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Not in Public

For a growing number of New Mexico parents, when it comes to educating their children, there's no place like home.

Story and photos by Donna Clayton Lawder

 

For more than 1.1 million children in the US, getting up and going to school means getting up and, well, staying home. That number has grown steadily over recent years, and as the media thrusts the phenomenon into the spotlight — reporting on homeschooled children winning spelling bees, turning into top athletes and besting the public school-educated in science and geography — the "homeschooling" trend shows no signs of slowing.

Margie Gray and her homeschooled daughter, Audrey, with some of the homeschooling materials Gray has written.

Here in the southwest corner of New Mexico, homeschooling is hot and growing like a wildfire in the wilderness. Christian-oriented options and homeschooling parent-support groups are springing up. A hybridized public school-homeschool program now claims to offer "the best of both worlds." There's even a publisher of homeschooling curriculum materials right in our own backyard.

Once upon our pioneer days, homeschooling was the norm — at least until a community grew to be able to erect a one-room schoolhouse. Children received practical, real-life lessons plus a modicum of "book learning" without ever leaving the homestead. If there were schools, they often cost more than parents could pay. The push for free public schools didn't gain traction until the 1830s, with education reformers like Horace Mann. And not until 1870 did all states provide free elementary-school education.

Today, we take the option of free, public education for granted. And many Americans still believe, as Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, puts it, "that the core mission of public education in America was to create places of civic virtue for our children and for our society." Houston goes on to caution, "As education undergoes the rigors of re-examination and the need for reinvention, it is crucial to remember that the key role of public schools is to preserve democracy and that, as battered as we might be, our mission is central to the future of this country."

For homeschooling parents across Southwest New Mexico, however, that faith in public schools has been replaced by a different credo: Mom and Dad — often with an assist from God — know best.

As it's grown in recent years, homeschooling has metamorphosed, with how-to trainings, community support groups, online resources and lines of customized curricula available in quantities and varieties unknown before. And as the nation's public school system endeavors to "leave no child behind" and "teachto the standards," growing numbers of parents are taking the job of educating their children back into their own hands — customizing not only how their children are taught but even defining what their children learn.

Homeschooling parents from Silver City to Gila to Glenwood are eager to talk about their adventures in education — the challenges they've faced, the rewards they feel their children have reaped, their reasons for homeschooling.

One thing that quickly becomes clear when talking with these parents is that no matter what teaching method a family employs, the choice to educate at home is a very committed and personal one. Someone's going to be with that child close to 24-7, after all, making sure little Johnny or Jane can read, write and do 'rithmetic — things that don't just happen. Or do they?

Schedules and methods vary widely (see box): from traditionalists who use regular textbooks (but around the kitchen table) to the "literature-based learning" of the Charlotte Mason-ers, to the eclectics who cherry-pick whatever works for them from a whole palette of thought, to the "unschoolers" who let their kids learn at their own pace, picking up lessons as they come — from playing in the sandbox (science) to counting out change (math) at the toy store.

A Menu of Methods

Following are a few of the more popular methods of homeschooling in use today. Materials and resources from one "brand" of homeschooling (such as "unit study" materials, for example) can be used in others, such as the "Charlotte Mason Method" or the Christian-oriented "Principle Approach."

Charlotte Mason Method: Charlotte Mason operated a teachers' college in England from 1885-1923, promoting a literature-based (as opposed to textbook-based) method of teaching that incorporates a blend of practices including narration and copywork (reading aloud and writing practice), nature notebooks, fine arts, languages and real-life application.

Classical Method: Classical homeschooling involves teaching based on three stages of learning: the Grammar stage (learning facts, memorization and knowledge gathering), the Logic stage (applying reasoning and logic to accumulated knowledge), and the Rhetoric stage (when the student learns the skills of wisdom and judgment). A Classical homeschooling curriculum includes reading great works of literature. The main goals are to cultivate independent thinkers, and develop great communicators and leaders.

Eclectic Method: The eclectic homeschool approach is one that examines and evaluates the different approaches and methods of homeschooling, and takes from each the ideas, resources and styles that work best for that child and best suits the family's philosophy.

Principle Approach: This uniquely Christian educational method emphasizes the idea that all learning centers on God's word. Students learn "the four Rs" — research, reasoning, relating and recording — referred to as "the methods of America's Founding Fathers."

Traditional Method: This approach mimics what happens in the public-school classroom — using textbooks, compartmentalizing subject areas and relying on teacher-driven content — but is taught in the home by a parent or guardian.

