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Parents: Home School Provides Specialized Education

Jeanne Cygnus sits next to her daughter, Kyla, 17, a senior at Mundelein High School, Aug. 25 as she works on a self-portrait for her art class at their home in Mundelein. (Candace H. Johnson)

LIZ Sue of Grayslake came from a long line of public school teachers. But, when it came time to send her own children to school she decided to teach them herself.

Sue has home schooled all three of her children, ages 19, 17 and 15, from preschool through high school.

Sue is among a growing number of guardians looking at home schooling as an alternative to the public school system. Families like the  Sues say home schooling their children has allowed them to have a more tailored educational experience than would be possible in a traditional classroom setting.

In 2007, the number of home schooled students in the U.S. was about 1.5 million, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003, according to U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Sue said her family members voiced concerns about her decision, especially about how her children would learn good socialization skills.

“My family had a very difficult time with the idea of me home schooling – the majority of my family members are public school teachers,” Sue said.

She told them home schoolers “are all different ages so they learn how to talk to everybody.”

Sue also observed that some students in public schools might be overlooked by a teacher doing his or her best to get to everyone in the classroom. Teaching her children manners was also part of her decision to home school, she said.

“[In the public school] that one teacher works really hard to give them an education, but he or she can’t possibly hear all those conversations that go on throughout the day,” Sue said. “Home school parents can train and teach their kids and say, ‘I’m sorry, but that wasn’t a nice way to talk to [that person].’ It’s much more difficult for kids to hide something from you when you’re working one on one.”

Jeanne Cygnus and her husband, Marc Cygnus, of Mundelein, decided to home school their children Kyla Cygnus, 17, and Christian Cygnus,15, from kindergarten through eighth grade because they felt they could give them the one-on-one attention students might not get in classes with 20 or more other students.

“[Marc and I are] both very academically oriented and we saw that sometimes [the curriculum] goes at the pace of the slowest student [in the classroom],” Jeanne said. “We knew both our kids were well ahead of that.”

As most 5-year-olds carried around their favorite blanket or teddy bear, Kyla clung to her favorite book, Jeanne said.

She and her brother also did homework at Jeanne’s business, Cygnus Lactation Services, in Mundelein.

“They were with me all day and got a real interesting perspective,” Jeanne Cygnus said. “They saw the real world while learning in an academic setting. When we went to the store they learned how to count change – there are so many things you can teach them in every day life.”

Jeanne laughed as she recalled fielding questions from outsiders about the impact of home schooling on her kids’ socialization.

“Just because you’re home schooling doesn’t mean you have to stay at home,” Jeanne said, adding that the library was like a second home for her family. “We did a lot of things and my kids were involved in a lot of activities.”

After their children finished eighth grade, Jeanne and Marc gave them the option to attend public high school or continue home schooling – both chose to attend public school to prepare for the classroom setting they will encounter in college.

Jeanne admits that when the two had to test into the public school system she was nervous.

“How are they going to hold up?” she wondered.

Both Kyla and Christian are in honors classes and have good grades. Kyla is interested in pursuing art at the college level and already has a college offer. Christian is a straight-A student and in involved in a variety of clubs, including Future Business Leaders of America and the high school’s broadcast team.

Christian can recall starting as a freshman and being nervous, but as he begins his sophomore year this month he’s more comfortable about where he fits in.

“I was just nervous for the new schedule,” Christian said about his first year of public high school. “Having to do homework, [getting used to] the teachers and the whole environment and learning with other kids. But, it was easier than I thought to get acclimated.”

The Sue family home schooled their children through high school, which allowed their children to take classes at the College of Lake County and get a head start on their college education.

Liz’s eldest, Charlotte Sue, is now a sophomore at Milligan College in Tennessee and has a full-tuition scholarship. Charlotte is pursuing a double major in art and psychology and plans to attend graduate school to study art therapy.

Charlotte said while growing up she enjoyed frequenting museums in Chicago with her mom and others in her local home school group. Those early experiences influenced her desire to pursue art therapy, she said.

“When I took an interest in art it was something we put more time into,” Charlotte said about how her mom was able to curtail the curriculum to her interests. “My mom was always really supportive. But, it didn’t take away from studying other subjects.”

Liz also believes that because she home schooled her daughter she was able to discover that Charlotte needed corrective glasses.

