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Schools Seek Ties to Home Classrooms : Ventura: Independent study program could increase state revenues to district. But parents are not necessarily interested.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seeking to build ties with parents who have rejected public schools, the Ventura school district is launching an independent study program for children being educated at home.

The program would enable the Ventura Unified School District to recoup some of the estimated $300,000 in state money it loses because some children are home-schooled, district officials said.

And it would give parents who teach their children at home access to school libraries, computer labs and the expertise of professional teachers, district officials said.

“We might be able to build some bridges with people that have left our system,” said Gerald Dannenberg, the district’s director of certificated personnel.

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But some Ventura parents said they are concerned that enrolling in the independent study program could lead to public school officials’ interfering in what and how the families teach their children.

“I wouldn’t want them saying that now that you’re part of our system, we can come in and monitor what you’re teaching,” said Jane Bozarth, who teaches her 8-year-old son in her home off Johnson Drive. “I like being independent.”

Called Homestead Elementary School, the Ventura independent study program, which will be limited to kindergarten through eighth-grade students, is expected to begin early next year. It will be one of the first of its kind in Ventura County.

Ventura school officials estimate that at least 100 children in their area are taught at home, costing the public schools $3,000 in state money per child annually.

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Although school officials hope to recapture some of this funding through the new program, just having families enroll in the independent study course will not be enough.

The district will only get state money for home-schooled students who meet certain program guidelines, Dannenberg.

In addition to meeting with the program’s teacher at least once a month, the parents of home-schooled students will have to certify that their children spend at least 20 hours each week studying four core subjects: English, math, science and social science.

Additionally, the children will have to complete a minimum amount of work assigned by the teacher in at least some subjects.

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But district officials emphasize that home-schooling families will have leeway to teach as they see fit.

“It’s not as hard and rigid as a regular classroom,” Dannenberg said. Parents will have “the ability to still guide their child’s education.”

To teach American history, for example, parents could choose to focus on American art or they could count a trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the instruction time, said Janet Asiain, who will be the resource teacher for the independent study course.

In return for enrolling in the program, parents would be offered support, consultation and teaching materials from the schools in subjects in which they need help.

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And parents would be assured their children will be prepared to re-enter the public school system eventually. Most home-schooled students return in junior high or high school, district officials said.

But Bozarth and other parents who teach their children at home say they don’t need the district’s help.

“I have all the resources I need,” Bozarth said.

She and her husband are members of the Assn. of Christian Home Educators of Ventura County, a group of about 150 families, mainly in Ventura, Camarillo and Oxnard.

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Members get their children together regularly for such events as speech contests, sports and field trips.

Bozarth and her son Matthew work in the kitchen, where one wall is lined with colorful maps, printouts of the alphabet and other school paraphernalia.

In addition to Matthew, Bozarth plans to teach her 4-year-old and 2-year-old daughters at home, possibly keeping all three out of school through the 12th grade.

Bozarth said she and her husband chose home schooling more for academic reasons than religious beliefs. But she reports that she orders teaching materials from Christian publishers and teaches some subjects with a religious emphasis.

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And she’s afraid that officials in the independent study program will discourage her from religious instruction.

“That’s what home schoolers don’t want, to be accountable to someone,” she said. “Home schooling parents in general just like to keep a pleasant distance from the public schools.”


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