More families move toward in-home education

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion Eden Alioto, 9, stops for her father to adjust her snowshoe before taking off across Headquarters Lake near the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Friday.

Kenai Peninsula families may be making the move from brick-and-mortar schools to learning at a distance, and in the comfort of their own homes.

Interior Distance Education of Alaska, the home school program based out of Galena School District on the Yukon River, is attracting students and parents throughout the state, to enroll in alternative education. The size of the spread-out student body has rising by about 5 percent annually for the past five years.

“The power of an individualized education cannot be underestimated… Homeschool allows families to spend the best part of the day together—not just the evenings when everyone’s tired from their day,” said Daryl Bowers, IDEA director. “The family bonds that are formed through home schooling are priceless.”

Instruction is entirely up to the families that join, Bowers said.

There is no mandated curriculum, although, because it is a public school, students are required to take the Alaska Measures of Progress and state-required standardized tests, said Suzanne Alioto, field representative for the Kenai Peninsula region.

Staff are on hand for assistance with providing and directing instruction only, Alioto said, who homeschools her own children through the program. The school has offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Southeast Alaska, and the Mat-Su Valley.

Alioto said she has some guesses as to why enrollment continues to increase for the school.

“Parents want a more active part in their children’s education, and at IDEA it is a public school but we are still giving parents all their rights and all their own curriculum they want to use,” Alioto said.

She said she wanted more control over what her children were being taught.

For some families, the trip to their nearest school is too far to comfortably travel in the state’s harsh winter temperatures, and IDEA offers a flexibility other public schools don’t have, Alioto said.

Enrollment is also increasing in other areas of the IDEA program, such as the iGrad High School Recovery Program.

Kristie Miller, a coach with the program, said in the 2014-2015 school year enrollment was at 170 students, now it is well over 230.

“Our enrollment has really bloomed, or increased I should say,” Miller said.

She said the alternative route to receiving high school credits is good for kids who are “hurting and falling through the cracks and need more help.” She said it is a supportive environment for anyone that comes through.

In his experience, Bowers said the rises in enrollment are mostly because of the power of word-of-mouth.

He said current parents tell other parents about their positive experiences and the numbers go up.

“IDEA was created by homeschoolers, and we’ve never lost sight of the priorities that were formed in our very beginnings,” Bowers said. “We also have many, many homeschoolers on staff and it allows us to better understand our parents and to give them the exact support and understanding they’re looking for.”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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