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April 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 7

Making the Homeschool Connection

    Homeschooled students in Arizona's Kyrene School District spend one day a week in a public schoolsetting.

      It's Friday morning, and Sharon Morgan is getting her two younger children ready for school. Joshua, 7, islast, as usual. Rebecca, 11, was ready 30 minutes before everyone else, eager to get to school and chat withher friends. The two siblings pile into the family van with their mother and brother Derek, 13, and head offto school. Joshua and Rebecca's day will include instruction by certified teachers in such subjects asscience, technology, Spanish, oral communication, art, music, and physical education. What is different forthese students is that their instruction Monday through Thursday takes place at home. The Morgans are oneof many families customizing their children's education by combining homeschooling and public schoolinstruction.
      The Arizona legislature's commitment to choice in education has encouraged a proliferation ofprivate and charter schools and other education alternatives. In response to this competitive educationmarket, the Kyrene School District, a K–8 district with an enrollment of approximately 19,000, hasdeveloped creative programs and made them available to its 350 homeschooled students.
      One such program is the CASA (Community-Assisted Schooling Alternatives) Vida HomeschoolEnrichment Center. This K–6 center provides public school resources to students who receive their coreinstruction at home. Students enroll at CASA Vida on a quarter-time basis, attending six hours each week,and study subjects that were identified by the homeschooling parents as areas in which they welcome extrasupport.
      CASA Vida students attend classes with their homeschooled peers in a multi-age setting. Dividedinto kindergarten-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-6th grade groupings, a total of 120 students attend during the threeweekdays that the program is open. Kyrene del Milenio, a district school with a strong commitment tocommunity involvement and partnerships, has made four rooms available for the center and allows openaccess to the school's library, cafeteria, and other resources. All teachers have state teaching certificates,and approximately half of the center's staff members have homeschooling experience.
      The district's community education department provides administrative support, including anassistant director to supervise and evaluate the program and its staff. All CASA Vida teachers are subject tothe same performance standards and evaluations as other district teachers.
      Students and families in the CASA Vida program enjoy several benefits. CASA Vida provideseducational activities that involve larger groups of children or groups of similar-aged children. Students inthe 4th-6th grades, for example, often give presentations to their peers and to groups of parents.
      Students also have opportunities to interact with other homeschooled children in a formal schoolsetting. Their parents, who participated in the original design team and subsequent community meetingsand planning committees, have customized the CASA Vida program to their needs.
      In addition to networking with other homeschooling parents and using the curriculum resourcelibrary, parents can consult with staff members on teaching strategies and on their homeschoolingcurriculums. Sharon Morgan uses the day to provide individualized instruction for 7th grader Derek. Manyparents find that having a day to plan instruction for the rest of the week has a positive impact on theirhome instruction.
      The Kyrene District benefits in other ways, too. The relationship between public schools andhomeschoolers used to be wrought with mutual distrust. CASA Vida has facilitated a new cooperativepartnership and sense of trust between the district and the homeschooling community. The public school isavailable to teach all students, and homeschooling parents recognize their public schools as a communityresource.
      Many homeschooling families are initially skeptical about CASA Vida, but once they have visited theprogram, they are eager to participate. Ninety percent of CASA Vida's participants in the inaugural year,2000–01, have returned for the second year. Some students did not return because they enrolled as full-timestudents in the district schools.
      CASA Vida is not a tuition-based program, nor does it have a negative impact on the district'sfinancial resources. Arizona's school funding formula provides 25 percent funding for students enrolledquarter-time, so CASA Vida's expenditures are paid for by the revenue that student attendancegenerates.
      The district is excited about this opportunity to support the learning of 120 students with whom itwould not otherwise have had contact. The center is exploring the possibility of expanding the center to7th–8th grades.
      As the Morgan children climb into the family van to head home, Sharon Morgan thanks thecenter's teachers. A CASA Vida teacher invites Derek to share with her students the PowerPoint presentation that he createdat home on photosynthesis. The center's teachers thank Mrs. Morgan for choosing CASA Vida to be a partof her children's education, wave goodbye, and head back to their classrooms.

      Mark G. Eley has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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