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Hybrid homeschooling

When homeschooling emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s among a largely conservative counterculture, it was actually outlawed in some states. By the early 1990s, however, every state had legalized it and participation now reaches into every sector of the population.

Many Catholics began to take up homeschooling in response to some parochial schools becoming more secular, unaffordable, or unavailable. In turn, options grew with online and correspondence Catholic schools and cooperative classes (co-ops) where groups come together for resources and specialized teaching expertise for a few classes.

The movement continues to grow among Catholics for a number of reasons including: growing disparity with the culture, the influence of Catholics in the public eye who homeschool, and positive reports such as the 2017 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University finding homeschoolers are four times more likely to enter seminaries than those educated in Catholic institutions.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that from 1999 to 2012, the number of homeschooled children more than doubled, from 850,000 to 1.8 million. According to EdChoice’s 2017 Schooling in America survey, about three percent of students are homeschooled, but some seven percent of families say that they would if they could.

Burgeoning options

As resources multiply it is becoming easier for families to make the commitment. A growing trend that lightens the burden for parents and increases opportunities for students is to take a hybrid approach, mixing homeschool with outside classes. Many public and Catholic schools that once shunned homeschoolers now allow part-time enrollment and participation in extracurricular activities for homeschoolers. It has also become popular for high schoolers to take college classes that also satisfy high school graduation requirements.

Actual hybrid schools — both secular and religious, which alternate school days between home and school — have also come onto the scene. For instance, the Regina Caeli Catholic schools — centered around the great-books and classic-texts approach — operate in 12 cities and 11 states, with an enrollment of about 1,100 children. Children learn at home three days a week and attend class wearing uniforms on the other two.

Adapting to children’s needs

“We homeschool because it’s the opportunity for a daily infusion of our cultural Catholicity that is important to us,” says Carolyn Smith, mother of nine children ages 23 to 5 in her 13th year of homeschooling. Her husband, Michael, is a senior network engineer who works on contracts for the federal government. They live a couple of miles outside of Mason, New Hampshire, a small rural community.

“We keep them home to school them but don’t hide them,” Carolyn said. “They are part of the community.” Their children use correspondence studies before high school and have participated in co-op classes. Thus far, the three older boys have chosen to attend Catholic high school full-time, but the two oldest girls stayed home, taking college classes during their junior and senior year, enabling them to enter Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia as sophomores.

There are four more still at home including one daughter with special needs. “Mary is just doing readiness with her Downs Syndrome,” Carolyn said. “She is non-verbal, but our lifestyle is tailored to help her; that’s why we have a horse and animals. Homeschooling affords us the ability to help her thrive in this environment.”

Daughter Sarah, finished her first year at Christendom and is returning as a junior this fall. Her sister Racheal graduated there last spring and is now enrolled in an accelerated nursing program. “I liked being with friends and socializing at co-op classes like music theory and Gregorian chant choir,” Sarah explained. “I took an algebra co-op class because it was a subject I needed more help in.” She also played softball at a local public school from seventh through eleventh grade.

Shannon Marie Federoff and her husband Matt are in their 22nd year of homeschooling “with 13 more to go,” according to her. They have 11 children ages 26 to 5 and also live on a hobby farm in Vail, Arizona. The family actually built their own 2,100-square-foot “straw bale” house with 14-foot ceilings and lofts for sleeping. Both Shannon and Matt were once public-school teachers and Matt now works as the chief information officer for the school district.

Shannon explained that they wanted a classical Catholic education for their children and to create a strong family culture. In addition to co-op classes, Shannon said that since they live in a conservative area and know who the good teachers are, once the children reach sophomore year, they supplement home education with math, science, and Spanish classes at the public high school. The children have also been involved in a number of outside activities such as ballet, 4-H, sports, drama, Trail Life, youth group, and altar servers.

Shannon’s daughter Isabel, 18, is heading off to Franciscan University as a sophomore this fall after mixing homeschool, public school, and college classes. “I really enjoyed going to school —I’m pretty social — but I was glad I didn’t have to go for the whole day,” she said. “I liked leaving early and the freedom of doing things at my own pace.” Isabel explained that she has dyslexia so that using audio books at home made English literature classes easier for her.

A family tradition

Deacon Mike and Gina McKeown of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota have homeschooled for 23 years. Their six children range in age from 34 to 17, and two married daughters are now homeschooling their own families. Another daughter, Sr. Mary Elia, is a Carmelite cloistered nun, and the fourth is starting her second year in college.

Once their children became juniors in high school, they enrolled with the Minnesota Department of Education Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), a program that allows 11th and 12th graders to earn college credit online or on campus at no cost whatsoever. Three of them took full-time classes at the college while two took classes online.

Cole, who just received his doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, said he took classes online to make time to play sports with the public school. He and his wife Teresa, who homeschooled through eighth grade then attended Catholic school, became new parents last February and plan to continue the family tradition of homeschooling.

