sheltered,” Page said. “The truth is that they are some of the most well-mannered, confident and kind people that I have known. They have deep connection with their own parents, siblings and relatives for simply the time afforded to develop these relationships.”

Rittmeyer said that even though homeschooling has many benefits, it may not be right for every family or student. She advises families to look into teaching alternatives and do research if interested in the homeschooling option.

“Parents are able to spend more time with their children when they homeschool,” Rittmeyer said. “However, it is very easy to feel isolated while homeschooling if you don’t know of any resources. It also is extremely draining on the parent and sometimes on the child. In the end, most parents find that it is well worth the effort, though.”

If interested in learning more about homeschooling, contact Colleen Rittmeyer through the DeKalb Public Library, 815-756-9568.

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