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Homeschooling: Why Do Westchasers Do It?

According to the Florida Department of Education, more than 58,000 families homeschool their children in Florida, with 3,749 of them here in Hillsborough County.

Since 2006 the number of students enrolled in homeschool programs has increased by almost 15 percent and Hillsborough County is one of the top three districts with the most children educated at home.

Westchester resident Stephany Safransky has always homeschooled her daughter. A former public school teacher, she also teaches several classes for homeschool students, administers a local homeschool Facebook page and runs workshops for parents interested in homeschooling. She says people are usually very interested and accepting of her family’s choice. “Most people are curious and supportive of our choice to homeschool. Homeschooling is more mainstream these days than in the past. Also, it is more diversified too. People from different races, religions and backgrounds are choosing an alternative form of education.”

Some families decide homeschooling is the best option for their children after a few years in the public school system; others know that it is what they want to do from the very beginning. Vineyards resident Amanda Wynne decided to explore the option after standardized testing became very stressful for her daughter. “My oldest went to Westchase Elementary through third grade. Each year I became more concerned about testing. She couldn’t go to AGP (advanced math class) due to testing and I was concerned that she was not being taught a solid grasp of math concepts,” she said. “If you had asked me before if we would have homeschooled, I would have said, ‘no,’ but it kept showing up in our daily life and has been the best option for our family.”

Now in eighth grade, Wynne’s daughter is thriving academically and has been able to pursue her interest in theater. She has attended competitions in Los Angeles and festivals in Atlanta while her sister, who is in third grade, can pursue her interest in science and space. “She’s been able to take classes in engineering and astronomy,” said Wynne.

“I like that we can set our own schedule and that we have freedom to go on trips and go places,” said Wynne. “It is also nice that if they are having a difficult time with something, we can set it aside and come back to it later. I’m learning along with them and it has made my relationship with them and theirs with each other stronger.”

Bridges resident Kelli Harrison also became frustrated by her daughter’s school’s focus on standardized testing while also feeling that her daughter was not being challenged academically. She has been homeschooling her daughter for four years now and says that if she was in a traditional brick and mortar school, she would be a seventh grade student. Instead she has just finished up classwork for her freshman year of high school.

Harrison offers some advice to families who might be considering the home school option, “Don’t stress out,” she said. “There are so many opportunities and help right here in Tampa. I started a Homeschool PE last year as well as an art homeschool class both in Westchase.”

Harrison added, “Because there are so many homeschoolers, there are so many people that can help guide you. I have met some amazing friends through this journey.”

Lori Fischer in The Fords has been homeschooling her children since preschool. “I was interested in the school activities at the preschool level and it was easy to continue,” she said.

Fischer, who has seven children, said that her oldest two were very quick learners and she thinks they would have been bored in a traditional school. She also has found that homeschooling has helped keep her family together. “I didn’t want us to be splintered and going in many different directions. The children have developed a camaraderie from being together and have learned how to work as a team. I like that when we are done for the day, everyone is on the same schedule and we can adjust that schedule as needed.”

Fischer said it is a bit of a challenge to prepare course work for all the different grade levels but she can cater to each child’s learning style and thinks that it has helped them flourish academically. Her oldest, who is now a freshman at USF, is interested in languages and taught herself Dutch and is now taking classes in Mandarin. He son, who is a high school senior, is interested in computer science and has been able to take classes to earn certificates in computer coding and write his own programs. “I love the flexibility to tailor curriculum to what will click for them.”

Windsor Place resident Heidi Ferraro said she decided to homeschool her son, who has autism, two years ago after great experiences in public and private schools. “One summer I decide he was not ready to go back to school and we continued with the therapy we’d been doing. We are able to customize his education for his needs. He loves art, so we make sure he gets to do art each day. Because he is autistic, he needs some life skill lessons in areas that might come intuitively for other children.”

Ferraro appreciates that homeschooling gives her the flexibility to do what is best for her son and said that she has learned new things along with him during the journey. Based on evidence she found that exercise helps people focus and learn, she began starting her son’s day with a personal trainer at the gym or home workout videos. “As a new parent, you teach your child so many things but they teach you as well. I’m not one to normally work out but because it was in his best interest, I started doing it also and now I’m feeling the benefits.”

She added, “People are always going to say something negative about what you are doing but I know what is best for my child and I know what progress he is making. As a parent you need to learn to trust your intuition.”

What are Homeschooling’s Requirements?

The Florida Legislature established home education as a school choice in 1985. Parents are required to notify their county’s school superintendent and to provide the name, address and birth date of each student. Florida law does not require a particular educational background for parents of home-schooled children and parents are able to customize their curriculum to meet the needs of their child(ren). However, a portfolio of activities, records and materials showing the student’s work must be maintained and shown to the district if requested. Additionally students have to undergo one of five academic evaluation options and submit the results to the school district. Home education students are able to enter institutions of higher learning and are eligible to participate in the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program.

By Marcy Sanford

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