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A View From Home

by Cyndy Rodgers

Hello my name is Cyndy Rodgers and this, A View from Home, is a collection of news stories from the homeschool world. I also include my observations on this community that I joined when I decided to homeschool my son, three years ago. These news stories go beyond the typical "why" or "how" we homeschool. Included here is the latest news in legislation affecting homeschoolers and a calendar of events nationwide. If you have a news story for this column please send it by e-mail or US Mail, to The Link, Attn: A View from Home.

Many of the stories here are meant to inspire you. They are about the people who see learning as an adventure and make the most of every day. These are stories not just about people providing learning opportunities for children, but also about people making a difference in the world. Here are just a few of the stories from outside my window…

Recently I got to thinking about the saying "If you want something done correctly, then it’s best to do it yourself." This saying has never had more meaning than when it relates to a family who homeschools. I am not just talking about the fact that parents have taken on the enormous task of personally educating their child. Rather it’s their ability to see a need that must be met and their unwavering attempt to fulfill that need.

Take this news story from the state of Indiana. Dennis Angel, a home schooling dad, fought the Indiana Area School District for almost 5 months. He wanted to give his son, Philip, the opportunity to play hockey in the school program. The school district had an all-or-nothing policy, stating that only students enrolled in the district could participate in extracurricular activities. Finally last Fall, the board voted to allow Philip to try out for the team. Angel said, "We just feel really good about how this worked out." Angel’s challenge to the board is now helping others. Beginning this semester the district’s sports and academic programs will be open to other homeschooled students!

Another example of a parent who not only created a learning opportunity and solved a problem, but also reached out into the community to make a difference is homeschooling mom, Ginny Grady, from Southern California. Grady’s second-grade daughter was brand new to homeschooling and needed to meet new friends. Recognizing her daughter’s need to belong to a group of girls her own age, Grady decided to start a Brownie Troop within her homeschooling community. She organized, and now leads, the group of ten girls ages 6 to 9 years, twice a month. Together with a couple of other moms and Annie, a 12 year-old assistant leader counselor, they do a variety of activities that are educational. Annie was doing an independent study in Girl Scouts. When Grady discovered this, she asked Annie to join the group. Grady explained, "I know the true experience of scouting is the camaraderie; you need the group experience to really get the most out of being in Girl Scouts." She says Annie loves helping the other girls and they love having her.

The group had a "China Day" where they learned about that country, and its history, including how to make paper. Other activities include growing plants from seed and setting up their own pretend shops to help develop math and science skills. Grady, once a Den leader when her son was in Cub Scouts, saw the learning in Scouting as very natural and fun. "I remember when we were in public school saying ‘Why can’t learning be more like this?’ The kids don’t even realize they are learning physics or math they are just having fun." says, Grady. This is the philosophy she uses to plan her Brownie meetings. "I like to think of Brownies as being a part of homeschooling," she says.

Currently, the girls are developing an Ellis Island project. Each girl will study and develop a character from one of the many countries that emigrated to America. The first step is to build a Statue of Liberty for their island. "I want them to have a strong visual cue of where Ellis Island is," says Grady "They all know the Statue of Liberty is in New York."

Parents like Ginny Grady and others have not just created wonderful learning opportunities for their children and their friends, but what strikes me as more inspiring, is that this message that you can make a difference is getting translated to the children. For example, while attending a local park day event, I met 9- year-old Savvy Pletcher. Savvy is a four-foot, petite homeschooled little dynamo with a problem. The park district had recently removed her favorite hanging apparatus – a set of chin-up bars. Disappointed, she went to the park office to investigate and they told her it was a part of a renovation plan and there were no plans to reinstall the bars. Taking a cue from what the adults around her had instilled, she picked up her journal and began asking all the adults around her to sign a petition. She plans to use the list of signatures to persuade the Park & Recreation Board to reinstall the bars.

I watched as Savvy approached each adult pleading her case. She was inspiring as she asked, "Would you sign my petition?". Surprisingly, she hit some snags. Some of the adults said they would not sign the petition because they felt the apparatus was unsafe in its original location, next to the sidewalk and mounted in the grass. They agreed with the park district’s decision to remove the bars.

Savvy was not deterred. She walked away for a moment and gave some thought to the adults’ concerns. She gathered a few of her friends and they discussed it. Later that afternoon she returned to the adults who had declined to sign, with a new plan. "Would you sign my petition?" she inquired "I want the Park to bring the bars back, but place them over in a corner of the playground so they will be safer.". Her request that the bars be returned, but in a new location persuaded parents who had declined her previously and they signed her petition.

Armed with her new plan and a list of 50 signatures, Savvy called the Department of Parks & Recreation to find out when the next meeting was scheduled. This wouldn’t be her first encounter with Parks and Recreation. Her mother, Andy, had taken her to a meeting many months prior as a civics lesson. Pletcher supported a plan for a dog park that some of the local neighbors opposed and wanted to show her daughter how government works.

"I took her along to see how civic government works. "When you see something you don’t like you don’t just stamp your foot and cry." says Pletcher "Going to these meetings and letting your voice be heard is part of getting change," she continued. The dog park is now a popular part of the community.

On this afternoon Savvy talked to secretary after secretary hoping to persuade them to rethink removing the chin-up bars. Her call ended with an appointment to speak at the next meeting. She then received a surprise phone call: The Senior Park Planner called to talk to Savvy. He had heard about her petition. He explained about many of the rules and guidelines he faced when selecting playground equipment. The Planner told her that the city was waiting for some funds to continue replacing the park equipment, but in the meantime, he wanted to meet with Savvy and her friends to get their input on what kinds of equipment they would like to see added to the park. His department was particularly interested in the opinions of kids her age because they were looking for ways to help build upper body strength in older elementary age children. Savvy now has someone in charge listening to her concerns!

