Homeschool rates rising

  • Local homeschool families recently gathered at Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge, where Library Director Donna Straitiff showed off the library's recent acquired 3D printer. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Local homeschool families recently gathered at Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge, where Library Director Donna Straitiff showed off the library's recent acquired 3D printer. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Ingalls Memorial Library Director Donna Straitiff hands out small elephants created by the library’s 3D printer at a recent meeting of homeschool students.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Local homeschool families recently gathered at Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge, where Library Director Donna Straitiff showed off the library's recent acquired 3D printer. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge is one place in the region to offer programming for homeschool families.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, November 30, 2017 9:21AM

It was during her first child’s kindergarten orientation that Samantha Hardwick realized that she was going to homeschool her children.

Growing up in public school, the Francestown resident always thought her homeschooled peers were “weirdos” and always imagined that her children would be enrolled in ConVal when they came of age. It didn’t take long, however, for Hardwick to be swayed toward a career as a stay-at-home teacher.

“When I learned that my child was going to be a part of a hybrid kindergarten/first grade classroom, that was the deciding factor,” said Hardwick, who is currently homeschooling two of her three children, the third not being of school age yet. 

Despite initally being against the idea of homeschooling, Hardwick eventually softened to the idea after meeting her husband, who was homeschooled growing up.

“My husband has pretty severe ADD. He was pulled from school in fifth grade,” said Hardwick. “Equipment has always calmed him down, homeschool gave him an environment where he could learn.”

Homeschooling has not been easy for Hardwick – she admits to breaking down a lot during the first year and sometimes still struggles with wanting to see “A, B, and C results” in her children, but admits that after a few years of homeschooling her children, she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“As I learned more, it started to sound really beautiful,” said Hardwick. “I now live for the a-ha moments.”

Homeschool on the rise?

Homeschool enrollments have been on the rise throughout the state since at least 1999, according to data provided by the NH Department of Education, although data beyond 2012 is much harder to track.

Previously, a homeschooled family had to report that their child or children were being homeschooled every year, but RSA 193-A now only requires families to report the decision to homeschool in the first year, according to Heather Gage, director of the division of educational improvement with the state department of education.

“There is no consistency in data reporting right now,” said Gage. “The intention of the law change was for the state to be more hands off.”

The state reported enrollment data for homeschoolers for the first two years after the law change, but no longer does so, as it has become impossible to accurately report data.

For example, Jaffrey-Rindge School District Superintendent Reuben Duncan said the district currently has between 150 to 180 children in their district that are being homeschooled, but admitted the number could be higher. 

For the 2013-14 school year, the state reports that the district had 116 enrolled. Gage said that could represent an increase, but other factors could be at play, such as families moving out of the district without reporting it to the district or state. 

Based on similar data and estimations, ConVal has seen an even sharper rise, from 39 reported in 2013-14 to approximately 200 now. Mascenic has also seen a similar increase, from 99 to about 190. Wilton-Lyndeborough did not provide a current estimate, with the state showing five students enrolled in 2013-14. 

Why I homeschool

There can be any number of reasons why a family elects to homeschool their child, according to George D'Orazio, chairman of the state’s Home Education Advisory Council, but most cases boil down to families wanting to spend more time together, religious reasons, and/or issues with the local public and other school options. 

“People used to homeschool because they thought they could provide a better education to their children,” said D’Orazio, who first began homeschooling in the late 1980s and has been on the council since its formation in 1990. “In the past few years, however, a lot of homeschool families have realized that its a very good option even with a good school around.”

Nilene Traffie of Rindge has been homeschooling her children for the past 14 years and is currently educating seven of her ten.

While it is a challenge for her to balance the educational needs of all her children – she is currently educating children from kindergarten through 12th grade – Traffie said the reward of being able to spend more time with her children makes it all worth it in the end. 

“It’s fun and really encouraging to see them learn and have those light bulb moments,” said Traffie, who attended public school growing up. “We are pretty much always in learning mode. If we’re are driving down the road and see a cloud, I ask my kids what kind of cloud it is.” 

Pending legislation

There are two bills in the state currently being discussed that could have huge implications on the homeschool community. 

Senate Bill 193 – which if passed, will create an education savings account program to allow homeschool and other non-public school families to access state aid funds to educate their children – has cleared the house education committee in a 10-9 and will go to the full house in January.

Many in the public education sector are concerned that the bill could take away funds from local public schools.

“This bill favors the wealthy, private schools, home schoolers and anyone who wants to say they are home schooling in order to receive voucher funds,” said Mascenic School Board chair Jeff Salmonson, in a letter that was recently posted publicly on the Life in New Ipswich NH Facebook. “If passed this bill will require the Mascenic School District to either cut teachers and programs or hope the local taxpayers will make up the difference in increased taxation.”

Salmonson did not provide additional comment to the Ledger-Transcript but said his letter was written as a member of the public, not a member of the school board. 

If passed, the bill could be seen as a win for homeschool families, but not all are 100-percent on board. 

“I so strongly believe in school choice, but any time government money becomes involved it will come with strings attached,” said Hardwick. 

Despite a bit of hesitation, Traffie said the money could certainly be used to her family’s benefit, as she pays for things like curriculum and classroom materials and would love additional money for things like photography lessons and other things her children are interested in. 

“I have paid for a lot of curriculum and other things in addition to paying public school taxes,” said Traffie. “It’s an exciting idea, but I am a little hesitant… I have successfully graduated a child, I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder.”

Another recently proposed bill – HB 1263 – has garnered a lot of attention because it would increase the reporting requirements on homeschool families. 

The bill, as currently written, would require homeschool parents to report annual evaluations to the department of education or sponsoring agency (such as a school district or private school). Results would be reviewed and if a child was not showing proficiency, the child and parent would be placed on probation. If improvement was not shown within a year, the state could bar the family from homeschooling the child in question. 

Community ties

Earlier in the month, a group of about 25 homeschool children gathered with their mothers at Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge for a demonstration on the library’s recently acquired 3D printer. 

While the demonstration itself was new for the children, meeting at the library was not. For the past 12 years, Ingalls has been offering presentations and other programs specifically devoted to homeschool families in the region, oftentimes once per month.

“We had a parent approach [Children’s Librarian Georgianna Connor] about creating some programs for homeschoolers,” said Straitiff. “We are always trying to create program to respond to community needs.”

Straitiff said the program’s subject can vary widely month to month – last month the library hosted a representative from Coca-Cola to talk about recycling initiatives – and can sometimes be influenced by ideas from the families.

The library is working to create a new program aimed at teenage-aged homeschoolers, according to Straitiff, one that would offer the potential for increased social interactions. 

Traffie said her ties to the community have been extremely beneficial in the education of her children. In addition to events at local libraries and support from her mother-in-law, Traffie said she has also been happy to be a part of a homeschool support group. 

Traffie said there has been anywhere from 14 to 30 families in the group that she belongs to, each having their own contribution. In the past, Traffie has invited other children from the group over to her house to teach them about the states and capitals. 

“The group is very relaxed. Each mother is expected to do a job,” said Traffie. “The resources available to homeschool families, it’s amazing. The doors are open.”

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235.