As schools gear up for the start of the new year and parents and students shop for supplies, a group of Trumbull County students prepare for a different kind of school.
Home schooling, once considered a fringe activity, is becoming more mainstream.
"When I started home schooling, it was really underground," said Catherine Moran of Niles. "Over the years, states have gotten much better about homeschooling and Ohio is very good at dealing with homeschooling."
Moran home schooled her own children and serves as a resource for parents interested in home schooling as a member of the Ohio Educators of Catholic Homes Network. She also speaks throughout the United States on such topics as how to begin home schooling, home schooling larger families, and working with home-schoolers teaching children with learning disabilities.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute, there are about 2 million home-educated students in the United States representing about 2 to 4 percent of the school-age population.
Data from the U.S. Department of Education suggest that families who home school represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds. In a survey conducted by the agency, about 50 percent of the parents believed they could offer a better education at home.
"I wanted to be able to teach my children a Christian world view," said Patty McFall from West Farmington. "I wanted to talk about God's creation of the world and his continued care and providence in it." McFall has home schooled her six children. The older children have gone on to college; two are still at home.
"When they were younger, I often spent all day working with different kids at different times," said McFall. As they got older and more independent, less of her time was needed, but McFall said they always read a lot, played educational games and did Bible study.
The Trumbull Educational Association of Christian Homeschoolers (TEACH) serves as a resource for local Christian families, according to Shelly Wright, who is an alumnus of the group and contact for the organization. Through this group, students have many opportunities to come together and socialize.
"We provide activities, participate in spelling and geography bees, have a basketball team and soccer league," said Wright. "We also offer special weekly classes, depending on the talents of our volunteers."
"My kids are involved in a lot of things," said McFall. "Summer Stock, scouts, church youth group and summer camp - they have lots of ways to be active."
Students who are home schooled in Trumbull County must submit a Home Education Notification Form to the Trumbull County Educational Service Center. Parents need to notify TCESC before the school year begins and need to provide an outline for each subject, a list of the curriculum, and an evaluation, either a test or by having a portfolio evaluated by a teacher.
A Beka Academy offers two options for home schooling curriculum, a video option and a traditional parent-directed option. This includes textbooks, workbooks, assignments and tests. A Beka Academy establishes report cards and keeps transcripts; according to their website, they have more than 40,000 students enrolled. The Potter's Wheel offers junior high and high school instruction designed for students headed for university degree programs. They offer courses in chemistry and physics, advanced composition and foreign languages, to name a few.
"I used A Beka," said Anita Donadio of Bristolville. "We worked fewer hours when the kids were younger, but as they got older, they spent more time on schoolwork."
Donadio home schooled her two younger children for their primary grades then enrolled them in school later.
"I really wanted to keep them home with me and sheltered from hearing and seeing things I didn't think were appropriate," said Donadio. "I wanted to teach them my beliefs, and I spent lots of time doing it. When you home school, everywhere you go is school."
ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) is the first and most popular tuition-free online public school in Ohio; it has been serving students for 10 years with more than 10,000 enrolled students in grades K-12.
Students who take classes through ECOT have teachers, class discussions and report cards. They use a personal computer, which ECOT offers along with a monitor, printer and software, to students who enroll with ECOT.
Other online options include the Ohio Virtual Academy, Virtual High School and Trumbull County's Virtual Learning Academy which is available to students in grades 7-12.
Wright said that previously she used to get a lot of calls from Christian families wanting information on homeschooling their children, but now she often fields calls from parents who say that school isn't working for their child and they're looking for help. These virtual learning situations are different from traditional home-schoolers.
"The greatest thing about home schooling is that I really know my kids," said McFall.
Moran agrees. "High school kids are really interesting and exciting, great to talk to," she said.
"Children are a blank sheet being impressed upon; who do you want to be doing that imprinting?" said Moran.