Home schooling used to be a lonely proposition for many families. Not any more.
Now home-school clubs, the Internet and partnerships with public schools have transformed home schooling and give interested families more resources than ever before.
Such changes were dramatically illustrated Thursday, when Interior Distance Education of Alaska, better known by the acronym IDEA, held its third annual curriculum fair. For the first time, the fair came to the Kenai Peninsula.
Hundreds of people, mostly home-school mothers, came for a luncheon, workshops, exhibits of curriculum materials and the chance to network with professionals and peers at Solid Rock Bible Camp near Sterling.
Photo by Shana Loushbaugh
The official sign-in list had 316 names, reported Carol Simpson, who coordinates IDEA programs for the Kenai Peninsula.
"But we all think there were more than that," she said.
Participants deemed the fair a success and another sign of the growing professionalism and organization among home schoolers.
Parents at the event said they like the choices they have now.
Home-school families and vendors crowd the exhibit hall at Solid Rock Bible Camp Thursday for the Third Annual IDEA Curriculum Fair. It was the first time the fair, sponsored by the Galena-based Interior Distance Education of Alaska, was held on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo by Shana Loushbaugh
"I need the support and the ideas and the confidence to go with my heart," said Lisa Reischach of Kenai.
She has two boys, ages 9 and 7, and has been home schooling for four years. For the past three years she has been working with IDEA. She praised the people involved as helpful and friendly and has watched the program mature.
"They are more organized," she said.
Over in the exhibit hall, the professional purveyors of educational products for home-school use agreed their market is getting more sophisticated -- and bigger.
Jim Rawson represents Brigham Young University's correspondence programs at fairs around the country. Every state has a unique take on home schooling. Alaska's home schoolers are in the vanguard of the nation and definitely increasing in numbers, he said.
"There is probably more activity and more enthusiasm here than any other state I've been in," he said.
He praised IDEA's staff.
"They get better organized every year," he said. "They just bend over backward to make sure the families are taken care of and the vendors are taken care of."
The room was packed with people and had a carnival feel. Nearly 40 vendors displayed their wares on tables. The array included music, puppets, kits, curriculum packages, tapes, compact discs, software, stickers, educational games and lots and lots of books.
Ruth Marston of Wasilla, a retired teacher who once taught at the Kenai Territorial School, was there distributing Brite Learning Materials. Fairs offer real advantages for families and vendors, she said.
"With the fairs here, parents are much better able to get a hands-on sense of the materials. Catalogs can be somewhat misleading," she said.
"I think it's giving parents more confidence."
Simpson said IDEA collected evaluations from the vendors after the event. Most were enthusiastic. All said they would want to come to future fairs on the central peninsula, some even if it meant passing up similar events in California. Their chief complaint was that they wanted more room, she said.
Another highlight of the fair was the keynote talk by consultant and home-school veteran Laurie Roberts from Alberta, Canada.
Roberts reassured parents that, despite the challenges, they were doing the right thing by home schooling. She praised the strong home-school movement in Alaska.
"You are very, very fortunate," she told the group. "We hope that we can use you as a model."
She praised school teachers as good people and skilled educators, but criticized "the system" for dumbed-down material, oversized classes and a lack of individualized, focused learning.
"Children do learn best in our homes. I am convinced of that," she said.
She urged parents to take time to have fun, to read inspirational true stories to their children and to avoid the pitfall of feeling that they and their children have to be perfect.
"The one who changed the most in my home-school program was me," she shared.
Devoting the time and effort to home school your own children is one way to show them your love and priorities, she said.
"You will be raising tomorrow's leaders," she said. "They won't be perfect, but they will be wonderful."
IDEA is a public school correspondence program that caters to home-school families. It is headquartered in Galena and runs a modest office at the Red Diamond Center between Kenai and Soldotna.
With about 700 students, it is technically the largest school on the Kenai Peninsula.
IDEA's success has made it controversial. Critics say it lacks accountability and removes students and funding from local schools. Proponents say its approach better meets some students' needs and is a model for schooling in the 21st century. Since IDEA opened in 1997, it has inspired new state legislation and several programs imitating its features.
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