Artesia has an active and vibrant homeschool community. While the notion of homeschooling is old, the practice has been gaining popularity in recent years. The reasons homeschool families choose to homeschool are as varied as the people. For some families the freedom in their schedule that homeschooling their children allows draws them to the movement, while others are drawn to presenting a Christian worldview. Some simply find that the bonding time with the children is integral to their healing or development, while others are seeking to ditch the pressure of high stakes testing, bullies or other peer pressures.
Curriculum options abound, and the choices are as varied as the reasons families choose to homeschool. Stephen and Aleja Thatcher have been homeschooling their seven children for many years and have enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose the curriculum that works best for the individual needs of each of their children. They can pick the program that suits their family’s needs in math and science, for instance, and choose another program from a different publisher for English. Aleja explained that homeschool parents have to register with the state every year, but they do not have to provide records. The Thatchers choose to keep detailed records of grades and courses to provide to the state as proof that the student met the requirements to graduate and take college entrance exams. To date, two of their children have graduated, one of whom, their daughter Harley, is currently a freshman at Texas Tech University.
Alan and Ashley Brooks have also chosen to homeschool their children. While they started out in public schools, they chose to switch to homeschooling after their son, who has high-functioning autism, experienced some difficulties with bullies. Ashley mentioned that once they made the transition, they were able to see some benefits for their children, such as the freedom of play in their school work and being “allowed to be kids.” She also feels their focus has improved without the distractions of transitions and lining up times that happen in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Another advantage they have enjoyed is having the ability to go in-depth into subjects that really hold interest for her children. She feels like the home/work/life balance is much better, helping them not feel as rushed. Her children are able to participate in many activities such as plays at church, dance, piano and sports. She is fond of the Charlotte Mason Method style of education as well as the Apologia Science program, which presents science with a biblical worldview.
Another homeschooling option is to go through a private school program. Micha and Brooke Foster’s children have all attended public school during their elementary years but have opted to be homeschooled as they enter middle school. Brooke was originally resistant to the idea since she wasn’t sure about being her child’s teacher. The Fosters use the curriculum provided from Faith Christian Academy in Carlsbad. She likes that her children have access to some instruction through the school, and as an added bonus, the school keeps the records for them. She admits that her only regret is not trying it sooner. She enjoys having a better home/life balance with her children and feels less stressed. The children still have plenty of opportunities to be social through sports, church and other activities; both of her older boys participate in sports through Artesia Public Schools.
Dan and Marissa Phelps have also chosen to school their children at home. Marissa stated that homeschooling appeals to families who have children with disabilities, military families, missionary families, international families or families with children that are not thriving in the public school environment. Dan is the pastor at First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, located at Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, where the homeschool group Classical Conversations meets on Tuesdays. Shirley Bailey is a local tutor for the program and has experience working in public, private and residential schools. She likes that the program encourages accountability and critical thinking skills and that the strands (subjects) are complimentary to one another. When students meet on Tuesdays they often play learning games, debate and teach what they learn to one another. Parent Riann Holder said she has really enjoyed making the leap to homeschooling and noted that even inside the Classical Conversation program that her family uses are numerous opportunities to individualize the program to suit her children’s needs. Having a Christian curriculum and the influence of Christian peers is important to her family, and she is pleased with what she has found in Classical Conversations. The group also hosts social events, such as a recent get-together on Valentine’s night in which the students invited community members to help them practice the art of conversation and etiquette.
Another option for parents who want to homeschool their children but want to stay connected to public school standards and curricula is through Pecos Connections Academy in Carlsbad, which offers a K-8 public online school. Students have access to experienced teachers via telephone and online group lessons. Some of the school staff are located in Carlsbad, but other teachers are located around the state in other cities such as Las Cruces and Lovington. The school offers clubs and groups and hosts get-togethers around the state as well. The school bills itself as a good option for students who want to spend more time devoted to activities like dance, gymnastics and rodeo that may take the student away from a traditional school setting and allow the student to complete work on his or her own time. High school students can attend New Mexico Connections Academy, which serves students in grades 4-12.
Some of the local homeschool moms have turned to Facebook to help organize social activities for their students. A Facebook group called Home Schoolers of Artesia helps get the varied students together for activities. Some of them meet for a joint science lesson once a week, and others help organize holiday parties such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Recent posts highlight a pottery class being offered to homeschoolers. Marissa Phelps mentioned they have had a running group in the past and are looking for volunteers to help in the areas of physical education, music and art. Many of the students in the group participate in a sewing class taught by Susie McCaw on Monday evenings that is open to any student. Local homeschool students also participate in the classes provided by the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center. Amanda Lamb, who homeschools her kindergarten daughter, says the group meets to plan out a calendar for the year, and she enjoys being able to share information with other parents at the meeting.
One drawback to homeschooling can be the cost. It is not funded by public education, which means parents must foot the bill for the curriculum they choose to use. Costs range in price from a few hundred dollars a year up to $1,200 a year. One benefit of buying the materials is that they can often be handed down to use for a younger student, and used copies are sometimes available for purchase. Connections Academy is free to U.S. students and does provide some equipment needed for school. Making the choice to homeschool will also require a devoted parent who either has a flexible work environment or is able to stay at home with the students.
To connect with the Facebook group Home Schoolers of Artesia, visit https://www.facebook.com/homeschoolartesia/?ref=br_tf or search Home Schoolers of Artesia on Facebook.
For more information about Classical Conversations, Shirley Bailey may be reached at 575-626-9165 or you may find out more at http://www.classicalconversations.com.
Pecos Connections Academy can be reached at http://www.connectionsacademy.com/pecos-virtual-school or by calling 844-227-0920.