2017-08-13 / Insight

Home SCHOOL alternative

Though not for everyone, growing number choosing non-traditional approach to learning
810-452-2601 •

LAPEER COUNTY — Homeschooling is a choice with a far-reaching impact on the lives of many, from the child to the parents to the community. It’s a choice that is made for a variety of different reasons: religion, cultural differences, the desire to avoid the “clique” nature of schooling and many others — but each family that chooses to homeschool their child or children shares similarities with each other.

Amy Simko of Oxford noticed those similarities and formed an organization for families in the Oakland, Lapeer and Genesee county areas choosing to homeschool to share information, tips and activities with each other in a non-judgmental, safe place, and soon Simko realized exactly how many homeschooling families there are in the area.

According to research, there are more than 2 million school-aged children that are currently home-educated in the United States. Simko’s group on Facebook, called “Oakland/Lapeer/ Genesee County Homeschool Moms,” features more than 220 members, and an estimated 45 percent of those families live in Lapeer County. The group is open to students from age 3 to 18, and Simko said that even as students age out and graduate, many choose to stay around to help with younger students.

Simko herself has chosen to homeschool her 10-year-old son, and said there are more reasons she’s chosen to do so than she can count. “I have a long list of reasons why we homeschool,” she said. Simko said her son is both gifted and has special needs, and his situation required more focused attention than she felt public schools were able to give. “He was already well ahead in kindergarten,” she said, citing boredom that came from not being adequately challenged. “Also, his special needs would make it difficult for him to be able to succeed in a school environment.”

Simko said that while her choice to homeschool was based on her son’s unique needs, each member of her network chose to homeschool for nearly as many reasons as there are members themselves. One of the fears that many parents considering homeschooling share, however, is their child not having the opportunity to enjoy the “traditional” school experiences.

“One of the things that always comes up is that they’re worried that their child will miss out on things like sports or prom and all that,” she said. “That’s laughable. There are so many opportunities for homeschool kids, especially around here.”

The Oakland/Lapeer/Genesee area, said Simko, enjoys the largest population of homeschool students in the country, thanks in part to Michigan’s “lenient” laws governing the subject. Michigan does not currently require homeschooling families to register as such, and thus families are not required to submit testing or curriculum materials. “We’re quite lucky in Michigan, the laws here are among the most favorable.”

The lack of legally-required registration makes it difficult to know exactly how many families in the state, and specifically in the Lapeer area, are choosing to homeschool, but Simko said the appeal of the lifestyle is growing in popularity. Describing a typical day for her son, Simko said time was spent “with piano lessons, a group Spanish lesson with a Spanish teacher, an individual playdate with another homeschool student and more — it’s a very busy lifestyle if you choose it to be.”

Simko said she started the group, in part, because of the lack of homeschool support in the area. Formerly she was required to utilize services in Troy or West Bloomfield. “That’s why I started the Oxford Homeschool Group,” she said. Since then, it’s grown considerably. Her network exists to support one another on all things homeschooling, and they often come together for various educational activities for their students, from STEM days to field-trips. “We get together in person regularly, usually at libraries,” she said. “We’ve done just about everything you can think of.”

The libraries of the area play a key part in the day-to-day activity planning of groups like Simko’s. The public spaces provide a free area to congregate and enjoy structured group lessons. “One of the great things we do is plan free activities that low-income families can take advantage of to pursue the homeschool lifestyle,” she said. “We spend a lot of time at the libraries, a lot of them now carry curriculum materials that we can use for free.”

Because of the myriad number of reasons a family may choose to homeschool, Simko said a risk of homeschool networks is the group fracturing into the very cliques that many families want to avoid in a typical school environment. But Simko’s group does not hold bias against each other based on various reasons like religion or wealth disparity. “We don’t belittle and we’re all-inclusive,” she said. “I’ve been shocked that everyone has been so wonderful to each other.”

Simko is hard at work planning the next big group activity for the families in her network — a “DNA Day” on Oct. 6, where students will get to see visual representations of their own DNA while learning about the science of genetics.

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