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Home-school offers parents, kids a flexible alternative

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By Kacie Goode

When work and school began taking over the Whitneys’ lives, mom Tammi wanted to make a change.

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A registered nurse, Tammi was pulling long shifts and her husband, David, was also working full time.

When son Tre and daughter Faith were picked up from school, it was home, supper, homework, bath and bed.

“Everything we were doing was a routine and none of it was really spending quality time with them,” Tammi said.

She felt burdened by that realization and decided to leave the workforce and pull her two children out of the local school system.

“By having them home with me all the time and home schooling, you get the opportunity to be very intentional with what you’re teaching them and how you are shaping them,” she said.

That was six years ago. Today, the Whitney children continue to learn at home, now called ECHO Christian Academy.

“It stands for Educating Children with His Objectives,” Tammi said. The home-school is Christ-centered.

The Whitney children are among more than 2.3 million others in the United States who are educated at home, a trend that has grown over the years according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While families have their individual, varied reasons for choosing to home-school, Tammi said it wasn’t a dislike of the school system that led to the decision.

“We had paid for them to go to Bardstown, so we just notified the board,” that they wanted to home-school, she said. “They were supportive and it was an easy process.”

Because they live in the Nelson County Schools district, however, they are required to notify the local system annually that they plan to continue to home-school. Tammi also keeps a record of grades and attendance and offers grade-level testing to make sure they are where they need to be academically.

The decision to home-school did not come without reservations. It would be a social adjustment for the kids, and it was something entirely new for the family. Fortunately, Tammi had a friend who home-schooled and reached out to her for advice.

“I actually went to her house, met with her kids and her and went through their curriculum and picked her brain,” she said.

The Whitneys also joined a local home-school group — Bluegrass Christian Home Educators — a decision she described as “a tremendous help.”

Connecting with the local group has helped the Whitneys adjust over the years, from choosing curriculum to developing a daily schedule.

“It’s a big group and several of the mothers have been home schooling,” for years, she said.

The group also includes a variety of home-school experience and approaches, allowing Tammi to gain knowledge and advice on different curriculum and education ideas. The advice is great, she said, because it can easily cost $1,000 per child per year for supplies.

While the Whitneys have had several years to develop their style of home schooling, there was a brief time about two years ago — as the family grew — that Tammi chose to put the kids back into public school.

“They maintained straight A’s,” she said, confirming that their home-school lessons had them on target. But the transition didn’t last long and she chose to pull the kids back out.

Even though they home-school, Tammi makes sure her kids have opportunity to socialize.

The family often gets together with other home-school families in the area for field trips, holiday celebrations and other events. They participate in a local community Bible study group, and there is also a home-school 4-H group.

Tre and Faith are also involved in a dance class outside the home that meets weekly, as well as individual at-home extracurricular activities.

“I’m doing a cooking class and fashion,” Faith Whitney said.

And Tre enjoys STEM classes, robotics and video game programming.

When it comes to the school day, the kids use a calendar with daily assignments to know what work needs to be completed.

“They can work ahead if they want to,” Tammi said. And now that each is working at a seventh-grade level, much of the work can be done independently, such as reading.

With younger sibling Monika attending pre-school at Crocus Academy and 2-year-old Aubree still at home, Tammi says part of the school day includes working around the younger kids’ schedules, too.

“We try to get the stuff done that requires my help and attention,” while Monika is at school, Tammi said.

Tre and Faith like the flexibility that home schooling offers — which sometimes includes school in their pajamas.

“You don’t have to be in a uniform or ride a bus and all of your school supplies are right in front of you,” Faith said. “That’s what I like.”

For Tre, it is the personalized access to resources that the 11-year-old likes best.

Where a lot of public schools may print information off the computer, “I like to have the resources, like the books, right in front of me,” he said. “I like the freedom that you can study the way you want.”

When it comes to their favorite subjects, Tre enjoys reading and takes time to explore mystery and adventure books, while Faith, 12, enjoys writing and art the most.

Because they home-school, the Whitneys also have the freedom to adjust their yearly schedule. Having worked ahead some last year, they have decided to extend their summer break into September. They will start back the day after Labor Day.

“We have shorter breaks than the public schools and we’ll still finish up the end of May,” Tammi said.

Tammi said the yearly schedule doesn’t always work out as planned, but that’s OK.

“There’s days when they required more for one subject,” so other subjects would be pushed to the next day, allowing the kids time to fully grasp the lesson.

As of right now, Tammi plans to continue home schooling through high school, but she does stay current on her certifications to maintain the option of going back to work if needed.

“I just think home schooling works better for our family,” she said.