Home-schoolers travel globe in quest for knowledge


March 14, 2001|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR THE Elder family, home schooling their two children, Kelsey, 13, and Bart, 12, has been a rich educational experience. This year, the Hickory Ridge residents traveled to China, Russia, Central America and South America to get a firsthand education in world history, geography and foreign languages.

Mike and Joanie Elder began home schooling their children three years ago. "We had decided all along that we were going to home school during the middle school years," Joanie said. "We felt that life got too rushed and too hurried with the activities the children were involved with. We thought we could more efficiently cover school in a shorter period of time and expose them to some things we thought were important."

In addition to instruction in algebra, geometry, history and Spanish, home schooling gave the children time to participate in community activities such as serving meals at a soup kitchen and church projects, Joanie said. They also had more time for sports - Kangaroo Kids jump rope precision team and softball for Kelsey, and travel baseball for Bart - and music. Kelsey plays the flute, while Bart studies guitar.

Before the Elders embarked on their travels, they turned to the library and the Internet to research the countries they would visit.

"The kids wrote papers about the countries we would visit, read travel literature, went to the embassies to get passports and studied the health implications of international travel in preparation for each trip," Joanie said. "They learned about all the shots that you needed and why, and the importance of using bottled water in a foreign country."

Their travels began in July with an eight-day trip to Moscow.

"We chose Russia for a specific purpose," Joanie said. "My sister, Cindy Grim, was going to Russia to adopt her second Russian child. We went along to help. The children saw the whole process of adopting a child in a foreign country. They learned how to order food in Russian."

In September, the Elders spent two weeks in China touring Beijing, the Yangtze River and the Great Wall of China. "The Great Wall was astonishing. The kids got so excited about walking along the path that so many people had walked along. It was breathtakingly moving," Joanie said.

In January, the Elders took a cruise to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Bart said his favorite part of the cruise was swimming with stingrays. For his mother, touring the rain forest was the highlight. "The rain forest in Costa Rica was fascinating," she said. "To see the source of so much medicine and research and the efforts to preserve it were impressive. You hear so much about the environment, but there's nothing like seeing it firsthand, touching it and feeling it to make it very real."

This month, the Elders will embark on the final leg of their journey, a tour of Europe with stops in Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. Kelsey is particularly excited about visiting Venice and riding in a gondola. "It's fascinating that the whole city is built on islands," she said.

Joanie Elder estimates that her family has spent about $50,000 on travel this year. "Actually, when you look at the cost of private school tuition, it's a deal," she said. "It's an opportunity to give our children the best possible education through experiences that they will keep with them for a lifetime."

Purim festival

Congregation Ahavas Israel at the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education celebrated Purim last week with noisemakers, costumes and a breakfast feast organized around the theme "Green Eggs and Jam."

"Purim is a holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in Persia from a decree when they were going to be annihilated," said Rabbi Hillel Baron. "Through divine intervention by way of Queen Esther, they managed to get the king to undo the decree and allow the Jewish people to defend themselves. It's the most lively and noisy of the Jewish services during the year."

As the rabbi or a cantor chants the Book of Esther from a Hebrew scroll, the congregation drowns out the name of Haman - the adviser to King Ahasuerus who persuaded the king to issue the decree to annihilate the Jewish people - with "groggers." The noisemakers are twirled to make a clacking sound whenever Haman's name is mentioned, and congregants stamp their feet and shout.

A collection was taken for impoverished Jewish families in West Bank settlements, followed by the breakfast feast, including green eggs and jam. "Ham would not be kosher," the rabbi said.

Another tradition of the holiday is delivering gifts of food to friends and neighbors. The packages usually include Hamantashen - triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, prunes, cherries, raspberries or apricots - representing Haman's three-cornered hat.

"All of our services are open to the community," Baron said. "We don't require that anyone be affiliated ... to participate. We typically have regular congregants that attend services and a healthy number of newcomers."

Scholarship awarded

Meaghan Kyle, a west Columbia native attending Syracuse University in New York was selected to receive an award as part of the university's Senior Scholarship Program. Kyle, a senior in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, received the Virginia K. Hickey Scholarship in music.

The scholarship program recognizes outstanding students in their final year at the university. To be eligible, students must consistently attain Dean's List status during their first three years at the school.

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