“My daughter didn’t like math from the time she was 6 years old and I’d tried lots of different curriculums and methods,” Liz said. “By the time she was a sophomore in high school one of the things we discovered was that she needed specialized lenses. Within a week or so of her seeing the vision therapist she was able to do math and didn’t have any more problems.”

Oliver Sue, 15, who is home schooled, said isolation isn’t an issue for him. He has friends who attend public school and friends that are home schooled like him.

Oliver also plans to take classes at College of Lake County and said he enjoys working on computers and studying history.

He said sometimes kids who attend public school think home schooled kids are “sheltered,” but that’s not true.

“I’m experiencing new things,” he said, adding that home schooling allows him to work at his own pace and spend more time with friends. “You also get to be more in touch with your mom or dad or whoever is teaching you. I like that.”

Liz said it’s important for those who decide to home school to network with other home school families.

She said being able to trouble shoot with other parents can make a huge difference when having a bad day.

“You don’t feel as isolated when you’re in a group setting,” Liz said, adding that she is a member of local home school group Hearts and Minds in Christ. “We are a Christian-based cooperative. Home school groups provide resources and we help each other. The kids socialize with kids of different ages.”

Liz and Jeanne Cygnus agree that regardless of a family’s reasoning for home schooling, the most important element to a successful experience is passion.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been trained or you just want to do it; but, if you’re passionate about giving your kids the best education you can possibly give them you’re going to do a great job,” Liz said.

“If you’re willing to do it there are so many resources out there,” Jeanne said. “There’s no one way to home school.”

Lake County resources for home schoolers abound

In addition to local networks of home school families, home schoolers can find support in Lake County’s libraries and Forest Preserves.

Janet Brakel, volunteer associate with Lake Villa District Library, knows first hand the important role libraries play in home school families.

Brakel home schooled her three children, now 29, 26 and 24, from elementary school through eighth grade. Her eldest chose to be home schooled through high school while her younger two transitioned from home schooling to public high school.

Brakel has lectured about ways librarians can help home schoolers as the library’s home school advocate coordinator.

“[The library] is essential to their whole effort,” Brakel said. “There are books about everything, and now we have cds, DVDS and programs that anyone can go to. A home schooler can come in [to the library], spend the day and do research.”

Brakel said home school families in the area become regular patrons of the library and she has come to know them on a first name basis.

Paul Kaplan, head of adult services of Lake Villa District Library, said the library offers resources for home schooling guardians as well.

Kaplan recalls how one child’s grandparents decided to begin home schooling because the student was struggling in the public school system. Kaplan said the library’s resources gave the grandparents the confidence to successfully home school that student.

“I remember them coming in and being unsure of themselves,” Kaplan said. “We were able to help them.”

Kerry Reed, head of the youth department at the Lake Villa Library, said the library hosts an annual orientation program for home school families.

“We highlight our services, children’s programs, and resources,” Reed said. “We have a Homeschooling Resources binder available at the Adult Services Reference desk, which includes information on local support groups, curriculum providers and flyers from private tutors.  We continually purchase and maintain a collection of books and journals that address the needs of home schooling families.”

Cindy Lobaza, head of youth services at the Fox Lake District Library, said the library offers a special collection of literature geared toward home school families year round.

“We have six big shelves of stuff for home schooling and parenting books nearby,” Lobaza said. “We have a lot of parents that come in and are interested in home schooling.”

Lobaza said ongoing youth and teen programs engage home school and public school students and offer an opportunity for students to network, such as the library’s chess club.

“A big concern for a lot of home school parents is feeling isolated,” Lobaza said. “We have a lot of programming and we gear it toward all families.”

Families can also turn to the Lake County Forest Preserves for programs designed for home schoolers, said Nicole Stocker, museum educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves.

The program series “Home School Companion” will be offered beginning in October at various sites throughout Lake County, Stocker said.

The first program will be about stewardship, and all programs are either history or nature-based and are geared toward those between 5 and 12 years old, she said.

“We decided we wanted to focus on [home schoolers],” Stocker said about the program’s creation two years ago. “We’re hoping to be a resource for families. It gives them a different perspective on topics and they’re learning in a new way. It’s hands on.”

To learn more about online resources for home schooling, visit the Lake County’s Regional Office of Education at www.lake.k12.il.us/roe_home_sch/. To learn more about the Lake County Forest Preserves and upcoming events visit www.lcfpd.org.

MORE:  LAKE COUNTY JOURNAL

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