Unit Study: Unit studies, sometimes called thematic units or integrated studies, are a popular homeschooling method because they can be hands-on, literature-based, or even geared towards the Charlotte Mason method. Unit studies typically encompass all of the scholastic subjects through the study of one topic, although they can be specific to a single subject. Unit studies usually use a hands-on approach, with the child learning by experience and discovery through related activities. Its proponents say studies show these methods improve lesson and information retention.

Unschooling: Based on the teachings of John Holt, a school reformer in the late 1960s, Unschooling is a student-directed method of learning based in the belief that children learn naturally the things they need to know by following their own interests. Holt's books include Learning all the Time and Teach Your Own.

The "alternative education methods" of Montessori and Waldorf are sometimes listed among homeschooling methods, though these systems also are used in specialized private-school settings:

Montessori: According to its founder, Maria Montessori (1870-1952), learning is a natural, self-directed process that follows certain fundamental laws of nature.

Waldorf: Based on the spiritual-scientific research of the Austrian scientist and thinker Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), this philosophy holds that the human is a threefold being of spirit, soul and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages.

Learning about the laws that govern the rights and responsibilities of homeschoolers — and finding out how much latitude they're given — is illuminating in itself. All a parent has to do to set up a home school in New Mexico is file a letter of intent with the state superintendent and then follow up with a letter every April 1 thereafter that they continue to homeschool. Parents don't even need to notify the local school district. And homeschooling parents in New Mexico are responsible for maintaining their own child's records when it comes to things like childhood disease immunizations, a job the public school system shoulders for its enrollment. (Immunization records are suddenly in the spotlight after the recent outbreak of whooping cough-a disease ordinarily vaccinated against-in Gila.)

Some of the local homeshooling educators whose stories are shared here are ready to quote chapter and verse on the history of homeschooling. They can recite supporting statistics and cite the legislation that supports their right to teach their kids while sitting around the kitchen table, playing in the backyard, or even visiting the local pool and tennis courts.

Most almost trip over themselves insisting it's not that the public-school system has let them down — they just want or need to do it their way. Their children need more one-on-one attention, for instance, or learn better with homeschooling methods. But some admit frankly that they want to omit those lessons on evolution taught in the public schools in favor of a curriculum that validates their religion.

 

In Silver City, the PACE (Parent And Child Education) program provides a sort of hybridized support system for homeschooling parents — combining, as it says in the brochure, "the best of homeschooling with public education." Housed in the GW Stout Elementary School on Silver Street, PACE was started and is run by teacher-coordinator Debbie Steele.

Sitting at a table piled high with books and other teaching materials, Steele — who homeschooled her own children — recounts some of those experiences and the foundation she feels it provided for her children. "It's funny. My daughter is now a teacher — in public school!" she says. "She absolutely loves what she does, she loves her students. But she told me that when she has her own kids, she'll homeschool them. She believes in it."

Steele says she started up the PACE program in the fall of 1992 primarily to try to stop "homeschooling drop-outs" — parents who gave up on their educational effort and put their kids back in public schools around the seventh grade, an age when many children develop the desire to be more active in sports. PACE program students are eligible to participate in all the extracurricular public-school activities, making good use of ball-fields and such, as well as having access to special services like speech and physical therapies and special-education instruction.

In a program similar to Albuquerque's accredited "Family School" program — a mix of public and homeschooling begun in 1990 — students in the PACE program spend 51 percent of their school day in the public-school classroom and the other 49 percent being homeschooled. Steele monitors parents' records to make sure everything matches up with requirements. Students in the PACE program take all the usual state and district tests and graduate with Silver High School students, receiving a regular diploma.

Steele is a certified teacher who garnered a master's degree in educational leadership to help equip her for her duties with PACE — which include roles as principal, school counselor and administrator, as well as classroom teacher. The program has had as many as 50 students in a year; a couple dozen are enrolled this fall.

"Some families come in and out," Steele says, explaining the rhythm of students who've come into PACE for a year or two, then gone back into public education full time and maybe later returned to PACE. "I have a lot of respect for those parents. They are making active decisions based on the specific needs of their children."

 

Though it is still summer and school is most definitely not in session, four women on the PACE program's curriculum committee have gathered at the school for a "working lunch." One woman has just arrived with containers of Chinese take-out food, eliciting happy moans from the group. Another is pulling together stacks of materials on a side table. Still another tells her daughter that she can hang out with Flopper, the "school dog," and do some of her summer reading.

These part-time homeschooling parents appreciate the flexibility Steele describes. They are making year-by-year decisions regarding their own children's education.

