Resources abound for Barrington’s home-schooled students
Many local home-schooled children spend one day per week studying and learning in a group environment at the Village Church of Barrington. | Joe Cyganowski~ For Sun Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:05PM
BARRINGTON — While most children in Barrington packed their book bags and returned to their local elementary and high schools in late August, some students stayed at home — and that is OK.
Parents wishing to home school their children may find Illinois to be a friendly place.
While some states require parents to provide authorities with test results or use a state-approved curriculum, Illinois leaves parents alone to decide what to teach, when to teach it — or whether to let the child’s curiosity lead the way, a philosophy known as “unschooling.”
The parent also is free to decide when a high-school-aged student has met the requirements for a diploma.
Under the state’s compulsory-attendance law parents may be asked to provide evidence that the child is being taught the same subjects as would be taught to public school children of the same age.
Technically, a parent who isn’t offering age-appropriate instruction in the English language in six specific disciplines is in violation of the law.
The required “branches” of education are language arts, math, biology and physical science, social science, fine arts and physical development and health.
Parents can obtain support for curriculum development from places both locally and remotely.
Jeff Arnett, chief communications officer at Barrington District 220, said the district is required to provide instructional materials to parents who home school their children.
“We are pretty involved with home schooling,” said Arnett, explaining that a home-schooled student also is allowed to participate in athletic and extra curricular activities at his or her public school if they meet certain requirements.
He added that many home-schooled students enter the public school system when they reach high school because of the college preparatory curriculum offered by the district.
“Because the level of education in high school can be more advanced than what parents are able to provide,” he said.
For home-schooled elementary and middle school students, there are offerings in the Barrington area designed to supplement instruction.
The Village Church of Barrington offers H.E.A.R.T (Home School Enrichment Achieved Respectfully Together), which is a weekly, Christian-based program in which K-8 students engage in classes like Spanish, physical education, music and art for one day a week.
“This is to round out their home schooling,” explained Jennifer Burns, who founded the H.E.A.R.T program nine years.
She said the program also is good for children on a social level.
“The kids enjoy being with each other,” Burns said. “As home schoolers, we’re not trying to sequester our children.”
Burns, who runs another academic weekly program for third- through 12th-graders, said there are about 100 students enrolled between her two programs. Although many of her students come from the immediate area, others come from as far away as Chicago.
Burns said the H.E.A.R.T program, which runs the course of a regular school day, also provides parents a good break.
“Home schooling is demanding,” said Burns, who home schools her children. “You have to be the parent, teacher and principal.”
Despite the demands of the job, she added that home schooling also is very rewarding.
Other home schooling institutions like American School provide “curriculum in a box” for high schoolers unable to attend school for a myriad of reasons — illness, location, dissatisfaction with local school options, and so forth.
Founded more than a century ago and now headquartered in Lansing, Ill., American School issues an accredited high-school diploma to about 3,000 students a year across the world, spokesman Jeff Cox said.
“Students really like the ability to work at their own pace,” he said. “They’re not going to be slowed down by a traditional classroom.”
Cox said Illinois is home to many of the institution’s pupils but was unable to provide an exact figure.
How prevalent is home schooling in the suburbs?
The state’s hands-off stance makes it impossible to keep good statistics.
Parents aren’t required to register their schools, which the state views as private schools by virtue of a 1950 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.
While a voluntary form on the website states “please remember to register every September,” it also points out the exercise is voluntary.
According to the State Board of Education, only 684 home schools representing 810 children registered for the 2011-12 school year. Of the few parents that registered, 185 were from Cook County, while another 27 were from Lake County and 14 from McHenry County.
--Natasha Wasinski and Karen Berkowitz contributed to this report.