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Learning outside the classroom

Traditional public education may not always meet students’ needs

Posted: March 15, 2009 1:33 a.m.
Updated: March 15, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Six-year-old Christina Madugno tries to unveil a secret code after working on a project in a art and science of light and color class at the Huckleberry Creative Learning Center Monday afternoon.

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Marla Leighton didn't consider home-schooling her three children until she spent time with her sister's home-schooled kids.

"I noticed a difference in the way they engaged with adults, the way they engaged with children," she said. "I saw them to be much more involved in their family and their community."

Leighton, an Acton resident, thought about her children's future.

"I just didn't feel like he could grow up to be the same engaged person he would have been if he stayed home with us," Leighton said, referring to her now-20-year-old son, who was home-schooled until college.

When Leighton undertook home-schooling she soon connected to other families, part of the growing home-schooling movement in the Santa Clarita Valley. The group of six or seven families taught their children together and organized field trips.

Growing up, Leighton's family traveled together when dad needed to travel for work.

Leighton believes home-schooling expanded her son's education. He is studying to become a ballet dancer at the University of Oklahoma.

"I would say that he had a lot of time to pursue the interests that were important to him as opposed to what's important to a government agency," she said.

She's finding that her 15-year-old is developing a passion for the culinary arts. Her 8-year-old home-schooled until this year, when Leighton enrolled her daughter at SCV International School, a charter school in Valencia.

Leighton is one among an estimated couple of thousand parents who home-school their children in the Santa Clarita Valley. Local home schooling groups have seen that number grow over the years and expect it to increase in the future.

Richard Grant and his wife, former public school teachers, formed Advantage Preparatory School, which provides support to as many as 250 families interested in alternative education for their kids.

The K-12 school organizes field trips and classes so kids can socialize.

The Grants home-schooled their own children.

"About 25 years ago, when we started thinking about having kids, we realized that we didn't like what the institution of traditional school was producing," Grant said. "At that time, home schooling was a very radical concept."

Since the school's inception, Grant has seen the number of home-schoolers in the Santa Clarita Valley grow.

"I believe home schooling as a whole has increased," he said.

Advantage Preparatory School constantly receives phone calls about home schooling.

"We've been getting them solid throughout the year and I think it is the economy," Grant said.

Financial strains at home could be one reason.

"Part of that is because families are having financial difficulties. They may have their kids in private schools and can't afford it," Grant said.

Grant offers three reasons for home schooling: academics, values and socialization.

A traditional public school can't always meet the needs of a student. Other parents home-school because they want their children to grow up learning religious values in school.

Home-schooling instills positive socialization in children, Grant said.

"The younger ones become well-adjusted, productive adults by mirroring the behavior of well-adjusted, productive adults and older students," Grant said.

Stephanie Lippencott's two children spent years in public school before she decided to home-school them.

"What I found is that while the public schools do their best to educate the kids at large, they have to aim their methods towards the majority," said Lippencott, a Castaic resident.

When a child is unable to fit into the "mold" of public schools, "it works out to be quite a struggle to keep up with the homework," she said.

For Lippencott, home schooling became the next step.

"We just thought there's got to be a better way to do this," she said.

Since she began home schooling, Lippencott has noticed a stronger sense of self-confidence in her children, who are part of Advanced Preparatory Schools.

Stephanie Berry started Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning in late 2007 as a way to give independent-study and home-school students a chance to take part in after-school activities like filmmaking, music and claymation.

Tracking the number of home-schoolers in the Santa Clarita Valley is difficult, but Berry believes there could be a couple of thousand.

Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning, located at the Newhall Church of the Nazarene, started with less than 100 students. About 180 now regularly attend the school.

Leighton predicts more families will take advantage of home-schooling in the future.

"I think a lot of people are disappointed in general in our public school system in California," she said. "People start to see that more and more money is getting thrown at the situation but it never really helps.

"I think people that can be confident in their own resourcefulness will turn to home school."

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