Learning outside the lines: Home schooling in Kansas

Virtual school, Internet offer resources to parents

HannaMariam Case, 4, looks to clean her paintbrush as she and her mother, Nini Negash Case, along with her older brother Joachim, 7, not pictured, work on renditions of Van Gogh's "Starry Night." The Cases home school using the Lawrence Virtual School.

HannaMariam Case, 4, looks to clean her paintbrush as she and her mother, Nini Negash Case, along with her older brother Joachim, 7, not pictured, work on renditions of Van Gogh's "Starry Night." The Cases home school using the Lawrence Virtual School.

May 13, 2007


Learning Outside the Lines: A look at virtual schools in the home-school world

For most people, home-schools and public schools are two very different things, but for at least one group of students, they're sort of meshed together. Enlarge video

High-tech education

Nan Hunt and her children - Claire and Matthew - talk about their Lawrence Virtual School experience. Enlarge video

One family's story

Edgerton mom Christine Hammon talks about home schooling her 10-year-old son Zachary. Enlarge video

See more in our home schooling series
Learning outside the lines

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."

Flexible learning

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."

'Best choice'

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."

Oversight recommended

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.


Christine Hammon 10 years, 10 months ago

Yes, charter school=government involvement.

No, this is not true homeschooling, because it uses the K12 curriculum, government funds, and there are state assessments. On the other hand, we face most of the stigmas and challenges that homeschoolers face. I jokingly refer to ourselves as the "lazy homeschoolers", because I don't have to research my curriculum, file paperwork/audits, and search out other homeschoolers. I have my curriculum provided to me, I record attendance and scores/graded assign. online, participate in the fall audit/spring state assessments, get quarterly progress reports, and my education specialists calls me to see if I need anything. And yet I also work to find "play dates" with others, ensure he's involved in sports/music/etc, and face criticism for simply choosing to keep my son home to school.

Again, no, LVS is not homeschooling, it is a charter school. Unfortunately, where we live now, the term charter school only produces looks of confusion. It is simply easier to begin with the term homeschool and then work up to explaining charter schools.

Annette 10 years, 10 months ago

I don't know whether these public virtual school programs are virtual charter schools or not. Looking at some different situations nationwide, it doesn't have to be. I think it is safe to say that charter schools have opened up the way for public virtual schools like the ones mentioned in this series. To me, it does not make much difference whether it is a charter or not. It is a public school program and should not be confused with home education. I found this series particularly confusing by the continual misuse of the term homeschooling in reference to the public school programs. I will have to do some research to discover if the newspaper was at all making references to homeschoolers who were part-time enrolled in the school districts' virtual schools. If that is the case with some of the misuse of terminology presented here, it would still be a case where those enrolled are public school students for the classes that they are enrolled in. Homeschooling and Public School Programs http://www.americanhomeschoolassociation.org/blogs/HS-PSatHome/?p=79

Richard Heckler 10 years, 10 months ago

I do not care for the USD 497 choice because its' founders such as former Reagan/Bush cabinet person William "Bill" Bennett(midnight gambling moralist) and other large corporate executives do not support public schools. Their motivation I feel is to undermine the system as is No Child Left Behind then come in with a huge push for private corporate charter schools funded with OUR tax dollars to privatize public education = big tax dollar profits. The Waltons(Wal-Mart) , Koch Brothers and other quite narrow fundamentalist thinkers have been working with Bush quietly behind the scenes. Bill Bennett is a right thinker himself along with Dick and Lynn Cheney. Beware of history books authored by Lynn Cheney. The K-12 program is actually very new on the scene.

Homeschooling with depth and these programs come with very good support.

(A mix of public and private "top" one hundred schools in the nation have tapped this resource) Waldorf Home School: http://www.live-education.com/

Calvert Home School: http://www.calvertschool.org/home-school/

John Holt http://www.holtgws.com/

Homeschooling Magazine http://www.homeedmag.com/

We have been involved with homeschooling for more than 20 years and feel there are plenty other excellent resources. USD 497 has good history working with homeschooling families no matter what curriculum is chosen long before Bennett's K-12 program was around.

KS 10 years, 10 months ago

To me, if you are in the classroom, you are "at/in" school. If you are learning at home, regardless of who provides the curriculum, (the school district or private enterprise) you are being home schooled. I think some of the public school systems realize some of their failures and are attempting to "get in on the action" with virtual schools. It's called control and money. Personally, the more I hear about home schooling, the more I like it. Obviously, I am not a fan of public schools. For various reasons, I think the system, overall, is failing and not doing our kids any justice. Yes, there are exeptions to every rule. In retrospect, maybe it is not the public shools, but the parents of the kids in public schools. Humm?

