The new private schools

By Jessica Beery • Last Updated 6:55 pm on Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Sometimes, when the weather is nice, the two homeschooled daughters of Josh and Melissa Almas — Cadence, 5 and Rosalyn, 2 — enjoy reading by Wabasis Lake. (Daily News/Jessica Dudenhofer)

Some of today’s parents are looking for educational alternatives for their children, although there will always be a need for quality private and public education.
Some of these alternative options include tackling education at home, replacing face-to-face teacher interaction with online courses or charter schools.

Home school
“Home education across mid-Michigan is really picking up speed,” said Sarah Read, a mother who homeschools her two children and leads the Greenville Homeschoolers – a support group and co-op for more than 70 homeschoolers around Montcalm County.
“We offer a huge variety of regular activities for families who value home education,” she said. “A lot of us are just starting out in the world of home education and we are fueling off the excitement of working together and sharing the value and responsibility of tackling our kids’ education.”
Many famous people have been home educated, including 14 past presidents, Venus and Serena Williams, actress Dakota Fanning, Thomas Edison, Daniel Webster and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
“We take comfort in knowing that home education is not some new fad or trend, even as it grows in popularity,” Read said. “It looks a lot different today than it did 20 years ago, in a great way, but its success dates back to our founding fathers and beyond.”
Read said the reason people choose home education for their children varies with each family, but certainly isn’t an anti-public school concept.
“It’s about finding the rhythm for your own family, customizing the education needs of each child,” she said.
Josh and Melissa Almas of Greenville knew they would homeschool their children.
“We love the fact that we can give our children more one-on-one attention and adjust to their learning style,” Melissa said.
She said their 5-year-old daughter started first grade curriculum in July after a year of preschool and kindergarten curriculum.
“She catches on to things really quick and we school year-round with taking breaks as needed, so she’s been able to excel pretty fast,” Melissa said. “I just love the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling. I realize it’s not for everyone, but it’s a good fit for our family.”
For more information on the Greenville Homeschoolers, visit their Facebook page under “Greenville Michigan Homeschoolers.”
Online education
With technological advances happening every day, more and more online alternatives are available in education.
Greenville Public Schools offers certain courses online for students who can’t attend classes for various reasons. The district also is branching out to offer courses for families interested in homeschooling their children.
“Some are our own courses, or portions of those courses offered either to accelerate or recover course credit,” said Superintendent Pete Haines. “Others are packaged courses purchased from a number of online vendors and are all accredited institutions.”
He said the online courses allow students flexibility on where and when they study, whether it be in school or at home, after hours and in the summer. The classes are available anywhere wireless Internet access is available.
Haines said some students use the online courses for dual enrollment coursework from MCC and other higher educational institutions.
“Truly, the options are almost limitless for our students,” he said.

Charter schools
Charter schools are another option for local families who qualify for public education. Charter schools are open to all children and are governed by a local board of directors, which ensures the school follows the academy’s bylaws and charter.
Children attending charter schools benefit from small class sizes, high academic standards and innovative approaches to teaching and learning. The goal of achieving and maintaining parental satisfaction requires each employee to take the education and safety of each child personally and continually seek parental input regarding academic needs and successes.
The schools start under the direction of a local university. They accept a limited number of students each year, so students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Charter schools receive the same dollar amount per student from the state that public schools do, but charter schools cannot collect local taxes or millages for extra funding.
“We operate on about two-thirds of the budget of a public school,” said Ted Flynn, social studies teacher and athletic director at Grattan Academy High School in Eureka Township. “We have to operate more on less.”
But the smaller class sizes are big perks for many families, as well as the high academic standards and variety of students who attend. The academy has an average of about 10 international exchange students each year and received an “A” rating from the state for their test scores, rate of graduation and quality of programming.
“It’s kind of a neat thing,” Flynn said. “It’s a point of pride for us.”
However, because of small enrollment numbers, the school can’t offer some of the extracurricular activities that most public schools can, including sports teams.
“We don’t have a football team,” Flynn said. “We have a very good volleyball and basketball program, but that’s where it stops.”
But different is good for charter schools. They’re not out to be competition for public schools, they’re just another alternative.
“There are things (other schools) can offer that we can’t while there are things we offer that they can’t,” Flynn said. “We have to be differently motivated. We’re right for some kids and we’re not right for other kids.”

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of three stories about private schools.

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