- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Thirteen-year-old Timothy Mackie knows almost every capital city in the world and can name the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles.
But he has never set foot in a classroom.
Timothy, who will take the stage today as a finalist at the National Geographic Bee, is among a rapidly rising number of home schoolers who are dominating national contests.
This year, 12 of the 55 finalists at the National Geographic Bee are home-schooled, said Ellen Siskind, a spokeswoman for the National Geographic Bee.
"This is an all-time high," she said. "Home schoolers tend to be in a lot of these contests, and we have found that they are very bright."
The contest is for fifth- to eighth-graders and awards a $25,000 college scholarship. National Geographic, which organized the event and changed its name from the National Geography Bee, estimates that as many as 5 million students around the country participated in local- and state-level contests leading up to the finals.
Advocates of home schooling say students who learn at home tend to be more motivated than others in more traditional school settings. The success at national contests "simply reflects the liberating aspect of home schooling which unleashes the potential to do well," said Rob Zeigler of the Home School Legal Defense Association based in Purcellville, Va.
Last year, eight home schoolers made it to the finals of the geography bee. Four home schoolers finished among the top 10, and Jason Ferguson of Dallas came in third. In 1999, David Beihl from Saluda, S.C., became the first home schooler to win the geography bee.
The next year, home schooler George Thampy from Missouri placed second in the contest, a week before he won the National Spelling Bee. His home-schooled sister, Mallika, a top-10 finalist in 1999, is a finalist at the geography bee this year.
The National Spelling Bee, slated to begin May 29, has also seen more participants who were taught at home.
"We first noticed home schoolers participating in 1991," said Paige Kimble, a spokeswoman for the spelling bee, which is slated to begin in the District on May 29. The number increased rapidly in the mid-90s and has been constant during the past three years, she said.
This year, 27 of the 248 finalists are home schoolers the same number as 2000. One of the seven students participating from Maryland is home schooled, as are two of the eight participating from Virginia.
The percentage of home schoolers in the contests is disproportionately high. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that 850,000 children, or 1.7 percent, were educated at home.
However, as many as 21.8 percent of the participants in the geography bee this year are home schooled, as are 10.9 percent in the spelling bee.
"Home schoolers are good students. They are focused on what they are doing," said Margaret Shaw of the Virginia Home Education Association, a legislative watchdog and lobbying group for the state's home schoolers. She said those children tend to do better than other students because they usually follow a curriculum tailored to their needs, something that cannot be done in school classrooms.
Timothy Mackie said being taught at home has helped him focus on his areas of interest, such as geography. "It gives me a lot more down time and helps me keep my schedule," he said.
Timothy's mother and father, Maria and David Mackie, home schooled four of their five children.
Mrs. Mackie said there are several advantages to learning at home.
"At school there are peripheral things that can take your mind off work, and there is also peer pressure," she said. "In home school there is a more comfortable environment, and children are physically healthier. Home schooling has really worked for our family."


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