By Grace Huseth
School is back in session, but that doesn’t mean that every student is headed to a classroom each morning. Thanks to organized groups, enrichment classes and the city’s many resources, Atlanta continues to have a thriving community of home school students.
“About a third of the parents I talk to seem to be considering homeschooling on some level, at some point. Many never act on that, but there’s a lot of interest growing,” said Esther Graff-Radford, group facilitator at Atlanta Homeschool Co-op.
Georgia’s homeschooling growth rate is slightly higher than its public school student population growth. Since 2012, homeschooling has grown 3.5 percent compared to 2.7 percent for the public-school student growth rate.
Homeschooling allows parents to be intimately involved in their child’s education. The education progresses at the child’s actual comprehension rate and the child understands the material more thoroughly. Many children are often more acclimated and successful through homeschooling than in traditional educational settings.
Blair Marino has been homeschooling her 11th grade son and 7th grade daughter for almost eight years. Marino now serves as Board President of LEAD (Learners and Educators of Atlanta and Decatur), an inclusive, secular, not for profit homeschool group that has offered support and classes to homeschoolers since 2000.
“Atlanta has embraced the homeschooling movement and the opportunities for the kids have expanded in the last four to five years,” Marino said.
LEAD hosts more than 80 weekly, members-only academic and enrichment classes for ages preschool through adults. The classes meet Monday through Thursday with no set curriculum, allowing parents to choose classes that complement their own homeschool curriculum.
Some trickier subjects that parents find intimidating to teach can be taught by homeschool academies. Homeschool groups including Veritas Classical Schools, Atlanta Homeschool Cooperative and Kid Cultivators Homeschool Community offer classes ranging from composition to chemistry.
“It’s nice to have different options and to supplement classes,” Marino said. “Our children have picked classes that they enjoy, but as they get older I started becoming an advocate for their education and making sure they take classes that they need.”
LEAD offers science and math classes as well some extracurricular, and eclectic, classes. “The Art of the Journal” uses exercises in free form writing while “Lego: Mine, Craft, and Build Survival Game” uses the popular computer game and building blocks to teach resourcefulness, creativity and cooperation.
‘The great thing about homeschooling is that the classes have no grades, so the pressure is off and they can try things,” Marino commented. “The grade is not the end all be all.”
The LEAD homeschoolers celebrate their community of likeminded friends with field trips, seasonal celebrations and their annual “Not Back to School” party. Like normal teenagers, they too look forward to proms and senior graduation.
Other Atlanta homeschoolers take advantage of discounts and special events exclusively for homeschoolers such as learning Georgia history at the Atlanta History Center, or marine biology at the Georgia Aquarium.
To become a homeschooling family, parents must submit a declaration of intent to the Georgia Department of Education. The law requires all children to learn mathematics, English and language arts, science, social studies, and reading. Children must take a national standardized achievement test every three years beginning at the end of the third grade, but test scores are not required to be submitted to public school authorities.
Photo caption: (girl) LEAD student studies owl pellets at Fernbank Science Center. (boy) LEAD student studies pond water at Fernbank Science Center. Photo credit to Blair Marino