"I had all three of mine in PACE at one time," says Beth Reese, who also serves as the PACE program's "time keeper." She makes sure children spend their requisite amount of time in the public-school classroom and that parents put in a certain number of hours assisting the program — by teaching classes, doing projects with the children, or helping out in some other fashion.

"My two boys were struggling in public school and started falling behind," Reese says. One son was not challenged enough and became bored with school; the other boy needed more individualized attention, but was not getting the help he needed in the large classroom format. She enrolled her children in PACE and picked up the part-time homeschooling responsibilities herself. Reese says her children responded to the change right away — paying better attention, learning their lessons and getting back to their grade levels.

"It was perfect to meet the needs of my children," she says. Her daughter, the only one still of school age, now is in the eighth grade and thriving in the PACE program, she says.

Karen Morant, a single mother also on the curriculum committee, says the PACE program is perfect for her son Matthew. He benefits from small classes and lots of individualized attention, she says.

"This is our third year in PACE, and he's now into third grade," she says, then adds with a smile, "in most subjects."

Michelle Ryan, PACE program president and parent liaison, emphasizes Morant's point. "That's a real advantage of the program," she says. "Kids don't have to be on the exact same grade level in every subject. It's flexible, and we work with our children where they are. We can give extra help where it's needed and we can accelerate in other areas where the learning is easier for them." She describes her own daughter, now in her eighth year with PACE, as "somewhere between eighth and ninth grade."

Homeschooling in New Mexico

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) lists state-by-state guidelines for parents and/or guardians who are interested in homeschooling their children. In the state of New Mexico, homeschooling is defined as "the operation by the parent/guardian of a school-age person of a home study program of instruction that provides a basic academic educational program."

Who can homeschool: The teacher (parent or guardian) must possess at least a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Compulsory attendance ages: Children at least five years of age prior to 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 1 of the regular school year to "the age of majority" (unless the person has graduated from high school) must attend some form of schooling. With consent of the parents, the superintendent may excuse children under eight years of age from compulsory attendance.

Required subjects: Study must include, but is not limited to, reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science.

Legal notification: The parent/guardian must file a letter of intent with the state superintendent within 30 days of the establishment of the homeschool and by April 1 of each subsequent year. The April 1 notice must identify the school district. New Mexico homeschoolers are under no legal obligation to notify their local school district that they are homeschooling. Families receiving public assistance, however, may need to notify their district in order to continue to receive public aid.

Immunization: Parent/guardian must maintain childhood disease immunization records (or else secure a waiver based on religious objection).

Testing requirements: None. In 2001, the New Mexico legislature enacted SB 374, which specifically repealed standardized testing requirements for homeschoolers. Students who wish to go on to most colleges will need to take and pass the GED.

Homeschooling resources:

Homeschooling in New Mexico: www.hslda.org/hs/state/NM

Basic info and starting points: www.homeschool.com, www.thehomeschoolmom.com

Practical advice for new homeschoolers: homeschoolcentral.com/new.htm

Christian Home Educators Support System (CHESS), Silver City, 538-0336

Parent and Child Education (PACE), Silver City, 956-2115, 313-3693

Mary Hancock, who also works as the PACE program's secretary, has her son in the program, doing homeschooling half-time, while her daughter — the one doing her summer reading in the other room with Flopper the dog — is a full-time public-school student. "Public school is working for her. My son needs smaller classes," she says. After having entered PACE four years ago while in the fifth grade, Hancock's son now is fully at the eighth-grade level, she says.

All four women are certified as substitute teachers in the state of New Mexico so they can help out with classroom teaching duties, covering for coordinator and teacher Debbie Steele. And while they agree that homeschooling is not for every family, the split option PACE provides might make it feasible for some who would otherwise not try it.

"It's a challenge to stay disciplined and keep on track," Hancock says. "But when you've this other structure as part of your routine, with deadlines and time-keeping, well, it helps you keep on schedule."

"Yes, it's the best of both worlds," Morant says, nodding.

Reese puts in, "The difference is we're not alone here. We're not on our own."

Karen Morant takes an armload of books out of a huge cardboard carton and splays them on the conference table. She is particularly excited about one new line of materials in this latest shipment.

"We're here to sort curriculum today," Reese explains. The books and materials Morant is unloading onto the table will be sorted and categorized, then made available to PACE's homeschooling families for the coming school year. This is another benefit to participating in the PACE program, coordinator Steele says. Most homeschoolers, after all, have to research, choose, source and buy out of their own pockets all of their children's books and educational materials.

