By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer
Home schooling was an easy choice for Stephanie Proctor.
About 10 years ago, she and husband Philip lived in Houston and their oldest son Matthew had just finished fourth grade. Stephanie said she didn’t like what she saw at her son’s middle school —no doors on the bathroom stalls and a rising drug culture.
“I decided to keep him home,” she said. “It was just not an atmosphere I wanted him in.”
Now a Clovis resident for six years, Stephanie has three sons and a daughter — all home schooled.
Her children are among the 1.1 million students home schooled last year according to parent surveys. That number is a 29 percent increase since the last government survey in 1999.
The results were released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.
Parents offered three main reasons for choosing home schooling: 31 percent cited concerns about the environment of regular schools, such as drugs, lack of safety and negative peer pressure; 30 percent wanted the flexibility to teach religious or moral lessons; 16 percent said they were dissatisfied with academic instruction at other schools.
Preliminary numbers show 156 Clovis children were home schooled during the 2003-2004 school year, said Ruth Williams of the New Mexico Public Education Department. In the state, 3,705 were home schooled.
“We just feel in general that on the whole it is hard for a school to be able to teach to each individual child,” Proctor said. “It is just not possible for a teacher to teach 30 different kids the way each will learn the best.”
Proctor said her son Matthew, now 19, graduated about six months earlier than his public school counterparts. Her 16-year-old daughter Natalie earned her General Education Diploma (GED) this year and is taking college classes at Clovis Community College. Her other sons Jonathan, 14, and Michael, 11, have never attended public school.
Michael said his school day begins around 9 a.m. and ends around 2 p.m.
“I get to finish my school work a lot earlier than most public schools,” Michael said, “I think I am getting a very good education.”
Stephanie Proctor, who said she does most of the teaching, graduated from high school and earned a two-year degree in radiological technology. Once the decision to home school was made in Texas, she never entertained putting her children into the Clovis school district after moving.
“Home schoolers achieve well,” she said. “I think it is based upon the fact that individual structuring and teaching is far superior.”
Clovis High School Principal Jody Balch said home schooling could be a viable option only when the parent has the educational capabilities to adequately teach their child.
He said he does not remember a student dropping out of the public system to begin home schooling, but in talking with home-schooling parents he hears a common reason for the choice.
“What I have found is if a parent gives you an explanation, I hear them say that ‘my kid does not feel safe,’” Balch said.
Home educating is simplified with technological advances, Stephanie Proctor said. Interactive compact discs and support from the Clovis Area Home Educators group has aided her teaching. Access to teaching equipment has also not been an issue.
“I have everything from microscopes to animals to dissect. Anything the public schools have available is directly available to us,” she said.
The question persists as to whether home-schooled children are being deprived of any social benefits in interacting with classmates.
“Just being around lots of people,” Balch said. “That is kind of how the working world is; when you get to the working world you don’t know what is out there.”
But Stephanie said her children meet other children at church groups and sporting events. For her kids, she said, there has been no social detraction.
The Proctor students are schooled nearly year round with a three-week break in July and various other breaks during the year.
The family will be moving back to Houston soon. Philip Proctor is two classes away from earning a teaching certification and hopes to teach in Houston.
And still, Stephanie said, she will home school her children.
Working 4 p.m. to midnight at the local Allsups and teaching during the day, Stephanie said she has made sacrifices to give her children the best education.
“It is difficult in some ways but it is do-able,” she said. “When you know what is best for your family you do what you have to do.”