North Iowans say new home-schooling rules give them more options

MASON CITY — Two Mason City families say they are pleased home-schooling legislation changes have minimized oversight, allowing them more freedom to educate their children.

An option that took effect in July no longer requires parent educators to share lesson plans with public school administration, meet with a supervising teacher during the school year or complete assessment testing.

During the 2012-13 school year, about 98 Mason City Community School District students were home-schooled, according to Hal Minear, assistant superintendent of administrative services.

Of that number, 16 were dual-enrolled in the public school system for academics, music, band or athletics.

Now, only half of home-school families who are not dual-enrolled have chosen to notify the district.

“It’s certainly an individual family decision, and we respect that,” Minear said. “But the educator in me would trust that they would want to get the best for their kids by having them dual-enrolled or having a licensed teacher work with them.”

A rural family who operates a dairy farm and sells baked goods and chemical-free produce through North Iowa Berries and More has not reported its home-schooling plans this year.

“We can now focus on teaching our kids and not worry about what everyone else is thinking,” said Becky Huang, who has 19 years of experience home schooling her eight children.

With the help of her husband, Jesse, a former design engineer, the two now have more time to plan curriculum for their four youngest, ages 6, 8, 11 and 15.

With a tenet of the law now permitting parent-led driver’s education, the Huangs plan to add it to their schedule after guidelines are released.

Passing on beliefs and catering to each child’s unique learning style were key factors in choosing home education, they said.

“We didn’t feel they would be learning our morals and values in public school,” Huang said. “And with very different learning styles, such as one child with a photographic memory and another who is special needs, we felt we could teach them more effectively one-on-one.”

Violin, food science, industrial arts and religious studies accompany traditional subjects, and hands-on activities allow niche learning from skilled adults, such as rug weaving, soap making and agricultural operations.

Stepping Stones, a local group serving approximately 40 home school families, provides socialization during P.E. at the Mason City Family YMCA or educational trips to the annual state home-school conference.

Assessment testing has shown their dedication to their children’s education has paid off, with scores typically between the 98th and 99th percentile, they said.

Although no longer mandatory, Huang said, her children will still test every other year.

Another family who has also not reported this year still creates a portfolio and undergoes oral testing for their 5, 6 and 8-year-olds, even though neither assessment is now required.

In the past two years, Bryan and Alicia Navarette lived in New Hampshire and Minnesota before settling in North Iowa.

Feeling that changing schools was too much for her young learners, Alicia is now entering her third year of home schooling.

Classical Conversations in Forest City supplements memory work, group projects and oral presentation skills, while afternoons are busy with library visits, piano lessons and swimming lessons.

When living in Minnesota, her children were tested orally. Since Navarette likes the test’s format so much, she continues to drive up for it each fall.

Known as the Peabody Individual Achievement Test, questions begin with age and accomplishment-appropriate material. Since the test does not restrict students to a certain grade level, questions increase in difficulty until incorrect answers are given.

Testing has shown her children are at least target minimum for their age, but are often two to three grade levels ahead in certain subjects.

“When they are interested in a subject, we can go deeper with it,” she said. “I’m very pleased with where they are.”

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