- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

One of the advantages of home-schooling is that students can pursue their unique interests and develop skills at a high level. California native Jonathan Denni may be just 15, but home-schooling is allowing him to focus on photography.

It all started when he bought a digital point-and-shoot camera early last year. For months, he had been seeing things that sparked a desire to take a picture, and he realized he wanted to pursue photography. A friend’s dad advised him on the type of camera to buy, and his own father helped him purchase it — on the condition that he support the family’s volunteer and professional activities by taking pictures.

By experimenting with various angles and situations, he developed a unique portfolio. From time to time, he borrowed other equipment for special projects.

Jonathan was able to train himself by volunteering at public and faith-based events, including prayer breakfasts and cultural events, and by attending track-and-field competitions in the San Francisco Bay Area. He tried his luck at shooting flowers and nature scenes, just for fun. He also learned Web design and created a Web site (www.jdphotography.co.nr) to display his portfolio and allow others to view the photos of events he covers.

In this way, without taking formal classes, he is able to get high school credit for his self-learning. Enrolled in the Dayspring program, a public-school-based home-school program, he gets credit for his Web-design learning as well.

In the Dayspring program, students and parents meet monthly with a public school teacher who reviews the students’ work and occasionally makes suggestions. Parents can pick curricula products they prefer, but the teacher checks that the work is being done.

Jonathan, who would be a high school sophomore, learns chemistry with a workbook-based program with four other students. They go through the material together, answer questions and take the tests. They have kits to perform the experiments, which they do in their homes.

His older brother, Nathan, 17, and his younger sister, Jeungli, 13, also are home-schooled using this system. The three are used to working independently, without a lot of parental instruction, but parents Mark and Kinuyo oversee their progress and attend the meetings with the reviewing teacher.

With the help of parents, Jonathan also is studying Japanese with his brother, sister and three friends. For English, Jonathan reads books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and keeps a journal about the works he reads.

He also has started a business with his brother, buying wholesale Japanese comic-book art, animated cartoons and snack foods and selling them through public school friends or in church. This work has become an independent-study course, gaining him credit for business studies.

Home-schooling allows Jonathan opportunities for overseas travel and other special projects. He is participating in an intercultural exchange program this month, using both his photography and his other hobby — juggling — to teach youths of other cultures and nationalities. He recently invested in a new camera, which he will be using on a trip to the Middle East.

Until this school year, Jonathan had been attending public school, but he says he felt stifled by the lack of flexibility and he wanted more freedom to attend events he wanted to shoot during the day. Very interested in cultural exchange, Jonathan wanted to be able to set his own schedule, attend community events and do some traveling.

Home-schooling allows him to pursue his career preparation and his desire to learn about other people in a far more substantial way than through the pages of a textbook.

Many home-schoolers like Jonathan are finding that they can prepare themselves for a strong financial future and a satisfying professional career while their public school counterparts put in longer hours with less satisfaction and less sense of ownership of their education.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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