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Bennington/Francestown

Home schooling on rise?

BENNINGTON — Concerned about what they see as shrinking enrollment in the town’s elementary school, Bennington Select Board members say they’ve noticed a surge home schooling.

Following a discussion about ConVal School District budget cuts owing to the proposed budget’s failure at the polls in March, at their March 26 meeting the Bennington Select Board also discussed declining enrollment in elementary schools in both Bennington and their neighboring town, Francestown. In turn, they discussed the increase in home schooling they’ve noticed.

Board member James Cleary said about 20 children he knows are home-schooled in Francestown, and a similar number are being educated at home in Bennington.

Although Bennington’s Pierce Elementary School has capacity for 100 students, according to ConVal’s April 1 enrollment numbers, only 54 students are currently enrolled at Pierce and 69 at the Francestown Elementary School.

One Francestown resident says she chose to home-school for religious reasons.

Monica Harrington of Francestown home-schools her two children along with the help of her husband, Ben. The couple decided to home-school their children because they wanted a “God-honoring education,” noting that the decision did not relate to concerns about the ConVal School District. Harrington said that even if the ConVal District was perfect, she would still choose to home-school because she wants a Christian education for her children. She said many families in the Monadnock region who also home-school their children for the same reason.

ConVal Supt. Brendan Minnihan said in an interview Monday that he recognizes there are families who home-school for religious reasons, but does not agree there is declining enrollment. Over the past three years, Minnihan said enrollment at Pierce included 58 students in 2011, 54 in 2012, 57 in October 2013, and, as of April 1, 54 students are enrolled. At the Francestown Elementary School, Minnihan said 40 students attended in 2011; it jumped to 58 students in 2012, then 67 in the October 2013, and finally 69 as of April 1.

Although recent years show a somewhat steady enrollment rate at the elementary schools in Bennington and Francestown, declining enrollment is a trend demonstrated by documents distributed at ConVal’s Deliberative Session this year. In 1997, enrollment for all ConVal elementary schools combined was 1,147 students, and by 2013 that number reached a low of 776 students. There were 813 in 2012 and 835 in 2011.

Minihan said he does not know the number of home-schoolers in the district, because the law changed in 2012 allowing families to only notify schools just one time that they are choosing to home-school.

Minnihan said home-schoolers have the option of taking some classes at the public schools, and/or participating in sports. Some children in the region are doing that now, he said.

Now a junior in high school, Cory Sarkisian of Francestown said his mother continues to home-school him as Christian education is a priority for his family. “We don’t fully agree with what’s being taught in public schools,” Sarkisian said. Like the Harrington family, Sarkisian said his family drives about 45 minutes each Sunday to the Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Massachusetts for worship. Sarkisian said he knows at least 20 families in Francestown that home-school their children and added that many also do it for religious reasons.

Although Sarkisian’s education takes place at home, he is an active athlete with the ConVal High School varsity and junior varsity basketball teams. Sarkisian said he doesn’t mind being home-schooled because it allows him to create his own schedule to incorporate time doing his landscaping job. “I don’t have to wait until after school to do [landscaping] work,” he said.

Private schools are another option for parents, and the alternative is growing in popularity. Office manager for The Well School, Sabrina Morrissey of Francestown, said the school received more inquiries this year than ever before from parents looking for alternatives to the public-school system. Reasons parents leave the public system include a lack of recess time and rigorous testing.

“[Students] are actually curious, they’re not passively learning in class,” Morrissey said in an interview Wednesday. Around 140 children are currently enrolled at the school, which is about the capacity of the school.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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