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Homeschool News

by Cyndy Rodgers, The Link staff writer

Homeschoolers Shine Again At Spelling Bee Nationals in Washington, DC

Students educated at home again lead the pack when it comes to the nationís academic competitions. Case in point: The 78th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Washington, DC, Wednesday, June 1, and Thursday, June 2, 2005. This yearís competition, which highlighted the talents of 273 of the nationís best spellers, ranging in age from 9 to 14 years, included a whopping 12% who are homeschooled. One of the most notable was Samir Patel, age 11, who battled through 15 rounds to emerge in second place. This was the Colleyville Texanís third year trying for the 20-pound engraved cup and $28,000 in prizes and scholarships.

Another homeschooler, Justin Stewart, 11, from Dewey, OK, was eliminated in the fifth round on a word he had never heard before. After successfully spelling "consecratedí (made sacred or holy) and "intracutaneousí (within the skin) he was knocked out by the word "sapphic" (meaning of or pertaining to homosexuality among women).

Annabelle Stewart, Justinís mom, remarked, "The whole reason we pulled him out of public school in the first place is so he wouldnít be exposed to a filthy word like that."

Mrs. Stewart and other homeschool contestant parents have asked the Home School Defense League to assist them in a legal action to have words previewed by a parent group.

Patel and Stewart, along with fellow homeschoolers Katie Hulmich, 10, from MI; Holy Hamer, 10, from IL; Amanda Storch, 11, from TN and Tia Natasha Elizabeth-Thomas, 10, Derek Comley, 11, and Kendra Yoshinaga age 11 -- all from California -- were among the 34 homeschoolers who stood for hours spelling many of the 950 words from Websterís Third Edition New International Dictionary and its Addenda section.

Yoshinaga, who made her debut in 2004 as the youngest participant and ranked 27th that year, went on to write a book titled The Spelling Bee and Me; An Adventure. Patel starred in a documentary titled "Spellbound", now out on DVD. The National Spelling Bee has also inspired a musical currently running on Broadway, and two yet-to-be-released films.

Homeschooler Nathaniel Cornelius Wins National Geographic Geography Bee

Spelling isnít the only subject in which homeschooled students are showing proficiency. On May 25, 2005, Nathaniel Cornelius, 13, from Cottonwood, MN won the National Geographic National Geography Bee winning a $25,000 scholarship and a lifetime membership to The National Geographic Society. The eighth-grader represented Marshall Area Home Educators Association at the competition hosted by "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek. He regains the title for Homeschoolers by answering the question. "Lake Gatun, an artificial lake that constitutes part of the Panama Canal system, was created by damming what river?" Cornelius knew the answer was the Charles River. He studied The National Geographic Desk reference and 2004 bee winner Andrew Wojtanikís book "Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Other homeschooled students won the National Geography Bee also in 2002, and 2003.

Homeschool Families Participate in Great American Gasoline Challenge

Homeschoolers took center stage during the May T.V. sweeps. The week of May 16th, NBCís The Today Show ran a week-long series titled The Great American Gas Challenge. They put three homeschooling families from California in three vehicles: A SUV, a sedan and a hybrid car, and had them drive to New York in six days. Each was given the same amount of cash for entertainment, lodging, food and gasoline. This endeavor, which originated from a survey that found 60% of Americans will alter their vacation plans due to high fuel costs, used a homeschooling website to find families who can pack up and drive across country with a momentís notice.

At the end of the week, the Pletcher family had spent $172.67, averaging 42 miles per gallon in their Honda Civic Hybrid. The Fowlers spent $277 to fill their Ford 500, resulting in a 26 mpg. Of course, as predicted, with only 17 mpg, the Rileys in the Lincoln Navigator spent a whopping $459.27. The difference in fuel budgets put the Rileys in low-budget motels; whereas the Pletchers slept in hotel suites and took a helicopter tour.

The show never mentioned that all the families homeschooled, missing the real question "Will higher fuel costs reduce the number of field trips and classes you will take next school year?" I guess they think we sit at home every day.

Religious Homeschooling Controversy in Richmond, VA

In Richmond, Virginia, District 3 School Board member, Carol A.O. Wolf, has chosen to homeschool her son, claiming a religious exemption. However, according to the state code "A school board can release a student of the obligation to attend school if the student -- Ďtogether with his parentsí by reason of bona fide religious training or belief -- is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school." It continues, "bona fide religious training or belief does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views or merely personal moral code." In other words the school board needs a high standard of proof to give permission for a student to be homeschooled when claiming a religious aversion to school. Whereas, to homeschool in Virginia without citing this reason, only a letter of notification (not permission) is required, with a CAT9 test result sent to the board.

Several years ago Ms. Wolf homeschooled her older son, now a graduate of Richmond Community High School. She says she was unaware of this stipulation that was brought to Chairman Stephen B. Johnsonís attention via an anonymous letter. Wolf, who is a Quaker and belongs to a statewide homeschool advocacy group, said she had "no idea" the state law requires notification to the district. The board will hear her case at the end of June.

Oregon Legislature May Loosen Achievement Tests for Homeschoolers

The Oregon legislature sent a bill to the senate on a 37-22 vote that would eliminate achievement tests for homeschooled students.

Rep. John Dallum-R says, homeschooling parents "have a track record of doing an excellent job . . . many homeschooled students perform better academically than public school pupils."

The new bill requires that to take part in sports or other public school interscholastic programs, students at home must be tested and get a minimum score on a nationally-standardized achievement exam. Currently, all public school students in 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grade are tested in reading and math. For the estimated 20,000 students being taught at home, this eliminates testing entirely, except for those few that participate in public school programs. A similar bill passed the 2003 legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

South Carolina Kills Tax Credit to Private Schoolers

In Columbia, South Carolina, the House voted 60 to 53 to kill Gov. Mark Sanfordís bill that would have given tax credits to families who send their children to private school. Supporters who had witnessed months of debate outside the Senate from parent groups, clergy, civil rights groups and educators, saw the bill die in eleven minutes. Sanford, who had made this proposal a key part of his legislative agenda, said he wanted to take politics out of the education system and replace it with the power of the market.