While Warwick public school students were given the day off for Good Friday, the Rhode Island Homeschool Group ENRICHri gathered at Warwick Public Library to celebrate the opening of their latest art display. The display, which went up on April 1, will stay on display for the next two weeks and features 65 individual art pieces from more than 40 home-schooled children.
“There’s a lot of going and doing stuff with us and a lot less sitting around reading about it,” said Beverley Burgess, ENRICHri’s state coordinator.
“People think of home schooling and they picture kids sitting at their kitchen table reading textbooks. That’s not really the way it is.”
According to the Warwick School Department, there are 114 home school families in Warwick, and ENRICHri estimates more than 2,000 families statewide.
“There are a number of factors that go into the decision to home school,” said Melissa Robb, “because every child is different. Robb home schools her son, Ian.
“You could ask 10 different parents and probably get 10 different answers,” added mother of three Ava Sasa of West Warwick.
Religion, food allergies, learning disabilities and health conditions are just a few of the factors that can make conventional schooling ill-suited for certain students.
“I just didn’t want my son sitting in a brick building for 12 years,” said Robb.
“My eldest son went to public schools until fifth grade,” said Burgess. “Then we pulled him out because it wasn’t right for him. The public school system doesn’t fit for a lot of kids. It’s awfully cookie cutter.”
That certainly isn’t the case with home schooling, where approaches vary from “unschooling,” which simply allows the children to learn by living, to “school at home,” which uses the public school curriculum, only at home.
“My 10-year-old reads and writes at a fifth grade level but is a third grader in terms of math,” said Sasa. “There’s no such thing as a kid that’s completely third grade. Because I home school,l I can accommodate that.”
“Home schooling allows you to go at 100 percent your own pace,” said Robb. “We don’t do the ‘you’re in X grade thing.’”
Home schooling was illegal in Rhode Island until the state commissioner of education ruled that it is the constitutional right to educate one’s children in Payne v. New Shoreham School Department, 1987. The state now guarantees the right to home school. Every municipality has its own interpretation of the law, but in general it is seen as a privacy issue and left at that.
Warwick Assistant Director of Curriculum Anne Siesel expected to see an increase in home school numbers when the district went to more rigid diploma requirements, “but that didn’t happen.”
She said, “Most home-schooled children tend to be very bright kids, and if and when they come back to the public school system, they typically boost our scores.”
The Warwick School Department does require a letter of intent so that the child is accounted for, and prefers to have some kind of curriculum report that can serve as a transcript if and when the child applies to college.
“We really just serve as caretakers of information,” said Siesel. She said many parents choose to home school because of religious beliefs.
“We do have to teach the subject matter that the school board decides upon,” said Burgess. “How we administer it is our decision.”
The curriculum includes reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, civics, English, health and physical education. How it is taught varies among families.
Yet while schools statewide fight budget cuts and struggle to pay teacher salaries, home school students have their school wherever they want it and unique learning techniques constantly open to them. A look at the ENRICHri website, or a visit to their art display at Warwick Public Library, reveals that while this community may be under the radar, it is also one of the state’s most active. The ENRICHri schedule includes everything from karate class and scavenger hunts to Lego day and visits to the John Brown House in Providence; a far cry from a kitchen table covered in textbooks.
“Our main goal is community,” said Robb. “Anything we can do to supplement education is extra.”
Many parents find the prospect of home schooling daunting, and worry that their children will not learn how to interact with others.
“When I went to my first home school function, I was extremely intimidated,” said Robb, “but Enrich really does provide an incredible amount of support.”
“A lot of parents do wonder ‘how am I going to socialize my kids,’” said Burgess. “That’s where Enrich comes in. We provide a community presence and with that everything else falls into place.”
A secular organization dedicated to providing support and guidance to home schooling families, ENRICHri was founded in 2009 by a group of 10 families and has since grown to more than 100 families and 250 children throughout Southern New England.
“We provide support for both kids and parents,” said Burgess. “We’re invested in these kids lives 24-7.
Some parents do it for religious reasons, some for health concerns. Some just choose to take a different approach to education. Whatever the factors that influence the decision, with the help of ENRICHri, the home-schooled families of Rhode Island have formed an active community.