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Home schooling offers learning, lifestyle choice

The Elliotts, from left, are William, 15; Chris, 16; Mrs. Cherie Elliott; Sydney, 13; and Ralph, 17. With mom’s help, William, Chris and Sydney review lessons prior to the start of the new school year while Ralph does some leisure reading. This home schooling session was held at the Triangle Annex because Mrs. Elliott had a gospel service leaders meeting there.  Cherie Elliott is married to Chaplain (Capt.) Ralph Elliott, who’s currently deployed.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

The Elliotts, from left, are William, 15; Chris, 16; Mrs. Cherie Elliott; Sydney, 13; and Ralph, 17. With mom’s help, William, Chris and Sydney review lessons prior to the start of the new school year while Ralph does some leisure reading. This home schooling session was held at the Triangle Annex because Mrs. Elliott had a gospel service leaders meeting there. Cherie Elliott is married to Chaplain (Capt.) Ralph Elliott, who’s currently deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Jack Stratton, 6, reviews math problems with his mom, Teresa, at their home in Gulfport. Jack is a first grader this year.  Teresa is married to Maj. Matthew Stratton, 335th Training Squadron weather training flight commander.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Jack Stratton, 6, reviews math problems with his mom, Teresa, at their home in Gulfport. Jack is a first grader this year. Teresa is married to Maj. Matthew Stratton, 335th Training Squadron weather training flight commander. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Magdalena Wiedie, 8, and her mom,  Kristina, label nouns, verbs and prepositions to prepare for third grade grammar lessons.  Kristina and her husband, Lt. Col. Charles
Wiedie, Keesler staff judge advocate, have three children that she teaches at home.(U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Magdalena Wiedie, 8, and her mom, Kristina, label nouns, verbs and prepositions to prepare for third grade grammar lessons. Kristina and her husband, Lt. Col. Charles Wiedie, Keesler staff judge advocate, have three children that she teaches at home.(U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Most mornings, Keesler parents are waking up their children, feeding them breakfast and getting them ready for school. But for many families, their trip won't involve a bus or car ride.

According to the Air Force Times, these children are part of the estimated 2 million home schoolers in the U.S. Experts have estimated a 12 percent increase in the past few years, and some data indicates military home school rates have grown by twice that.

"I think home schooling helps provide continuity in their education as our kids change schools with each (permanent change of station),"explained Kristina Wiedie. She and her husband, Lt. Col. Charles Wiedie, Keesler staff judge advocate, have three children that she teaches at home.

"I started home schooling because my kids attended a Montessori charter school in California and Montessori elementary schools aren't available in this area," she said. "I wanted to continue the Montessori method of learning because it's a wonderful way of learning and also so my kids could possibly transition back into a Montessori school when we PCS."

"We've chosen to home school because it allows us to take an active part in our children's education and character development," said Teresa Stratton, mother of four. She's married to Maj. Matthew Stratton, 335th Training Squadron weather training flight commander.

However, Stratton and her husband have reasons for home schooling beyond just developing knowledge and skills.

"It also involves establishing values and presenting world views," she pointed out. "Our decision to home school was facilitated by the many positive outcomes we observed in the families of our friends who home schooled. Most of them have close, encouraging relationships together and their children are responsible, confidant young men and women."

Cherie Elliott is married to Chaplain (Capt.) Ralph Elliott, who's currently deployed.

"The choice to home school for our family has been for spiritual reasons," said Elliott, who teaches their four children. "We have never sought to prove our teaching methods to be far superior than the school districts in which we lived, nor to try to shelter our children from the cares of the world. Our desire has been to bless the Lord, however, and with whatever God has for our family."

Home schooling parents see many benefits to teaching their children at home.

"Since beginning to home school, I've discovered many advantages such as utilizing wonderful learning opportunities available in the local area," Wiedie remarked.

"In studying oceanography, there's the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab, the Gulf Islands National Seashore ranger station and the aquarium in New Orleans, just to name a few," she continued. "The kids studied art and learned history through the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art creative outreach programs. The Stennis Space Center is another wonderful resource for many learning opportunities."

Elliott also enjoys unique experiences available to home-schooling families.

"Our four children have had an awesome opportunity to be a part of Civil Air Patrol," Elliott said. "The Col. Berta A. Edge Composite Squadron meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays on Hangar Road. Through the Civil Air Patrol, my three sons have had an opportunity to fly a plane. However, my daughter would rather choose opportunities on the ground."

"The greatest benefit of home schooling is the time we get to spend with our children," Stratton noted.

"Another great perk is the flexibility -- we run on our own schedule. Minor adjustments to school days and hours allow us to run errands when we need to, spend nontraining Fridays together and vacation during cheaper, less crowded times."

For many, the main benefit is to connect their faith with teaching.

"The most important benefit to our family has been the incredible privilege of teaching our children Biblical truths and principles, in addition to core subjects like English, science and math, as well as other electives," Elliott commented.

What does a typical day look like to a home schooler?

The question made Wiedie laugh.

"I don't think there is such a thing," she answered, observing that a perfect home school day is rare.

"My kids have a 'work plan,' a schedule of what is to be done every day for the week," she said. "They're allowed to work ahead as much as they want, but are required to at least get done what is scheduled for that day. This helps keep them organized, know what is expected of them and hopefully promotes independence."

The Stratton family has a very detailed schedule that begins with pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible.

"Our younger children especially enjoy this time of the school day because they are encouraged to be as loud as possible," Stratton remarked. "Our 2-year-old is still learning the words to the pledge, but what he lacks in precision is made up for in quantity -- he says 'America' whenever he gets lost!"

The pledges are followed by handwriting, language, history, geography, math and science, with scheduled breaks for snacks for the kids, housework for mom and lunch for the family.

"Any detailed account of our normal school day is obviously lacking 'real world' situations that come from having a large family," Stratton responded. "But those are also important learning moments that our children don't miss out on because they're sitting at a desk for seven hours a day. My 6-year-old knows how to get his 2-year-old brother dressed, how to calm down a screaming baby and how to set the table for snacks. Our 4-year-old daughter knows how to clean the table and get herself ready for an afternoon nap.

"Many days there are things that put a pause on the learning, but those are the moments that also bring lots of joy and laughter together," she added. "Home schooling isn't just a choice in education -- it's a lifestyle."

The youth center provides military home schoolers a place to meet from 1-3 p.m. Thursdays for extracurricular activities. Wiedie is the unofficial contact person for the group and can be reached through the youth center, 377-4116, or the base's school liaison officer, 376-8510.

By Sept. 15, all homeschooled students must register with the attendance officer assigned to the public school that they would have attended.

A certificate of enrollment must be completed for each child that will be home schooled that includes the child's name, address, telephone number, date of birth and a simple description of the type of education the child is receiving.A verification of compliance is given once the certificate of enrollment has been completed.