Iowa sees increase in non-religious home-schooled students
Source: The Daily Iowan
By: Jordyn Reiland
March 7, 2012
Caroline and Natalie Young recently put down their science-lesson materials and ran outside — to attend to their daily chicken business, the Golden Egg.
Running the business coincides with their studies as homeschooled students. Natalie says she enjoys the experience and responsibility.
"My favorite part is being able to run a business and have a business by ourselves and being able to play with the chickens," the 9-year-old said as a chicken ate from her outstretched palm.
While gathering eggs might not seem like a typical school day for most, it is for these girls.
Caroline, 11, and Natalie are just two of the 1.5 million children homeschooled nationwide, according to the 2007 National Center for Education Statistics. The number has almost doubled since 1999.
Over the last decade, the national appeal of homeschooling beyond religious reasons has grown, said Brian Ray, the president of the National Home Education Research Institute.
Iowa has followed the trend.
The Iowa City Homeschool Assistance Program consists of approximately 130 children, and although this number stays fairly stable each year, Stephanie Phillips, an administrator of the program, says she has seen a statewide increase.
"We have some parents who are [homeschooling] because their students are involved in sports or in the performing arts," she said. "I didn't see that 25 years ago, when I was teaching in the schools."
Homeschooling can provide more flexible time for students who are heavily involved in competitive activities, she said.
Caroline's and Natalie's mother, Susan Young, said she decided to homeschool her four children after one winter break when she and her eldest son — then in second grade — spent an afternoon at their house playing with science experiments.
"He said, 'Mom, I like to learn this way; I wish we could do this every day,' " she said while glancing at son Elliot, now a sophomore at City High. "I had been a teacher, but the idea of homeschooling was new to me."
Other local homeschooling groups have seen similar patterns, said Tom Ertz, the director of the Marion homeschooling program.
"I think more than anything, parents are looking for choices in education," he said.
The Marion Homeschool Program currently has an enrollment of 825 students and 360 families.
Yet one Des Moines-area mother said she initially had trouble finding nonreligious homeschooling information.
"When I first started looking for information on homeschooling in Iowa, there was no website that just gave me the basic information," Bobbi Meister said in an email. "So I made one."
Her website, IA Home Educators, provides information for parents who are interested in homeschooling their children.
"People are diverse," she said. "I felt there should be a place for a person to seek out the information to homeschool where that diversity was recognized and information was presented in a general way that could suit almost anyone."
Young said homeschooling has given her children opportunities they would not have had in traditional schools.
"People have the misconception that homeschool kids live in a bubble," she said and laughed. Young said her children often take field trips and conduct daily hands-on experiments as a part of their schooling.
"My kids have gotten to do possibly more than kids in the public schools," she said.