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More area families try home schooling
A variety of textbooks sits on the table at the Stewart residence Monday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Although the Stewart family tried to send their oldest son to public school, they decided to pull the plug on the venture when Cason reached third grade.

"We chose to home-school for a number of reasons. First, I had a burning desire to keep my children safe spiritually, physically and emotionally," said Kellie Stewart, a Flowery Branch resident who has been home schooling her four children for the past nine years.

"I think that the public schools do about as well as they can under the circumstances. There are great teachers, but there are also teachers who do not have a love for their craft or for their students."

Stewart says the decision to remove her oldest son, Cason, from public school also was made because of the wasted academic opportunities.

"When my child started public school in kindergarten, it bothered me that he was being taught things he already knew well for at least the first half of the school year," said Stewart. "I realize that in a public or private school with a room full of students, this is a necessary part of the plan. However, it is not a good plan for each individual student. For my son, it was wasted time."

While most parents do not choose to home-school their students, home schooling is still a very viable option for many Jackson and Hall County families.

"We have around 250 families who choose to home-school their students," said Tracey Oxley, a Jackson County Schools social worker who is the system’s home- school coordinator.

"(Home-school participation) grows every year. Last year, we had many families decide mid-school year (to home-school their children)."

Oxley says there are many reasons why parents may choose to home-school their children — from low child performance in traditional school settings to student participation in competitive sports or performing arts.

"I chose home-school first and foremost because of the values that I want instilled in my child," said Karen Holston, a member of the Jackson Christian Home Educators organization. "We are Christians, and I want those values to be a central part of his education."

"I started home schooling my son when he was 3 years old and he is now 9. The idea is to continue home-school until he graduates from high school."

Although Holston herself is a product of public schools, she says that home schooling is the preferred academic choice for her son.

"I’m not anti-public school; this is just the path that the Lord has led me down with my child," she said.

Having a home life that was centered around the traditional school calendar also was another reason why Stewart says she chose to educate her children, who range in age from 6 to 16, at home.

"When placing our child in the public school arena, we immediately felt displaced. It was as if he was no longer ours. The school officials made decisions for him for most of his daily waking hours, but also for how our family time would be used," Stewart said.

"He had homework, again a necessary part of public and private school. However it leads to a breakdown in familial relationships; kids are so busy with homework they don’t have time to spend with parents and siblings in the evenings and even on the weekends."

Stewart’s oldest son, Cason, is the only one of her three children to have ever experienced public school. Although he doesn’t have the traditional guidance counselors to help him map out his future, Cason, who is on schedule to graduate next school year, says that he knows exactly what he wants to do post-graduation.

"After I graduate I want to go to Gainesville State College to build up some credits and then transfer to Georgia Tech and major in mechanical engineering," said 16-year-old Cason Stewart.

As economic times worsen, some Hall County school officials say that the number of home-schooled students tends to increase.

"Last year we had around 850 home-schooled students, this year we have 976 home-schooled students from 585 different families," said Jim Sargent, Hall County school system director of student services.

"It is a trend that we’ve been seeing that as the economy worsens, more students are being homeschooled. It could be for a number of reasons — older students being kept home so they can go out to work to help support the family or to take care of younger siblings to cut down on child care costs."

Some opponents to home schooling say that children suffer in the process because they don’t have the opportunity to interact with other children, but supporters of the process say that home-school associations and other groups allow children to have that interactive opportunity.

"My child is with other kids at least five days out of the week," Holston said. "Not only does he get to interact with other children, but I get to choose healthy interactions for him. Not all interactions are good ones."

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