"It can be a huge expense, and you can make mistakes, too," Steele says. Having accredited materials selected and available — at no cost — takes another obstacle out of the way of potential homeschoolers. These are all public-school educational materials, but parents in the PACE program may use other or additional materials approved by Steele.

 

Specialized curriculum is especially important to Margie Gray, who has been homeschooling for 19 years. She graduated her oldest four children and currently teaches Audrey, her daughter entering eighth grade, and Zachary, her youngest, going into third grade. Gray has given all her children a Christian-based education, and she self-publishes a whole catalog of Christian-oriented homeschooling resources — books, test materials and more — resources that she's selected, anthologized and sometimes written herself.

Gray has been running her book business for the past 14 years, selling retail and wholesale to groups and individuals. She has 2,000 books printed up at a time and has huge boxes of them stored at her house near Silver City, ready to ship out and fill orders that come through the Internet, by phone and word of mouth.

Though the catalog is titled "Cadron Creek Christian Curriculum," and a note on the front says it "provides parents and teachers with sound academic materials for training in scholarship and godliness," Gray says of the materials she uses, "They're not all Christian, but they are all based in a positive view."

She describes her approach to homeschooling as a combination of un-schooling, textbook method and literature-based unit study, an interdisciplinary approach that integrates lessons in math, science, history and more through the reading of stories with accompanying experiential lessons. Gray gives an example from one of her own books, The Prairie Primer, a literature-based "unit study" for grades 3-6, based on the Little House on the Prairie series. While reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, students get history lessons by learning about the American frontier, discovering that "Pa and Caroline were married in the year Abe Lincoln was elected president," according to the curriculum catalog.

Additionally, there are related materials. The Little House Cookbook promises to teach history and cooking simultaneously. The My Little House Crafts Book weaves historical and cultural lessons into instruction in weaving and other handicrafts.

"The experiential sessions aid lesson retention," Gray says. "They get their hands into the projects and learn real, tangible things. These are practical, real-life lessons."

Learning is a natural experience, Gray insists, so pretty much everything that comes up in the course of a day provides her with an opportunity to teach. In fact, she has just been talking with her young teenage daughter about intelligent use of finance, helping her decide if she should apply for a certain credit card so the young woman can buy things over the Internet without having to borrow mama's card.

"It's her decision, but I'm trying to help her make the right one," Gray says. "She's looking at all these supposed benefits that come with the card, but I showed her how you ultimately pay even more for those things with a higher interest rate."

No sooner has the teen daughter gone off to do some errands than Gray's third-grader, Zachary, comes to the kitchen table, obviously with a request of some sort. The boy stands patiently while his mother finishes a sentence. She then turns to him and asks what he wants.

As if on cue to prove Gray's point about "teaching moments," he asks, "How do you spell 'megatron'?"

Instead of spelling it for him, Gray pauses and gets a thoughtful look.

"I think you already know how to spell it," she says. When the boy protests, says he's never even seen the word before, she says, "Let's see if we can figure it out by the way it sounds."

Evidently an adequate dose of phonics has been taught in the Gray homeschool, as Zachary correctly fathoms the right letters and writes "megatron" on a piece of paper. He goes back to his drawing — obviously involving some sort of robotic theme — in the other room.

"That's another benefit to homeschooling," his mother points out. "The information is not just handed to them to memorize. My kids are used to learning independently and figuring things out." She says she feels that the peer pressure in a public-school classroom discourages children from asking questions — for fear of being thought "stupid" — whereas her own children ask a lot of questions.

 

Gray is very forthcoming and informative about homeschooling as a whole. With her undeniable wealth of experience — teaching all six of her own children and as a member of a local Christian homeschooling group, the Christian Home Educators Support System or CHESS — she's able to compile a pretty comprehensive list of all the reasons parents choose this option.

Many prize the schedule flexibility, she says, teaching three days a week throughout the entire year or standard six-hour days, five days a week, following a "regular school year."

She adds, "My family is not tied to the school calendar. We can take our vacations whenever we want."

On the question of whether homeschooled children get adequate socialization, she laughs and replies, "That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? I mean, that's what everybody looks at and wants to know!"

In fact she thinks that homeschooling provides superior socialization opportunities. "Is it normal to sit all day in a room with 20 or even 30 other people your exact same age?" she asks, referencing the traditional public-school setting. She argues that her children "really know each other" from all their years of nearly 24-hour interaction. As far as dealing with the world at large, she says, her children can socialize with people of all ages, a grace gained from proper behavior in public settings like restaurants and grocery stores. "They behave quite maturely."