Kyle, the youngest McKeown, took religion and music classes at the Catholic high school last year and will do so again this year. He is also enrolled in shop classes with the public school since he plans to go into construction.

“A lot of times parents have apprehensions about being able to handle teaching their children,” Mike said. “There are a lot of resources out there. We did research, talked with people, and took a hodge-podge approach, not using just one particular program.”

Changing Dynamics

Schooling typically evolves within families, tailored to individual needs and interests and changing family life. When James and Noreen Peliska moved from Naples, Florida to Bismarck where James took a job at the University of Mary as professor of biology and director of the pre-med program, four of their six children were already out of the home.

“Every year we set priorities for each child,” Noreen said. “Every kid is different, and dynamics change. I loved it when everyone was home and there were so many options to focus on the things they loved.” For instance, homeschooling enabled one son to dedicate many hours to music and get accepted at a prestigious music school, while another son who excelled at running in high school and college enrolled full-time there.

When they moved to Bismarck, Rose during her senior year chose to take full-time college classes that also satisfied high school requirements. Their youngest son, Edmund, took two classes at the Catholic high school and enjoyed it so much he is enrolled full time as a sophomore this year.

After 17 years, however, Noreen is still not quite done with schooling. She just started her studies in the radiologic technician program at the University of Mary.


PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Close to home

Several Legatus families join nationwide trend to educate their children at home . . .


When Mark and Linda Pierce’s two youngest children go out during the day, a letter from the local school superintendent saying they’re homeschooled (and therefore excused from being in a conventional classroom) is always with them.

“It’s something they carry just like you carry your driver’s license,” Linda Pierce said. The letter is one of the steps the couple, members of Legatus’ Cleveland Chapter, have taken to ensure they don’t run afoul of authorities concerning the family’s decision to homeschool. The Pierces also follow all requirements when submitting paperwork to the state.

“I don’t want them coming back with anything that says we haven’t complied,” she said.

Legislative battles

With homeschoolers in Europe being arrested and having their children taken away — and U.S. courts and legislators taking on home education cases and regulations — parents who have opted to teach their children themselves know it’s wise to do things by the book.

Although homeschooling here doesn’t appear to be under an imminent threat of draconian restrictions or efforts to ban it, parents who homeschool nonetheless are staying informed about legislative and judicial developments. And they’re poised to fight when necessary.

The Pierce Family

The Pierce Family

“I don’t think we’re at a crisis phase,” said Linda Pierce. “But we need to keep our eyes and ears open and work so that certain legislation is not passed.”

Ann Martin and her homeschooled children often travel to their state capital to talk to legislators when laws affecting home education are proposed. “We dress in our best, hop on the train and go to see our representatives,” she explained. “In Missouri, we’re very blessed to have the freedom to homeschool. We don’t take it for granted.”

Martin and her husband Jeff, members of Legatus’ St. Louis Chapter, began homeschooling their children in 1993.

Since then, Ann Martin said, she has never had problems with authorities. “I have excellent records. I know what the law is for Missouri.” She advises parents to know and follow their state laws and also to join the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which helps homeschoolers get started, advocates for them legally and tracks state and federal legislation affecting homeschooling and parental rights.

Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean

Danielle Bean, a New Hampshire-based Catholic author, blogger and a homeschooling mother of eight, agrees. “We can’t give fodder to accusations that we’re not taking our children’s education seriously.”

“In New Hampshire every year, a couple of state legislators get it in their minds that homeschoolers are slackers,” she explained. “They decide they want to hyper-legislate and give us more paperwork. The HSLDA is on top of these cases. They help keep people informed, and parents go in to testify against these bills. So far they’ve haven’t succeeded in passing these really restrictive laws.”

A quick look at the Homeschooling News on the HSLDA website shows that the group is dealing with plenty of challenges — both legislatively and in the courts.

Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney and a homeschooling father of six, said that as homeschooling grows, it’s gaining more attention and generating a certain amount of conflict between proponents of home education and authorities.

HSLDA estimates that more than 2 million children are homeschooled in the U.S., representing about 4% of the school-aged population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, homeschooling has been increasing at a rate of 7% per year for each of the past 10 years. “Given the numbers of people involved, you would expect you’re going to have more head-butting with the state over the issue,” Donnelly said.

Mike Donnelly

Mike Donnelly

In the United States, he said, homeschooling advocates have worked hard over the last three decades to get good policies and legislation in place — and to defend the right of parents to educate their children at home. He said foreign countries have yet to grapple with homeschooling in the way the U.S. did when home education came on the scene here in the 1980s. “We’re 30 years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of our homeschooling experience,” he said.

