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Home-school parents share suggestions and experiences in public discussion

Parents
Riley Board
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KDLL
Homeschool parents and other interested community members, including several legislators, listening to testimony at an Oct. 5 meeting.

About 75 home-school parents and community members gathered for a meeting in Soldotna Thursday evening to share their grievances and suggest improvements to home-schooling options.

In a district where a quarter of students are home-schooled, and many choose outside programs, the borough is trying to figure out how it can attract parents to its district-run home school.

Connections Homeschool Program serves just over 1,000 students. But that’s less than half of the home-schooled students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. According to Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, that’s why he invited parents to a meeting Thursday.

“I would like for our home-school students to attend our home school,” he said in an opening remark. “So we want to understand what it takes, what our gaps are, what we’re missing, to bring you back home.”

Many speakers were parents who chose to use the home-school program IDEA, which is operated by the Galena City School District on the Yukon River in Western Alaska. Parents described IDEA as easy to use, complimented the quality of its customer service, and said it provided curricular choices that were appealing.

Many IDEA parents, like Chelsea McGarry, had no complaints about Connections, and said they simply heard good things about IDEA and never felt motivated to switch.

“We enrolled in IDEA because, through connections that we had made, it was really highly recommended to us. And as I took it year by year, I really grew in confidence in educating my kids, and it just was a really great fit for our family,” McGarry said. “So I really don’t have anything to say about Connections.”

Connections Principal Doug Hayman listens to public testimony at the Oct. 5 meeting.
Riley Board
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KDLL
Connections Principal Doug Hayman listens to public testimony at the Oct. 5 meeting.

Parent Robert Kenny said he considered both programs, but settled on IDEA.

“We didn’t feel like joining back into any kinds of systems, we were trying to get away from big authoritarian agencies of all kinds. We thought Connections and IDEA were pretty good. We went with IDEA only because they didn’t seem to want as much control, and we didn’t need any of that,” he said.

Plenty of the speakers were Connections parents, who praised the program but suggested possible improvements. Seward parent Christiana Smith said she chose to send her son to Connections for its greater availability of courses, and complemented the local Connections office staff.

“I am a supporter of public education. That’s one reason why I went through Connections. I wanted to support the public schools,” Smith said. “I am very grateful that Alaska allows for such flexibility with providing resources for home-school families within the district.”

Connections student Xinlan Tanner said she started in IDEA and appreciated its flexibility, but switched to Connections to take high school courses early. She suggested creating more social and internship opportunities for students in the programs.

“I feel like something we can improve on is trying to bring our students more opportunities that public school students have, whether it be through ASAA or any kind of competition that is open to high schoolers and try to bring it to our home-schoolers, I think that would really help us in academic and social aspects,” Tanner said.

Speakers generally seemed to agree that the stigma around home-schooling has decreased, and that the Kenai is a good place to home-school.

At the end of the meeting, Micciche, District Superintendent Clayton Holland and Connections Principal Doug Hayman thanked the parents for their input. Hayman told parents he’d taken lots of notes, and that while some of their suggestions were already underway, others were helpful nudges toward improvement.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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