Bringing Home Education
More than 3,000 students are home-schooled in Gwinnett County, and parents say it's an alternative they enjoy.
Every morning some 42,000 children in Georgia wake up, get dressed and head to a comfy spot somewhere in their home – for learning. These children, including 3,000 in Gwinnett County, are home-schooled, bucking traditional educational notions that classrooms are where students should be taught.
Some of these students, much like parents who work from home, may well stay in their pajamas a bit longer than others. However, all of them are able to define their schedules based on what’s best for them. If students learn best in the morning, rise and shine. If students learn best in the evening, it’s OK to be a night owl.
“They’re ready to be engaged, said Snellville mom Katie Kolodzy, who has two school-aged children who are both home-schooled. “For us, it’s about flexibility and taking the moments throughout the day when it would be most useful."
Kolodzy, 30, uses the Charlotte Mason Method for her two students, 7-year-old Lucas and Lillia, 6. The method centers on teaching children as whole persons, with a wide-range of books, first-hand experiences and positive life-long habits. (Her other two children, Jude and Eva, haven’t reached school age yet.)
For Lucas, who has mild to moderate autism, his mother said that their home-school program is great for him. The family is able to easily work in Lucas’ three therapy sessions weekly. He’s not in a classroom where teachers have so many other children to monitor, where curriculums cannot be specifically altered and tailored, where he may be uncomfortable given his medical diagnosis.
He’s at home with his mother, and she knows her child better than anyone.
“With him, it’s obvious when he gets something because he’ll repeat it over and over again, and he’ll tell everybody,” Kolodzy said. “It’s really satisfying to see him learning these things and to see it makes sense to him.”
In Gwinnett County, there are 3,459 students who are home-schooled, according to Gwinnett County Public Schools. The district monitors reporting, but it does not provide or endorse any home school courses or services. Parents like Kolodzy must submit a number of forms, including monthly attendance reports.
Throughout the state, there are more than 25,000 programs that work with home-schoolers and their parents, according to the state Department of Education, which includes requirements on its website. Support groups reach out to parents, helping them navigate the educational process with and for their children.
“I do believe that teachers are doing the best they can,” said Melody Allen, president of Gwinnett-area Fellowship of Christian Family Educators “But it’s quite difficult when you have 30-35 kids in a classroom, and you have a lot of behavior issues that you have to deal with.”
Of course, behavior challenges in schools are also at homes. But, Allen added, it’s easier to “nip those behavior issues in the bud” when children are at home with Mom, and in some cases, Dad. Within support groups such as her, parents are also able to lean on other parents for insight.
And, attending home school doesn’t impede success, she noted. A number of home-schooled children go on to a number of well-known colleges and universities, Allen said.
Patrick McClanahan, of Snellville, is one of those students. After being continuously taught at home since third grade, the 18-year-old will be heading to Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville this fall. He was accepted early as an honors student at this liberal arts college with a plan to major in physics and minor in creative writing. His goal for the future – to author physics textbooks.
“Home-schooling has taught me that I have to find the information for myself – actively seek it out,” he said “It’s given me a sense of desiring knowledge. I want to understand the reasons behind things.”
McClanahan debunks the myth that homeschoolers are socially secluded. Over the years, his mother has made sure he was involved in activities outside of reading, writing and arithmetic. As a child, he would meet with a neighbor to catch turtles at a nearby lake. Now, he’s an avid soccer player.
“I didn’t miss out on anything,” McClanahan said, “except Lunchables.”
His mother, Mary McClanahan said it’s been a great experience – great, but challenging, as well. She’s reached out to home-school groups and enrolled her son in classes twice a week at the Snellville-based Heritage Classical Study Center to supplement the home education. At the center, Patrick has taken courses in logic, debate and Latin, among other subjects.
“You have to give things up,” Mary McClanahan said. “You can’t really be an employed teacher. I've done various jobs to earn money while home-schooling.”
There are at least 12 support groups active in Gwinnett County that support parents like Katie Kolodzy and Mary McClanahan. Many are affiliated with churches and offer fellowship and encouragement for parents and activities for children. For parents, those resources truly help to make a difference.
Parents are seeking excellence in their efforts to teach their children at home, said Allen, of Fellowship of Christian Family Educators.
“They feel it’s the best thing for their children,” she said.