Few trade home for classroom

Low student interest, lack of public awareness keep HCC courses for home-schooled largely unfilled

Education beat


Tristan Caron, 15, hopes to be an opera singer someday, maybe even the next Luciano Pavarotti. To achieve that goal, said the home-schooled teen, he must be fluent in several languages.

Caron, of Dayton, signed up for a Howard Community College French class offered specifically for home-schooled students. But the class was canceled because of lack of interest. Caron took German instead.

Since fall 2004, Kids on Campus has offered classes at the college for the growing population of home-schooled students in the county. But the program has gotten off to a rocky start, said Kids on Campus Director Sara Baum.

Though the classes appear to be going well, the problem has been attracting enough students to make the program worthwhile, she said. This fall, nine courses were offered in topics ranging from science to foreign languages and even crochet. But because of lack of interest, all but two of those classes were canceled - German ($130 a session) and chemistry ($240).

"I hate to do that. I would like for them to count on us," said Baum, who added that at least six students needed to be in each class to make it cost-effective.

Howard County has 1,396 home-schooled children in 892 families, totals representative of recent steep increases, said Maura Hudson, the county school system's secretary for home instruction. In 2001, 954 students in 556 families were home-schooled, she said.

As home schooling gains traction in Howard County and elsewhere, more colleges are offering classes for home-schooled students, including the Community College of Baltimore County and Prince George's Community College.

Parents who home-school their children often welcome help with certain subjects, especially those that require equipment such as a laboratory science, or specific skills such as proficiency in a foreign language. And for the college, the courses provide an opportunity to impress an audience that may include students who would later choose to enroll there.

Baum said she started the program because of interest expressed by parents who home-school their children. "They asked particularly for us to look into offering courses in certain areas - lab science, art, composition and languages," she said.

The college responded, but the results have been mixed. "It's not as winning a formula as my summer enrichment courses have been," Baum said. "There's much more to it."

The main problem has been getting out the word, Baum said. There's no home-schooling equivalent to the newsletter that goes home with public-school students. Tristan's mother, Jeni, said she learned of the program through her older son, Andy, who was also home-schooled and now attends Howard Community College.

Almost by definition, home-schooling families are used to doing things without outside help. Parents who are good at a particular subject often create their own miniclasses by inviting other home-schooled students to learn with them, so they might not see the need for outside classes.

Finding teachers can be challenging, Baum said. Similar programs offered in the summer are often taught by public-school teachers, she said.

The courses offered at Howard Community College are not for credit. Teacher Karin Radhe, who also teaches credit and noncredit adult classes at the college, started her German class by asking her seven home-schooled students, all between 13 and 15 years old, why they had signed up for the class.

The answers ranged from Tristan's desire to pursue opera to "my mother wanted me to" to students expressing an affinity for language. One student said he signed up for German because French and Spanish had been canceled.

Radhe said teaching home-schooled students was a first for her, and she will know next time to introduce more games and make the experience more fun, she said. She did have the kids play bingo in German when they were learning numbers, but she would like to do more, she said.

Tristan's mother, Jeni, however, said Radhe was "wonderful" and had nothing but praise for the course. "Tristan had a wonderful time in there," she said. She also said she was not upset that the French class had been canceled. "Part of home schooling is you must be flexible," she said.

Tristan, too, was happy with the course, his first classroom experience. "I really like the way she teaches. She does a very good job of getting what she's trying to teach us across," he said. "I'm definitely learning a lot from it, and I probably will be coming back for her second course."

Baum said she is planning to continue the program in the spring, but after that, she said, "We may take some time off just to regroup and to reorganize what we can or cannot do."

She plans to devote more energy to figuring out the needs of home-schooling families. "I think we are going to be far more involved in trying to go to meetings where the parents are describing their needs," she said. "Maybe we'll just concentrate on one or two courses, and we'll offer them and parents can count on us offering them."

Information: 410 772-4976.

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