Then there's the support Christian homeschooling parents get from the CHESS association. The group can go on field trips together, and gets admission to special school events provided by the Mimbres Region Arts Council. CHESS also contracts with special instructors for subjects like language, art and writing.

Gray decided to homeschool her children when her first child was only six months old. She read Better Late Than Early, a seminal book on homeschooling by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. The Moores' premise is that "deliberate" teaching should not begin until eight years of age, when children become ready to be educated.

"It was very influential," she says.

Gray says curriculum choice was a big factor in her decision to homeschool. "Especially when it comes to science. I want my children to learn from a creation-based model, not an evolutionary one," she says. "When you look at how the earth really is, that's important."

Her assumption is that the theory of evolution taught in public schools — and which forms the foundation of much of modern biology — is incorrect, despite the near-universal endorsement of the global scientific community. That leads her into thoughts on the earth's timeline, and how evolution-based science starts with a whole different premise: "You can come up with better solutions, to global warming, for example, if your timeline is correct."

While choosing a Christian-oriented curriculum for her children, Gray insists she keeps their minds open and exposes them to other points of view. Part of her curriculum, after all, includes local and world news, gleaned from regular newspapers and selective television viewing. But her curriculum does not, for example, include Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species.

As for parents who might be on the fence about homeschooling, fearing they don't know enough to teach their children effectively, Gray says it's important to start when the child is young.

"We all have gaps in our knowledge," she acknowledges. "But with homeschooling, the parent learns along with the child sometimes." Gaps can also be filled by tutors and other homeschooling parents, she adds. "Something I don't know, my daughter's friend's mom may know, so she can teach it."

An ardent advocate of homeschooling — happy to let her own children stand as testimony to her efficacy as a teacher — Gray nonetheless admits it isn't for everyone. "Some shouldn't do it," she says. "I hate to say it, but some people just don't enjoy their children enough to be around them this much."

 

Silver City area parents Ron and Rebekah Green, homeschooling their three children ages three to nine, count on their strong marriage and God-centered life to help them weather the special demands of homeschooling.

"Our family is not 'child-centered,'" Rebekah says. "It is focused on our relationship with God, and this is the basis of our children's education."

When asked how she decided to homeschool, she answers without skipping a beat, "God told me I should homeschool." She adds that she knew people in her church who were homeschooling, that she found it was a popular choice in other parts of the world, and that the plethora of good resources — yes, Christian-oriented curricula in particular — made her feel confident about taking on her children's education.

Ron Green describes his role in his children's education as principal, disciplinarian and gym teacher. "This does take discipline," he says. "If you slack off because you're unsure of yourself, I think you can harm your child." The discipline needed for effective homeschooling, he adds, "is a great family structure as well. I think that's something lacking in our society these days."

Although Ron regularly reads with the children, and provides his wife with some child-free "time to decompress" when he gets home from work, Rebekah does most of the school-day instruction.

"Everything I teach is based on the Bible. It is ancient history," she says. As for other materials she buys through textbook publishers, she says, "We talk about the characters in books, the choices they make, whether these are moral people.

"In public-school education, a lot comes down to someone's opinion. The education I am giving my children is based on the word of God," she adds.

Though she says the family plans to homeschool again this fall, and will reassess that decision annually, their first year was "a huge success" and benefited all three children. Nine-year-old Mullin has grown socially, his mom says, and gets along with a broader range of people than he did before. Kindergartener Claira, who reads on a second- to third-grade level, can accelerate in that area and not be bored or held back as she might in a public-school classroom. And pre-schooler Lindsey just loves to have her family around all the time, and is learning to respect other's schedules.

"She knows that when I'm teaching her brother and sister, it is time for her to play quietly in another area so we can concentrate," Rebekah says.

Associating with the CHESS group also is of great value, she adds. "And you can be as involved with it as you want to be." Acknowledging concerns over that big bugaboo — socialization — Rebekah says she appreciates CHESS' opportunities for group outings and especially the chance for her children to socialize with other Christian families.

 

In Gila, a group of about a half-dozen homeschooling families also gains support from association with the like-minded. Samira Johnson, who homeschools her seven-year-old son Isaac Fuegi, says the Gila Valley Homeschool Cooperative started as a play-group, a way for the kids to get together in the rural community. As the children got into their school-age years, the play-group became a support system for the families who all were homeschooling independently.

