Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2003

Family at home with Virtual program

September 4, 2003

When visiting the home of the Dearing family, a cozy, refined blend of antique books and leather furniture in a quiet Shawnee neighborhood, just one item looks out of place -- the television, an older model that contrasts with other up-to-date appliances.

After speaking with family members for a few minutes, one can see why: the family with three children enrolled in the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School, places education as a high priority.

The Virtual School is an alternative education program, where teachers and students interact in courses via the Internet. The school caters to home school and at-risk students.

Between guiding the elementary education of Brandon, 8, and Nicole, 10, and seeing to the high school graduation and college courses of Kristen, 17, there isn't a whole lot of time for nights spent in front of the tube.

Besides, who needs television when a library of books stands just feet away?

"We're probably a different kind of family," contends mother Melanie Dearing, herself a former teacher at De LaSalle, an inner-city school in Kansas City, Mo.

The home school family is a picture of success for the Virtual School: four of the family's five children have enrolled in the school, blazing their way through education by non-traditional means.

The older son, Adam, then a home-school student and now a college freshman, started the chain of events by stumbling onto a newspaper article about the Virtual School.

After some research, he was enrolled in the program.

"He really pushed me to check into this program," Melanie said. "We did a lot of research looking for flaws. We couldn't find one."

While taking classes at the Virtual School, Adam weaved in and out of other programs as well -- he took courses at Shawnee Mission Northwest and Johnson County Community College and graduated a year ahead of schedule.

Daughter Kristen Schieber is taking much the same path: while earning credits through the Virtual School, she's also picked up classes from Shawnee Mission Northwest and the junior college. She'll graduate this year.

"It wasn't by design or intentional," Melanie said.

"To me it's whatever's best for the student but there's no downside to home schooling.

"That home school persona? I don't think it's justified. The kids have a lot of interaction in their daily lives, and there's a great network of home school parents."

The youngest children, Brandon and Nicole, found themselves wanting to follow the same path as their older siblings.

They can be found most days at home, starting their lesson plans at 7:30 a.m. and continuing on studying math, science, English and social studies until approximately 3:30 or 4 p.m. On this day, the brother and sister are learning the intricacies of photosynthesis.

The younger Dearings complete five days of classwork in four days time. The motivation for doing so: Friday is field trip day, when the mother and children, students and teacher, take a trip somewhere with educational value such as a museum.

"Home school is not something you can force on a child," Melanie said. "It depends a lot on the child-parent relationship.

"But, to me there's just no downside. The kids get the best of every world, all before they leave home."

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