Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Your Classroom Is Really Anywhere There's Learning; in Northeast Florida, Teaching at Home Is a Growing Trend

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Your Classroom Is Really Anywhere There's Learning; in Northeast Florida, Teaching at Home Is a Growing Trend

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

When Alexis Stuart was in the second grade at Fleming Island Elementary two years ago, she wouldn't just read her assigned pages of a book each day at the beginning of the semester - she would read the entire book.

Then for much of the rest of the semester, Alexis sat bored in her classroom, watching students read information that she had long ago absorbed.

"I would just take out my book from home and read," she said.

Tired of seeing her child not being challenged enough, Sarah Clarke Stuart pulled Alexis out of school.

Now 9-year-old Alexis' desk is often the dining room table, and her teacher is her mother.

"I felt like we could do a much better job academically," Stuart said.

For some parents, the choice to teach at home is grounded in the quality of public or private school education. For some, it's about a fear of bullying or school violence. And for others, there's a desire to see their children learn certain religious beliefs, or not learn others.

Whatever the reason, the number of students home-schooled in Northeast Florida's four largest counties has jumped by 36 percent in the last five years. In Clay County - where Alexis Stuart lives - the increase is 61 percent in five years.

For Sarah Clarke Stuart, teaching comes naturally. She's an adjunct writing instructor at the University of North Florida. But when she's teaching Alexis at home in the mornings, she has a special interest in her only pupil's success.

"I feel like my interest in her learning is a great advantage," Stuart said.

Now when Alexis has an interest in learning about green and brown anoles, commonly known as lizards, her mother turns it into a lesson on the best way to do research.

But like many other homeschooling parents, Stuart is aware that there's much Alexis can learn in a group environment. So in addition to classes at home, Alexis gets her art, physical education and extra science classes at 02B Kids Fleming Island, a family-oriented facility that's part learning and part fun.

Stuart meets with about 20 to 25 other home-school families every Wednesday at 02B Kids. Plus, she belongs to two other social groups - which organize everything from field trips to specialized classes.

Home-schooling parents can turn to each other, online resources or nationally recognized curricula for teaching assistance. They can enroll their children into the state's virtual school system. Or they can turn to their local school district for needed guidance.

When Shannon McNulty's family recently moved to Jacksonville, she didn't want to send her 9-year-old son, Seth, and 7-year-old daughter, Sydney, to just any school.

"We just want to get to know the area and the schools," McNutly said.

And one of the main areas of concern for her are issues surrounding her faith.

"Schools are starting to teach more about things my family considers immoral," McNutly said.

So she finds teaching her children at home is a way to make sure her children are learning specific values. …

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