In Germany, homeschoolers are routinely fined and threatened with prison, and courts there have upheld government efforts to “stamp out” homeschoolers as a “parallel society.” Because of this, a German Christian homeschooling family sought and was granted asylum in the U.S. earlier this year, although the federal immigrationenforcement agency here is appealing a U.S. immigration judge’s decision to grant them refuge.

In another case, the seven-year-old homeschooled child of a Christian couple in Sweden was removed from his home last year because officials there said homeschooling was an inappropriate way to raise a child.

Roger Kiska

Roger Kiska

Roger Kiska, legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund which has worked with HSLDA on homeschooling cases, said that in addition to conflicts over home education, problems have emerged in Europe with parents who simply wanted to take their children out of public school sex-education classes that promote abortion or the homosexual agenda. This has become a regular occurrence despite international law designating parents as the primary educators of their children and the European Convention of Human Rights saying the state must respect parents’ right to raise their children according to their own faith.

“It’s not about what parents want, but what the states want,” said Kiska, who is based in the Slovak Republic, where he specializes in international litigation with a focus on European law. “Individual states are trying to have cookie-cutter children under their social ideologies. The state is really trying to usurp the role of parents.”

Faith-based reasoning

Those who choose to homeschool their children often do so precisely because of their belief that parents, not the state, are their children’s chief educators — a stance supported by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1653).

“I think we forget that, as Catholics, we parents are the primary educators of our children,” said Ann Martin. “This is clearly outlined by the Church. So when we make a decision to turn our children over to schools, we do that with confidence that the school will raise that child and bring him up in a Catholic fashion — one that will nurture their souls. If a school doesn’t have those goals, we can’t have our children in that school.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the top two reasons that parents homeschool are their concerns about the school environment and a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.

The Martin Family

The Martin Family

Many also find it cost effective. For example, Ann Martin estimates that she spends about $500 per child annually for participation in the Seton Home Study program, which includes all books, access to online material, teachers and grading. By teaching her  children at home, where they are away from peer pressure to conform to the latest styles, she saves money on clothes and transportation.

Although a common objection to homeschooling is that parents are not qualified to teach their own children, studies show that homeschooled students excel academically compared to their peers in public schools. The Progress Report 2009, a survey of more than 11,000 homeschooled students, found that the average homeschooler ranked 37 percentile points higher than the average public school student.

Despite such success, there are still those who are determined to thwart parents’ efforts to teach their own children. HSLDA media relations director Ian Slatter said that even though homeschooling has been formally recognized in all 50 states, threats to it are real.

“Many state legislators across the country regularly introduce legislation to regulate homeschooling, and homeschool families are still victimized by people who make anonymous tips to social services agencies.”

In addition, Slatter said, if the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is ever ratified by the U.S., it could jeopardize the right to homeschool.

“The UNCRC would supersede every state and federal law and alter the legal relationship between parents and children by giving the state the authority to make decisions in the ‘best interests’ of the child whether the parent agreed or not,” he said.

That’s all the more reason for parents — whether or not they homeschool — to stay on top of elected officials and pray for their children’s future, Ann Martin said.

“Everything we do has to be done with prayer,” she said. “We have to place our children in God’s hands every day and make sure we’re doing everything we can to give them the best education possible.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.


Homeschooling New York couple arrested

HSLDA defends couple who failed to file paperwork

A homeschool legal defense group has come to the defense of a New York couple who were arrested for failing to register their four homeschooled children at the local school district for the past seven years.

Richard and Margie Cressy were arrested by the Montgomery County Sheriff in January on child endangerment charges for not registering their children, ages 8-14, at the local district. The Cressys submitted and won official approval for their homeschool curriculum for the 2009-2010 school year but soon after were arrested for not having done so in previous years.

The Home School Legal Defense Association agreed to defend the couple after they requested legal guidance from the group.

“It was completely unnecessary to arrest these parents,” HSLDA senior counsel Jim Mason said in a statement shortly after the incident. “We will be working with our local New York counsel to aggressively defend these homeschool parents against the charges.”

Fona-Fultonville Schools superintendent Richard Hoffman told a local news station that the Cressys “didn’t fulfill their legal responsibility to file with the school district to be homeschooled.”

Mason said that the Cressys had not in fact broken the law, and the police’s decision to arrest the couple was “highly unusual.”

“It is not illegal to do what they did,” said Mason. “There’s a regulation that has established a safe harbor that if you do register, then this sort of thing will not likely happen. This is basically a paperwork issue, not a [child] endangerment issue. I’ve been here more than eight years, I’ve dealt with situations in New York off and on during those eight years. This has never happened in my experience.”

The Cressys’ children were never removed from the home, Mason said. After discussions with the prosecutors, criminal charges against the couple were dropped earlier this spring, according to the HSLDA

“The criminal court judge has transferred the matter to family court, where it is being dealt with in a confidential fashion pursuant to New York’s Family Code,” the statement said. “There are no longer any pending criminal charges.”

Source: LifeSiteNews.com