“It’s been a really incredible, amazing journey for us,” says Beverly Burgess, speaking of her family’s experience homeschooling her children. Hundreds of parents home school their children in Rhode Island, and the reasons range from concerns with the public school system to the flexibility and options possible with homeschooling. The two largest organizations supporting the cause are RIGHT (Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers) and ENRICHri. Beverly Burgess is the ENRICHri state co-ordinator. ENRICHri grew rapidly in the past five years: Beverly gathered ten families in her home in 2009 and the organization has since grown to more than 320 families.
Amy Brock serves as the state coordinator for RIGHT. “We believe a right to home school goes back to the constitution,” she says. “We’re obeying the law.” RIGHT first began 30 years ago, and about 250 families are currently part of the organization.
Amy decided home schooling might be the best option after she met a home schooled family at her church. “The kids were different at 10, 11 and 15. They were respectful. They talked to you intelligently about something, and looked you in the eye.” RIGHT is a Christian organization, but does not require their members to be Christian; ENRICHri is a secular organization.
Parents sometimes decide to home school because they understand the needs of their children, or one particular child, may be best met by the time and attention that can be given at home. Home schooled students study the same subjects, for 180 days, as public school students. The difference is in how those subjects are taught. Beverly says homeschooling is freedom. “For instance, literature may be studied by joining a Shakespeare theater class or marine biology can be learned by working with Save the Bay,” she explains.
Others who teach their children at home also speak of the options. Melonie Massa, a Bristol resident, and Ann Marie DeLuca of Riverside are co-leaders for the East Bay chapter of RIGHT. Both have been involved with the organization for more than a decade. Melonie says her daughter Marina was an intern at the Audubon center in Rhode Island, working for a couple of hours, twice a week. “She was taking care of tanks, getting lots of experience.” Melonie opted to homeschool, but has no problem with the local school system. “I wasn’t anti-school. I went through the public school in Bristol and I loved it.”
Parents make the homeschooling choice because of many factors individual to each family, usually more than one factor. Among these are concerns over bullying in the public school system, the opportunity to teach more about their faith at home and a greater ability to stay connected to their children. “There’s something to be said about character issues, be- ing able to be that influence on them,” Ann Marie states.
Some fathers homeschool their children, but more often it is the mothers teaching. Sometimes each parent will teach different subjects depending on their own strengths. Numerous study books and curriculums are available, as well as online classes. Learning can take place anywhere; a park, library or museum, or on the couch while petting the family cat.
Melonie organizes mom’s nights out or brunches because taking on that level of commitment can be exhausting without a break. “You’re on from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep. You put on the teacher hat, now it’s the mom hat, then the school nurse hat. You definitely have to pace yourself.”
One of the most commonly voiced concerns about home schooled students is socialization. Beverly says one question seems to linger despite the options available to homeschoolers: “Will my kids make friends?” She says social media makes it easier than ever for friends to stay connected, but it is far from the only option. Besides the many opportunities available in the community, both organizations provide numerous opportunities for home schooled students to connect with learning cooperatives, field trips, events in different geographical areas, newsletters and graduations.
The cooperatives provide time every week for students to gather and learn subjects across a wide spectrum, including art projects, languages and theater. Science classes that often require a lab such as biology and forensics are easily taught within the co-op setting.
Some homeschooled students participate in a particular class or sports within their local school system, especially at the high school level. Ann Marie’s son Daniel plays track and soccer at East Providence High School. He also played sports in middle school. “The school system has been great, letting him play,” she says. Melonie’s son Luke participated in an afterschool robotics club at Mt. Hope High School, and is now part of the drama club.
Those who decide to homeschool generally need to speak to their school board or assistant superintendent of schools, and submit a letter of intent outlining a teaching plan, which the school can approve or disapprove. Amy said advocacy on behalf of a parent who would like to home school is sometimes needed “because Rhode Island law is very vague.” Leaders in both RIGHT and ENRICHri work together at times for advocacy within the state.
Teaching your children at home is not a deterrent for higher education. Beverly says there has never been an issue with employment or college admittance with a homeschool diploma. Colleges ask for a transcript of studies, essays and interviews. “In essence, there is little difference in the application process.” She says the students may even be ahead: “Many homeschooled high schoolers move on to dual enrollment at CCRI or BCC and finish both their high school education and begin their college careers simultaneously.”
Melonie says homeschooling is worth the time and effort it takes. “There is that joy of being the one that’s there when your child gets a concept.”