- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

Most people think of home-schooling as a recent phenomenon, starting in the 1970s or ‘80s. Yet one program has been fostering the process of educating children at home for a century.

Calvert School, an independent day school in Baltimore, has been a pioneer in the educational world since 1906, when the private school’s first headmaster, Virgil M. Hillyer, decided to make the school’s kindergarten curriculum available to parents to use in their homes. Six students were enrolled in this at-home program — at a yearly tuition of $5.

Within three years, demand had risen dramatically, and lessons were being sent to 95 students in 35 states and eight foreign nations for the fee of $50 per year. Calvert’s curriculum was adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense in schooling the children of military personnel stationed in Japan and Korea in the 1940s. After Time magazine wrote about this small but global educational force in a 1944 story called “Worldwide Calvert,” enrollment nearly doubled to 8,000 students.

To handle the huge demand, Calvert opened its own print shop in 1948. It shipped to families working in remote areas, with materials arriving by dog sled, parachute and camel as well as horse, train, ship and airplane.

In 1990, the Calvert curriculum was used in two Baltimore city public schools, increasing test scores and, subsequently, enrollment. Soon, traditional and charter schools followed suit, applying Calvert’s curriculum in their classrooms. Today, about 180 public, private and international schools are using Calvert’s 200 books and manuals, representing 50 percent of the 22,000 students enrolled currently. The other 50 percent are home-schoolers in every state and 90 countries.

In the past century, Calvert has served 500,000 students, on every continent except Antarctica.

The curriculum ranges from pre-kindergarten through grade eight, and covers all traditional subject areas. Course materials include instructional items, workbooks and all school supplies — a special boon to parents in remote areas where a protractor or eraser may not be easy to obtain.

The original Baltimore day school has pioneered educational approaches and provided teacher training to teachers and families. Parents can call toll-free, or use e-mail or fax to ask educational counselors how to best use the curriculum. Also, an Advisory Teaching Service is offered — a teacher who grades tests and provides instruction through mail or other distance supervision. Another option, the Calvert Distance Learning Program, provides online instruction. Students also can be part of the Calvert Virtual program, where they participate in online classrooms by grade level, getting live instruction along with others in their cyber class, with parents helping with the independent study.

The Calvert curriculum is widely accepted and accredited by numerous states and regional educational bodies. The Calvert Math series for grades K-8 has received awards, as has the Discoveries in Reading and Discoveries in Science courses. The curriculum still uses the original methods of teaching cursive script writing, where students learn the unique “Calvert Script” through a specific process of guided imitation, copying, combining letters in words, and then independent transcription of dictated sentences.

Another classic element in Calvert’s instruction is the charming “A Child’s History of the World” written by Hillyer. Since 1924, this book has been used at the fourth-grade level to introduce world history to students in a readable and entertaining format. Hillyer strongly believed in a well-rounded education, and that children learn first by imitation, then habit, then understanding, so he invented tools to help children do practice drills to foster that process.

Home-schoolers owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the men and women who for a century have held the banner of family-based education high, and who were even able to expand that into enriching the education of collective schooling. If you would like to learn more about the Calvert School or its programs, check its Web site (www.calvertschool.org).

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

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