Home-school conference in Rochester features steady successes
When Oronoco parents Jeff and Jessica Gisi decided to home-school their children, they discovered a large social and educational infrastructure ready to assist them, a network of Rochester-area home-schoolers ready to support and complement their...
When Oronoco parents Jeff and Jessica Gisi decided to home-school their children, they discovered a large social and educational infrastructure ready to assist them, a network of Rochester-area home-schoolers ready to support and complement their efforts.
They found that the home-school community had an 80-member choir for their children to join. They had their own prom. They had also organized to offer basketball, volleyball and track to home-schooled children.
Still, Jessica Gisi recalls early on encountering skepticism from her parents, who regarded the decision to home-school as rather odd.
"They withheld judgment until they could see the successes of it. I think they have bought into it now," Gisi said.
The extent of the state's home-school movement will be on display this weekend, when more than 5,000 people gather in Rochester for the state's largest home-schooling conference, sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators .
Altogether, there are nearly 17,000 students who are home-schooled in Minnesota, equivalent to the enrollment of Rochester public schools, said David Watkins, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators. In Rochester, there were 486 students who were home-schooled in 2012, a decline of 10 students from the year before.
Those numbers dipped as the economy went into a tailspin. Most home educators come from single-income families, which made some vulnerable to the pressures of an economic downturn, home-school officials said. But Watkins believes those numbers will rebound in coming years as the economy does.
Watkins described the two-day conference starting today as an opportunity for parents to gain professional development and recharge their batteries. In the same way that public and private school teachers get credits for attending classes or conferences, so the home-school conference helps parents to hone their skills, he said.
"It can be an invigorating time to get-together," said Watkins. "It can be a real shot in the arm, to help them with motivation."
The gathering began Thursday with a pre-conference at Mayo Civic Center with workshops on first-time home-educators, home-schooling through high school, and children with learning disabilities.
The state's home-school movement is overwhelmingly Christian, experts say. Watkins estimated that as many as 85 percent of them are Christians whose religious concerns about the world view of public schools has driven them to home-schooling.
Another pronounced trend are the number of families who are choosing to home-educate children to provide more 1-on-1 instruction to children with learning disabilities. As many as one-third of home-educators have a child with a physical or learning disability.
"Because home education is focused on more tutoring, working one-on-one, it works very well for those who have special needs," Watkins said.
The most frequently voiced criticism against home-schooling is that it deprives kids of opportunities to hone their social skills, that it isolates them from their peers. Few critiques rile home-schoolers more than that charge. They say that critique is misjudged and outdated. Gisi said her own four children are involved in a full range of activities that expose to their peers, including scouts, church youth group, choir, basketball and math club.
"I see just the opposite," Gisi said. "They don't get quite so slotted into their own age group and their own mindset, and they are better able to relate to the elderly, little children, whoever it might be."
Gisi has been home-schooling her children for five years. Back then, when the couple were first weighing their options, what most impressed them about home-schooling was what the successful families were able to achieve through home education. Home-school remains a year-by-year decision for Gisi and her family, but it's hard to imagine them not doing it in the future, she said.
"Really, their school, their social group, their extracurricular connections are with other home-schoolers," she said. "It would literally be picking up and switching schools (if we stopped). So, yes, I see us (continuing with it)."