Strontius 10 years, 10 months ago

Most Christians don't favor homeschooling, it's just the ones who can't tolerate the idea that their child might make independent judgments and become something different than what their parents want them to become.

It's a true sign that your beliefs and values are weak when they can't stand to be critically analyzed and questioned.

nini 10 years, 10 months ago

Hum, I would beg to differ on the idea of independent ideas within the public school setting. We are Orthodox Christians, and choosing the Virtual School so that our kids are more tolerant and accepting of people from different view points, religions, sexual orientation, ethnic and/or socio-economic backgrounds... I want them to know the meaning of LOVE. Their acceptance of people should be based on similarities and the celebration of differences with compassion for those who suffer. True Orthodox Christianity is to love not to judge.

I attended the public schools and found very little tolerance of difference. It is a place to be molded to think the same way - and reject differences.


Isaac McPheeters 10 years, 10 months ago

Actually Strontius, most of the Christians I know do favor home schooling. They may not do it themselves, but they support my family in it. My parents home schooled me because they wanted me to make independent judgments. I wasn't making the popular choice of my peers. I wasn't going to parties or drinking or doing drugs because it was popular. I had to make the decision to not do those things independently from other kids.

As for being critically analyzed and questioned, I frequently talk to my fellow KU students about their beliefs as well as mine. "Is there a God." "What is the purpose for life." Most of the kids I talk to about various beliefs are from the public schools, and they frequently tell me that they've never talked about these issues before.

Christine Hammon 10 years, 10 months ago

Homeschool=to teach school subjects to one's children at home(Merriam Webster Online).

I am new to homeschooling, and I do it through LVS. I have been corrected by homeschoolers who say I am homeschooling, because I teach my child at home. I have had the looks and comments from homeschoolers who say that because I use a cirriculum provided by the LVS which is funded through the taxpayers, I am not a homeschooler, but rather a virtual/charter schooler.

I say I homeschool because I teach my child at home. If we change the labels to describe schooling based on it's source of funding, then I government school in a home setting. IF I could find a way to afford an entire cirriculum on my own, and one that is not steeped in Christianity, than I will do it.

hbh 10 years, 10 months ago

I am a homeschooler, and I would not use a virtual school/curriculum. But that's because I feel secure in my background and resources as a former teacher and work-at-home writer. I have the time and abilities that many folks (single parents, insecure parents, parents who work loads of hours, low-income parents) might not feel they have. While I certainly understand the nervousness of many homeschoolers who worry that virtual charters/schools are a sign of an upcoming oppressive involvement of the government in our homes, I think we can't forget that there are many many parents who either would not otherwise attempt to homeschool or even see it as a viable option. These virtual options, despite their potential for public school-like mediocrity, are a necessary evolution of education as a whole.

Definitely, argue about definitions. We've done it for years and years within the homeschooling and unschooling communities. But let's not be so purist that we can't see that these virtual schools will very often be an answer for those parents and children who for whatever unique reason, can't go "all the way," so to speak. And once they get a good up-close view of what it takes to facilitate an excellent education for their child, they'll be able to break the chains.

More options--always a good thing.

And Mr. Strontius, please do note that although there are certainly some homeschoolers who seek to shelter their children from alternative points of view, you are painting a much too broad brush. (Not to mention the fact that it doesn't take into account the vast numbers of public school parents and officials whose nervousness about "controversy" means a curriculum whittled down to the barest of pale, boring nothingness and principals and teachers whose enforcement of rules is often racist, devoid of logic and (god I hope) nothing like the real world. The way students are treated in this country is akin to the way we treat prisoners.) As an atheist and a Buddhist home, with a professor of ethics and world religions hanging around the place, we do a hell of a lot of controversy-talk. There are loads of folks out there who do not approach homeschooling with a "smaller" world view, but rather, want their children to have the world. Schools most definitely do not provide that, much as you would like to believe otherwise. (I know, because I remember my childhood well. And because I've spent thousands of hours in schools as an adult. Why wouldn't you want your child to have a childhood?)

VBMoon 10 years, 10 months ago


Operating Procedures 2007-2008

Lawrence Virtual School


LVS (K-8) is a public charter school in the state of Kansas. The charter is granted through the Lawrence School District, USD 497. The school is managed by the local school board and delivers curriculum by K12 Inc. ("K12").

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