Will the Park reinstall the chin-up bars? Will Savvy be successful? I know dealing with a city government agency will not be easy, but for this little girl impossible seems to be spelled I… m…possible.

As an adult watching our youth take on the problems of the world, I am comforted by what I see. Take the example of 10-year-old Paulina Wagner. Her mother Donna, as part of the family’s religious values has always stressed the need to help others. Paulina, the oldest of four children, has taken her mother’s message far beyond what most could imagine. She has established her own fund-raising foundation called "WE NEED CHANGE". It all started two years ago while studying the California missions. On a field trip to one of the missions, Paulina and her mother met Sister Mary Joseph who told them about an inter-dominational organization called "Families to Families" They provide meals for homeless families in Ventura County, California. Paulina volunteered to serve food and found it very rewarding. In fact she approached her mother with the idea of establishing "WE NEED CHANGE". Her plan was to get anybody and everybody who would listen to her plea, to give her whatever loose change they could spare. She would then turn the money over to Families to Families to help them feed the homeless. She was very persuasive because she collected about $170 for the charity. This experience sparked a desire to continue to help others. A few months later, on September 11th Paulina Wagner immediately saw where "WE NEED CHANGE" was needed next.

Again, she began asking for change. She went door to door in her neighborhood. At one door she met Manzar Amini, the founder of "Universal Love Foundation" an organization that raises money for single, working mothers. Amini invited Paulina and her mom to attend a luncheon at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel. Paulina, the only child in the room, spoke to a crowd of 80 about the need to raise funds for the widows from the 9-11 tragedy. This garnered more attention to her cause. A local newspaper did a story on her fund-raising, attracting the attention of a local store owner who had created U.S. Flag pins to raise money for the September 11th victims. She called Paulina wanting to give her donations to "WE NEED CHANGE". To date, the final tally is unknown, but Paulina, on her own, has raised about $250 from her door-to-door efforts. A reporter from the New York Times has contacted her and is helping her get the money to the right organization. So is Paulina finished with her project? "No way!" she’ll tell you. Her new plan is for a web page so "WE NEED CHANGE" will have a permanent home. Her latest plan is to keep her eyes on the world around her and when she sees a need, "WE NEED CHANGE" will be there to help.

From outside my window, the world has promise. I am challenged to be my best because more is possible. Every one of these stories had an easier, less time-consuming answer. Dennis Angel could have just taken "No" for an answer and looked for another place for his son to play hockey. Ginny Grady could have just invited other children over occasionally for play dates. Savvy could have felt powerless to change this public place and just played elsewhere and Paulina could have turned away thinking "What can I a little girl do?" They will all tell you doing anything differently just wasn’t an option because "If you want something done correctly, then it’s best to do it yourself."!

In other news, before breaking for the Christmas holiday, the Senate passed the final version of President Bush’s Education Initiative, H.R.1 by an 87-10 vote. The final bill contains protections for homeschoolers by specifically stating: "None of the provisions contained therein should be interpreted as applying to home schooling."

The bill, which authorizes $26.5 billion for elementary and secondary education provides more flexibility of funds for states and school districts, expands parent choice, and promotes charter schools. H.R.1 includes prohibitions on the development of a national test, restrictions on the use of federal funds to develop any national curriculum, prohibitions on a national database, restrictions on federal teacher certifications and the repeal of the Goals 2000 program.

The bill also specifies that annual reading and math tests for all students in grades three through eight would tell states which schools are effective. Those with persistently low-test scores would have to give some of their federal aid to students for tutoring or transportation to another public school. More aid would flow to schools whose scores don't improve for two years in a row, but if scores don't improve afterward, a school's staff could be changed.

States and school districts also would get more freedom over how they spend federal dollars, but they'd be required to send annual "report cards" showing a school's standardized test scores compared to others locally and statewide.

Other pending bills that could affect homeschooling families are: S. 1662. January 18th it is referred to the Senate Finance committee. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Hutchinson, amends the I.R.S. code of 1986 to allow Coverdell Educational Savings Accounts to be used for homeschooling expenses. Bill H.R. 257, sponsored by Rep. Eric Cantor, is set to amend the I.R.S. code of 1986, to allow for a credit against income tax for educational expenses. The latest action, January 30, referred the bill to the House Ways & Means committee.

Calendar of Events:

Alabama July 12-13 Annual Home Education Conference - Montgomery Civic Center for more info www.alhome.com

Arizona June 28-29 State Home school convention and curriculum fair - More info www.afhe.org

Florida May 23-25 Orlando Florida The Gaylord Palms Orlando Hotel - Sponsored by Florida Parent education Association; for more info contact www.fpea.com or 877-ask-fpea

Georgia April 26-27 16th Annual GHEA Home Education Conference and Curriculum Fair - For more info (770) 461-3657 or www.ghea.org

Iowa June 14-15 2002 Home Education Conference, First Federated Church, 4801 Franklin Ave, Des Moines - For more info 800-723-0438

New York May 30-June 1 LEAH Convention - on Center War memorial Complex. For more info www.leah.org

Massachusetts April 26-27, 13th Annual Mass HOPE convention - For more info (508) 755-4467 or www.MassHOPE.org

Texas April 19-20 Texas Home school Coalition Convention and Family Conference - George R. Brown Convention center. For more info www.THSC.org

Washington June 14-15th WHO 17th Annual State Convention, Puyallup, WA - For more info www.washhomeschool.org

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