Home schooling gives parents added connection to learning

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For parents who want to be more closely involved in their children’s education than the standard classroom allows, Clark County schools offer a range of home-school partnerships.

Programs in the Vancouver, Evergreen and Battle Ground school districts employ various combinations of home-based instruction, face time with classroom teachers and online courses.

Evergreen Public Schools offers iQ Academy, a franchise based in Vancouver that serves all of Washington state. This year, a total of 19 full- and part-time instructors oversee students’ online work and meet with them in weekly live sessions to check on their progress. Students and teachers also take part in an ongoing virtual discussion board.

As of the end of November 2011, iQ Academy had about 625 full- or part-time students enrolled in grades six through 12. About one-third lived in the Evergreen district, and two-thirds live in communities all over the state. Because the program depends on online access, it lends participating students laptop computers if they don’t have one at home.

Vancouver Public Schools offers two choices for families that want to pursue alternative modes of learning.

The Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy, limited to Clark County residents, enrolled about 125 full-time students in grades six through 12 as of the end of November 2011. Two teachers guide Internet courses, and students pay weekly visits to the Jim Parsley Center to work with academic coaches.

Vancouver Home Connection, open to students in grades K-12, offers all-day classes at the Parsley Center. Elementary students study at the site Mondays and Wednesdays; secondary students are in attendance on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The rest of the time, students in Home Connection study at home under the supervision of teachers in the program.

Parents in both programs are encouraged to be actively engaged in their children’s learning.

“The focus for parent-partner programs can differ” from one district to another, said Steve Lindblom, principal of both the Virtual Learning Academy and Vancouver Home Connection. “Our focus is on being in the lead in the core academic programs. Some of our students are traditional home-schoolers, some have come from private schools, some are dissatisfied with their neighborhood schools. Most are just looking to go to school in a different way. They want flexibility and a high level of participation by parents.”

Battle Ground Public Schools provides support for a community that has a strong interest in parent partnerships, a variant of home schooling. It offers HomeLink, a popular, long-established program located in the town of Battle Ground; and River HomeLink, established in 1996, which until the 2011-12 school year was located at Camas Church of the Nazarene, well outside the school district boundary, and serves students countywide.

Both programs have seen enrollment shrink in the past year, in part due to school district budget cuts. As of early November, HomeLink enrolled 334 full- and part-time students, and River HomeLink, which is located in a new, smaller venue this year, served 278.

Last fall, River HomeLink moved from its Camas venue to a large modular classroom annex on the Maple Grove primary-middle school campus, leaving some loyal Camas-area parents to consider establishing a Columbia Gorge HomeLink to serve families in the Camas -Washougal area.

“Our HomeLink lost quite a few kids this year,” the equivalent of 66 full-time students, said Battle Ground HomeLink Principal Colleen O’Neal. “There were multiple reasons. We had quite a few kids go back to five-day schools. We think that tends to be reflective of the economy. A lot of moms went back to work.”

Academic offerings have been trimmed, as well, she said. “We used to have contracts with community groups. We had to eliminate those.”

Both HomeLink programs enable pupils to enroll in state-required courses and electives and supplement that with home instruction. Many of their parents serve as classroom volunteers, and the programs have drawn praise for igniting a creative spark in students and a culture of respect.

“The tried and true home-schooled community does not see us as home schooling,” O’Neal said. “We’re a public school in which a portion of the learning is done in the home setting.”

“We all fall under the category of alternative learnings,” said Lindblom. “It’s synonymous with going to school in a different way.”