- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Home-school families are like red cars.

“You don’t see them until you start looking,” Sioux Falls home-school parent Chad Theisen said. “Then you’re like, ‘There’s a red car; there’s a red car.’ “

And those red cars are starting to pop up everywhere.

The number of home-school families has been on the rise nationally for most of the past two decades, and it’s a trend that has held true in Sioux Falls, where the number of home-schoolers has nearly doubled since 2009, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2h4naXx ) reported.

More parents are taking their children’s education into their own hands for a variety of reasons, from dislike of Common Core curriculum, to wanting more family time, to wanting religion in children’s education.

While South Dakota’s laws are friendly to families choosing to keep school at home, home-school families still face stereotypes and social stigma.

But it’s getting better, parents say, especially as the community grows through home-school groups and social media.

Cathy and Bernie Schock were the only people they knew home-schooling in Sioux Falls in 1981.

They knew they wanted to spend more time with their kids, and after hearing radio personality Paul Harvey talk about home-school families in Missouri, Bernie started getting excited about the prospect of teaching the couple’s three children at home.

“A lot of people thought we were crazy,” Bernie said.

At the time, the Schocks were the first family to fill out the state’s alternate education application in the Sioux Falls School District. The application was added to state law in 1981_the same year the couple began home-schooling.

Cathy and Bernie were pioneers in home education. They lobbied in Pierre and met with legislators to make their case for home-schooling as a viable form of learning.

“They had to see that we were normal parents with normal children,” Cathy said. “That we wanted to give them a normal education.”

Today, the Schocks are seeing their grandchildren among thousands of home-schooled kids in the state.

Their daughter-in-law Barb Schock has been teaching her kids for nine years. She’s also a board member of home-school group Living Legacy Academy (LLA), one of several parent groups in the state.

LLA started in 2005 with about 25 families. Today, it has 87 families, with 50 more on a wait list, said board member Marla Peters.

Statewide, home-school enrollment has risen 40 percent since 2010, according to a count from the South Dakota Department of Education.

Ask Natalie Michael why she home-schools, and she’ll ask why the question wasn’t framed another way.

“Why does anybody put their kid in the school system that doesn’t have to?” said Michael, a home-school parent and director of the eastern South Dakota chapter of Classical Conversations.

Not all home-school parents feel as strongly opposed to public schools as Michael, but most will mention Common Core curriculum as at least one reason influencing their choice to teach at home.

Joel Brunick, who serves on the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators board with his wife, Kristin Brunick, said he sees Common Core as one of the biggest drivers of home-school growth in recent years.

Michael fought strongly against Common Core in South Dakota until she began the eastern South Dakota chapter of Classical Conversations home-schooling in 2013, a group that now has between 85 and 90 families.

“Instead of fighting Common Core directly . I decided to offer them a better solution, which is, in my opinion, home-schooling,” Michael said.

Parents also choose home-schooling as a way to spend more time with their children.

Theisen and his wife, Brooke Theisen, always planned on having one stay-at-home parent with their three children. Though they didn’t always plan on home-schooling, now they see their kids’ education as a lifestyle.

“Nobody’s more passionate about the education of my kids than I am,” he said.

The Brunicks also saw home educating as a way to not only spend more time with their kids, but also to share with them the joys of learning.

Religion also plays a role in choosing to home-school for many families, but Joel Brunick said that often receives too much emphasis.

He said it’s a stereotype that families only home-school their children for religious reasons.

“A lot of it has to do with families wanting to reconnect,” Brunick said.

Many parents said that home educating is a “calling,” but it’s not a method that works for everybody, Theisen said.

Home-schooling isn’t free, unlike public schools, but Marla Peters, an LLA board member and 10-year home educator, said it can be done on a “shoestring budget.” Peters estimates spending $250 annually on home-school supplies.

Sarah Kramer began home-schooling her children when private school tuition became too expensive. She said the initial curriculum investment was about $1,000, but then materials can be reused.

For those who do feel the home-school “calling,” the growth in home educators makes the choice to teach at home easier. There are about a dozen parent groups and co-operatives in the state, and countless resources online.

A Facebook group for home-schoolers in the Sioux Falls area alone has more than 550 members.

That’s helpful for parents new to home-schooling or those looking for answers to curriculum questions, Theisen said. Ask a question, and within an hour, someone, somewhere is willing to help you.

Those groups also make it easier for home-school parents to find social outlets for their children.

Peters doesn’t feel like there are many forces that work against home-school families - except the stereotypes that home-schooled children aren’t social.

That’s a stereotype that hits close to home for 13-year-old Na’ama McGowan.

The spunky short-haired teen said when she meets new people and tells them she’s home-schooled, they dismiss her or assume that she’s overly sheltered or shy. She wants the world to know that’s not true.

“People assume you’re not going to be a rebel,” she said. “(Or) you’re not going to fight with your parents. … Just because we learn in a different environment doesn’t mean we’re that different.”

Peters’ children are involved in 4-H, sports, church groups and the weekly LLA meetings, which allow home-schooled children to learn in a traditional classroom environment with each parent teaching different subjects.

Barb Schock’s children also have plenty of outlets to socialize with children of all ages and with adults. She said she’s surprised that people sometimes think kids have to go to school to develop social skills.

“My kids are not lacking in the slightest bit of socialization,” Schock said.

As the primary educator in his household, Theisen also has heard plenty of generalizations about home schooling, including that parents who home-school aren’t as educated.

“Yeah, there’s stereotypes,” said Theisen, who has a master’s degree in education and previously worked for a university. “And I don’t meet any of those.”

Theisen doesn’t see the rise in home-school families stopping any time soon.

Home-schooling is a way to adapt to each child’s style of learning, he said, adding that he has a “class size of three.” It’s also empowered him to teach his children using the latest technologies, adapting to changes quicker than traditional schools are able.

As more people teach their own children, home-schooling is also continuing to become more widely accepted, Kristin Brunick said.

“I was always kind of embarrassed to admit that we home-school at first,” Brunick said, adding that her mother taught in public schools for 30 years.

Today, people still ask questions, but Brunick said almost everyone she talks to knows somebody that has home-schooled.

“It’s been more and more accepted,” Brunick said. “It’s just a lifestyle that I think people are really embracing.”

___

Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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