"We all do our own thing, but we get together and support each other and share resources," she says. The group meets at the Gila Community Center's tennis courts for regular tennis lessons, part of the children's physical education, she explains. The families also meet at the local library for special educational presentations by subject-area experts. The children once enjoyed a visit from the local fire truck and learned all about safety. Other scheduled guest speakers include an owl expert, a computer whiz, a maker of musical instruments and someone who plans to teach how to dye yarn.

The children have also been participating in the local library's summer reading program. And on group outings, the children have visited a beekeeper, the Catwalk and a biology class at Western New Mexico University. Several overnight camping trips aimed to get the children in touch with the natural world.

Fresh from their lesson on the tennis courts, nine children of varying ages swarm around the covered picnic tables, where a natural-foods feast has been set up by three of the mothers.

Johnson laughs and says, "And it's also just nice for them to all be able to play together like this, and we make sure they learn about good eating and nutrition by only putting out things like this."

Each of the mothers is open about her method of homeschooling instruction. One says she's an un-schooler, another says her kids get a Christian-based curriculum. Another uses some textbooks.

"We come from a wide variety of backgrounds," Johnson says, "but the place we meet is in respect for each other. That's our common ground."

Asked if they've chosen to homeschool because of a perceived lack in the public-school system, to a parent they insist "no" — this isn't about flaws in the public-school system, they just want to give their children the education that's best for them.

 

Out in Glenwood, however, homeschooling parents Jim and Nancy Coates are willing to point a finger at perceived shortcomings in the public schools. Having been disappointed in the quality of education their three sons received "in a relatively good school system" in Montana, the Coateses chose to homeschool their daughter, Milagre, from kindergarten on. The fact that both parents work from home made the homeschooling option possible, they say. And after checking out the tiny public school in Glenwood and talking with Milagre's potential teachers, the Coateses decided homeschooling would be the best choice for their daughter.

They investigated some homeschooling support groups, but Nancy says none of those options worked out as being right for them. And so she explored catalogs, Internet resources and the local library, putting together the materials she felt would give her daughter a solid education.

"I found a very cheap and basic curriculum that I started with. I did not follow it very strictly, but it gave me a great foundation," Nancy says. She added workbooks, other texts and CDs to round out the collection of educational materials. She chose the Saxon math program, prized by many homeschoolers, and McDougle-Littell's integrated curriculum for language arts, sciences and social studies. That's especially valuable now that Milagre is in junior high, she adds. Classical and award-winning literature makes up the bulk of the reading program, and Milagre uses the Rosetta Stone computer program to learn Spanish.

"I taught K-6 on my own," Nancy says. "Jim has started teaching part of the material since Milagre entered seventh grade. She is halfway through seventh grade now."

Both parents say there are plusses and minuses to homeschooling. Having to pay school taxes and then buy all their daughter's educational materials is a little onerous, they say, but an expense they accept in order to have the other benefits of homeschooling. They list as plusses the flexibility it affords them as a family, and the feeling that, in contrast to her brothers, Milagre is getting all the basics. They list "being perceived as different" as a disadvantage of homeschooling, along with limited socialization opportunities. But they also acknowledge that, given their family culture, Milagre might not find much in common with her potential public-school classmates in Catron County anyway.

And they admit upfront that there are, well, trying aspects of having to be both teacher and parent to your child.

"Teaching your own kid can be very, very, very frustrating at times," Nancy says. "Milagre and I have had more power-struggle issues than she and Jim. I think it is a mother/daughter thing."

Though they feel they have been successful in educating their daughter from home, Jim and Nancy Coates do express some concerns over just how easy it is to homeschool in New Mexico.

Jim says, "Requirements for home schooling in New Mexico are not stringent enough, in my opinion. All that is required is an online application, renewable annually, a high school diploma or GED for the teaching parent, and immunization records. This leaves a very wide gap in the educational foundation that homeschool students might receive. I think testing should be an integral part of the homeschool requirements."

Nancy concurs, saying, "I do think there needs to be some accountability of what is happening in homeschool situations. It is not fair for a child not to be learning at a reasonable pace."

Those concerns aside, the Coateses say they are glad they're homeschooling Milagre and that they plan to continue doing so, especially under their current circumstances in Glenwood.

"It is what you make it, and each kid and family is different," Nancy says. "What works for some will definitely not work for others, and what works now isn't necessarily going to in a month or year, so there is no prescription."

It seems to be every homeschooling parent's mantra: You do what you think is best for your kid. But, after all, isn't that what every parent wants?

 

Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure and is the product of the public-school system.

 

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