County tops state in most home-schoolers

Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006

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Allison Pasek⁄The star
Faith Timroll, 12, reads a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition as part of her seventh grade, U.S. history studies as her three-year-old sister, Charity, writes letters during school at their Lanham home on Wednesday.

Home-based education, commonly known as home schooling, is growing in Prince George’s County, the latest figures from the Maryland State Department of Education show.

In the 2002-2003 school year, 3,018 students were being taught at home in Prince George’s, more than in any other county in Maryland. There are only 2,252 such students in Montgomery County, which has the largest school system in the state.

Home schooling is increasing across the state as well. In the 1992 -1993 school year, there were only 4,588 home-based students in Maryland. Ten years later, that number mushroomed to 20,676 students.

Toni Johnson of Upper Marlboro says teaching her daughters, who are 7, 11 and 13, is an extension of her religious faith.

‘‘My children never went to public school,” Johnson told The Gazette. ‘‘I just finally accepted this is what I’m supposed to do.”

Johnson said she was inspired by a member of a church she once attended who taught in the home schooling environment.

She teaches her daughters using the Christian-centered Abeka curriculum, created by Pensacola Christian College in Florida. Johnson found that because of the individual attention she could give her daughters, they could do two or three times more than the prescribed one page per day.

‘‘At home, I could handle more than that, and my daughters could handle more than that,” Johnson said. ‘‘The beauty of home schooling is that you can gear what you teach your children to their learning ability.”

Her 13-year-old is already taking Algebra II, usually a subject for high school juniors, and second-year Spanish.

A survey of 16,311 students taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills found the home schooled students scoring in the 79th percentile for reading and the 73rd percentile for language and mathematics. Public schools nationwide averaged in the 50th percentile for the test for reading, language and mathematics.

Vicki Timroll, of Lanham, decided to teach her children at home because she wasn’t satisfied with instruction in the public schools.

Three years ago, when her oldest daughter Faith was in fourth grade at Robert Goddard Montessori School in Lanham, Timroll said she realized the she was not doing fourth grade-level mathematics.

‘‘We weren’t happy with their progress in the public schools,” Timroll, who holds a political science degree, said. ‘‘She [oldest daughter] just wasn’t being presented with the work.”

Since she was spending so much time helping Faith, now 12, Hope, 10, and Charity, 3, anyway, Timroll said, she and her husband turned to home teaching.

‘‘They’re doing much better now,” Timroll said. ‘‘They’re at grade level or above.”

Timroll’s husband, who works outside the home, helps teach the girls math and history.

Corinne Rawlins said enrichment opportunities abound in the Washington metropolitan area so that learning need not be restricted to the home.

‘‘It’s a very broad education,” Rawlins said. ‘‘The area alone is teeming with extracurricular activities.”

Rawlins has used the Smithsonian Institute in the District as a prime field trip destination for her two children, along with the Spy Museum, U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress.

Mundane tasks can become learning opportunities.

Rawlins said at the grocery store, she has her children find the cost of items and which ones can be purchased for the best price — cost benefit analysis. She has them help with cooking, and that teaches them about weights, measures and fractions.

Home school parents say they often rely on parents with special skills to teach their children or seek help from other sources of expertise. One parent enrolled her daughter in a painting class at a craft store so she could learn about art.

Anne Ramsey, managing librarian at the Upper Marlboro Public Library, runs a book discussion for home school students.

‘‘Compared to children I’ve worked with in the public school system, they [home school students] are so far ahead, by about three or four years,” Ramsey said.

Parents are key to a successful home school education, Ramsey said.

‘‘I’m totally amazed at how bright the parents are,” she said. ‘‘Most of them have advanced degrees... they’re very resourceful.”

State guidelines place home school parents under the local school system. Parents must notify the school officials that they intend to home school their children, and then submit to annual supervision or take correspondence courses from a non-public school.

Up to three times a year, a school system representative checks on each student’s work portfolio to see that it meets the guidelines for English, math, science, social studies, art, music, health and physical education.

Parents also are observed by the representative during the teaching day. Parents or a home school umbrella organization can issue diplomas, but the state cannot.

Students who receive a home school diploma usually take a transcript of their education to a university or college for admission.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the state department of education, said the simple rules contributed to the growth of home schooling in the state.

‘‘Maryland has a fairly liberal home school policy,” Reinhard said. ‘‘It’s fairly easy for parents to go through the home school process.”

Home school parents are not required to have a high school or college degree.

Stephanie Stanback, a home school mother from Fort Washington who teachers her 5-year-old and 13-year-old daughters, is another parent who believes taking charge of her children’s education is the right thing to do.

Both she and Johnson have degrees in accounting, while Rawlins has a degree in business management.

‘‘Biblically speaking, the ones who are responsible for their children’s education are the parents,” Stanback said. ‘‘There’s no one better equipped to teach a child better than the parents who bore them.”

A certified public accountant, Stanback taught math at a private Christian school for a year. She supplements the family’s income by running a home-based tutoring business.

With many home school families, the mother is the teacher and ‘‘The father is usually the financial supporter,” Stanback said. ‘‘But every situation is different.”

Rawlins said she was a bit unusual in that she is divorced and the father of her children has no role in their education. She can stay home and teach because she is disabled, she said.

Stanback said home schooling her daughters has helped her appreciate subjects and things she didn’t when she was younger.

‘‘If it’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that learning is not between set hours,” Stanback said. ‘‘Learning is a constant. I can’t imagine doing anything else other than home schooling.”