Case family home schooling
Sossina "Nini" Negash Case chose home schooling so she could instill her religious and moral values in her two children. "I didn't want to have any regrets," she says. "I didn't want to be one of those people who could cop out and blame the system."
Sossina "Nini" Negash Case was torn.
She wanted her two young children to get the best education possible. At the same time, she wanted to make sure they understood the family's religious and moral values.
The Lawrence mother found her answer in home schooling.
"I didn't want to have any regrets," Case says. "I didn't want to be one of those people who could cop out and blame the system. I wanted to have full responsibility for making them understand what our beliefs are."
But that turned out to be the easy choice. Next came figuring out how to teach her children.
"It was actually very, very intimidating," Case admits. "There are so many curriculums out there and so many ideologies."
Indeed, a simple Internet search of home school curricula turns up more than 70 million hits listing options from religious and secular suppliers that cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Fortunately, Case says, she found out about Lawrence Virtual School through a friend at her orthodox Christian church. Students there use a curriculum called K12, which is delivered to homes via the Internet and is accessible 24 hours a day. Families pay $97 per child and receive student and teacher editions of books, a laptop computer and other equipment.
"I believe that parental involvement in education is essential," says Gary Lewis, LVS principal. "I believe that we can take this public school system and connect it to the home environment."
The Lawrence Virtual School, which began in 2004, has about 510 students in its kindergarten through eighth-grade program, and 75 students in its virtual high school - representing about 30 percent of the state's virtual school population.
With more than 450 students, the Lawrence school's K-6 enrollment ranks higher than many of the district's elementary schools. Next year, total enrollment is expected to top 1,000 students.
Nan Hunt's children are part of that student body. Claire, 13, and Matthew, 11, were doing well academically at Veritas Christian School, 256 N. Mich. Yet after their third-grade and first-grade years respectively, they asked to be home-schooled.
"I don't learn very well in larger groups," Claire says. "I guess it was just uncomfortable for me. I especially didn't like how long it was."
Matthew simply was bored.
Nan Hunt, who was selling real estate at the time, started researching the option and realized she could customize her children's education through home schooling. The first few years, she used Christian curriculum resources from Sonlight and Veritas Press, and she spent hours getting ready for each day.
"I prepared all the lessons, and then, of course, you still have to study them before you teach them or you don't know them," Hunt says. "So that was my whole life."
But then she needed to work again, and the prepared lessons from the virtual school freed up enough time to allow for both her job and home schooling.
The family loves the flexibility their setup allows. They typically spend three or four hours on school each morning. When the children master a concept, they move on to something that interests them more. When it's cold and rainy outside, they can forge ahead - and then spend a particularly nice day outdoors reading. They also make their own lunch and do chores to earn money.
"My whole thing is, the kids are going to grow up, they're going to be independent - it's going to go fast," Nan Hunt says. "It's just wonderful to be with them."
Virtual schools are somewhat contentious within the home school community, if only semantically.
"There are those of us who don't think virtual schooling is home schooling," says David Barfield, a Lawrence home school parent and advocate. "We think that's doing public school at home."
For home school parents who don't choose to use the virtual school, there still are resources available.
For instance, Teaching Effective Academics in Christian Homes, or TEACH, offers a teaching cooperative among parents on Tuesday afternoons at Community Bible Church, 906 N. 1464 Road. Cathy Barfield, David's wife, teaches a biology class, and students also can participate in art, physical education and other classes.
"It used to be more difficult" to home school, David Barfield says. "You had to really want to do it. You had to have strong motivation to do it. You felt a little alone. Now the climate is much more favorable."
Kansas has 28 virtual schools with a total enrollment of more than 2,000 students, up from 60 students from the 1998-99 school year when the first virtual school was formed. The number of virtual students represents less than half a percent of the state's 440,000 students, but that number is growing.
A recent Legislative Post Audit study of the state's virtual schools concluded that they need more oversight by the Kansas Department of Education and the Legislature.
The audit committee recommended further study of how the state funds virtual schools, the caliber of education students receive and ways to prevent risks such as virtual students not doing their own work or receiving credit without mastering material.
The report cited no problems with Lawrence's operations, and Superintendent Randy Weseman has said he thinks LVS does a good job.
Life of learning
Christine Hammon couldn't agree more. Hammon and her 10-year-old son, Zachary, got involved with LVS after moving from Lawrence to Edgerton to help her mom take care of a family member.
"I don't want him in this school system," Hammon says. "And I don't have the money to put him in private school. For people like me, it's perfect."
Here in his "classroom," Zachary chips away at schoolwork at the computer while surrounded by world maps, artwork and stacks of books. Having a separate school room helps him stay focused, he says.
"There are days when he can work ahead now and I know he isn't waiting on other kids," Christine Hammon says.
"Or being waited on," Zachary adds.