- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - For the Crompton siblings, school begins in the comfort of own living room, after they eat breakfast and do their morning chores.

By 9 a.m., the two sets of twins meet their mother, Linda, for a Bible reading and prayer time.

Then they’re back on their own, reviewing their tasks in the assignment book she creates for them.

Correct pages 178 and 180 in grammar.

Study Lesson 14 for vocabulary.

Move on to the next section in math drills.

The Cromptons are among 37 families in Lowell who have opted to home-school their children, a minority group of 56 children in a low-income district of roughly 14,000 students.

Linda Crompton has home-schooled for 21 years, beginning when her first son, Paul, had trouble in kindergarten.

He was ready to read, she said, but it just wasn’t happening at his private school.

“One April vacation I said, ‘I’m just going to teach him to read,’ ” she said. “And so I taught him to read in a week.”

But why they continued home-schooling their next six children evolved into a different philosophy altogether.

“One of the first reasons that we home-school is because it’s really the easiest way to transmit your values and beliefs to your kids,” she said. “And for us that’s our Christian faith and our Christian values.”

The family is part of a local religious home-school cooperative, Friends of Grace, that offers classes every Friday.

Her daughters take courses like circuit design, government, art and literature, classes taught by other parents in the group.

Growing up, the Cromptons were also schooled in the world around them - they did sports camps at UMass Lowell, explored the American History Textile History Museum, and learned of different cultures during the city’s numerous ethnic festivals.

The elder twins, Lisbeth and Caroline, take classes at Middlesex Community College. The younger twins, Ketie and Tia, volunteer at the Lowell Humane Society.

“We tailor their curriculum according to what their goals are,” Linda Crompton said.

“For instance, one of my sons majored in math and physics at college. His program was different, he had more sciences, went further along, had calculus in high school than the one that did music.”

In Massachusetts, home-schooling regulations are outlined by a 1987 court ruling known as the Charles Decision. Parents must seek approval to home-school their child in advance, and also must prove the educational standards meets the level of those in the school district.

In Lowell, parents submit their intent to home-school and submit a report every January. At the end of the year, families submit a progress report in the form of test results, a summary or portfolio. Once listed as home-schooled, the funding for that child - $13,617 per pupil in fiscal 2014 - goes back to the state.

Many parents are using online curriculums, said Claire Abrams, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

“Some parents would like to have the DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) curriculum guides and the standards, so we offer that to them,” Abrams said. “Some parents ask to use some of the books. A lot of them are doing online-type school things now.”

Lowell mom Bonnie Thibault, also a part of the Friends of Grace group, took her eldest son out of school at age 9.

“He was really bored and we would cry when I would make him go,” Thibault said. “He was like, ‘I’m learning things I already know.’ “

Her eldest son, in first grade, now has a detailed syllabus Thibault reads to him.

“It’s easy to follow because part of what I want to teach him is independent time management,” she said. “It’s a little book so he sees what he has to do for each subject. So long as he completes what’s required, at least for that day, as long as I’ve checked it over and see that he’s done everything to the best of his ability and he doesn’t have any questions, then that’s his day.”

Home-school parents in Lowell embrace the individual pace of their child’s education, and all the extra time that comes with it.

“It’s incredibly efficient, we can be excelling at whatever they’re doing,” said Kaedra Walsh, who emphasizes a liberal arts approach to education with her two children. “They’ll have the bulk of the day to get outside and play.”

That outside play is a really important component, said Walsh, who does not home-school for religious reasons.

“We want the kids active and moving,” she said. “All the research shows that the more a child is able to engage their body, the more effective their learning process is going to be and the more healthy they’re going to be as well.”

Thibault ties literature into history lessons. She’s reading the 1863 “Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” with her children, she said, and also dabbles in writings from conservationist Thornton Burgess.

Socialization of their children is not at risk, these parents said.

“I think that that is such a common question and I think it’s kind of hilarious,” Walsh said.

She sat down and added up the time her children spent in free play, she said, and found it was three times more than children spend in public school.

“It’s just a funny question because I feel like the premise there is also, ‘What is happening on the socialization on the public-schools basis is the gold standard,’” she said. “I don’t think that is the case.”

Home-schooled students do not take the state standardized MCAS test, nor do they graduate from Lowell High School. But college is still attainable.

Crompton keeps a grade-point average for her children, she said, because that’s what colleges want. She’s also seen a difference in home-school college acceptance since her first child applied to college.

“It was quite different, there was not as many people that were familiar with home-schoolers,” she said. “Some of them want a GED.”

But now, schools like Boston University encourage applications from home-schoolers. In addition to applications, BU asks home-schoolers to give information about curriculum, texts and skill levels in various subjects.

Crompton’s oldest son, Paul, studied music at Gordon College and now operates his own business. He recalls it as a different experience.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think that it’s a way for kids to learn at their own pace.”


Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, https://www.lowellsun.com

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