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Homeschooling -- how to get started

Lori Wentz talks about homeschooling during a recent open house at the Dickinson Area Public Library.

Lori Wentz, of Dickinson,  gave practical ideas on how to start homeschooling during a recent open house at the Dickinson Area Public Library.

“I’m the unofficial Welcome Wagon lady for southwestern North Dakota,” Lori said. “Anyone with an interest in homeschool can call me. I can help you set up a beginning curriculum.”

Lori and her husband Kelly, have three children, Elizabeth, who is a sophomore in college, and the twins, Kenneth and Harrison, age 13. They are members of  Southwest North Dakota Homeschoolers -- a group that is updated on Facebook.

“We’ve been homeschoolers  off and on since Lizzy, was in kindergarten,” Lori  said. “I homeschool year round because we take days for holidays, we like to travel or we feel like taking a week off.”

Their boys are among approximately 165 students from the Dickinson Public School District who have filed a “Statement  of Intent to Home Educate,” according to district records.

Since Wentz started homeschooling 20 years ago, she said the resources have exploded -- that its a billion dollar industry. Some resources are free, others have an access fee.

“I’ve actually given access fees as gifts for friends who become homeschoolers,” she said.

The key to starting is the “Statement of Intent.” The superintendent of the local school district must be notified  at least 14 days prior to beginning a homeschool program, she said.

The statement lists the child’s proof of identity, the parental qualifications to teach -- a high school diploma or GED (or a monitor is assigned if the teacher doesn’t have a diploma.) The statement lists the academic courses and/or extracurricular activities the child may wish to pursue in a public school.

The newest change was enacted by  2017 legislature, which allows parents to opt out of testing as required in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10. Academic requirements are no longer required by law.

“We do not use the curriculum that the public schools use -- their tests were based on common core curriculum and homeschoolers don’t have to use it,” she said. “Even if there’s no testing required, it’s for your own personal benefit to know your children. I can list exactly my children’s deficiencies in every subject.”

There’s no one definition of a homeschooling, but it’s been likened to herding cats -- families are independent, they  are invariably 10 minutes late, and they don’t like to stand in lines, she said with a smile.

Lori said there is a “billion dollars” worth of resources for homeschoolers. The challenge is to sort through the resources.The North Dakota Home School Association requires a child  must receive at least four hours of instruction each day for a minimum of 175 days each ot year. Required classes (grades 1-8) include English language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, physical education and health.  In addition to the basics, Lori’s boys study an elective picked from the morning basket.

“The electives are wonderful extras that I cycle,” she said.

Examples have included a  lesson on the digestive system or a Greek god,  a kid’s detective story, or their favorite -- a reading from a survival book, like how to survive a shark attack.

“There’s lots of adventure books -- very boy topics,” she said.

Local homeschoolers have option of attending gym classes twice a month and swim day once a month  at the West River Community Center in Dickinson. Lori has a pre-registration of 114 students for the gym classes -- up from 75 to 80 from last year.

They may attend “Classical Conversations,” a  national group that charges a fee. It’s a literary discussion group that meets weekly at the Hillside Baptist Church.

“We also have a Spanish teacher. Last year she taught the elementary kids and she will expand to the older kids if there’s enough interest,” she said.

In addition, there’s discussion to start choir classes in January.

“That’s not the only idea in our hats,” Wentz said. “We have invited a bunch of colleges  to talk about dual credit classes and their admission policies,” she said. “It’s set up for gym days.”

At the state level, the North Dakota Home School Association is working with The Department of Public Education and the attorney general to clarify wording in the Homeschool Bill for the next legislature. The wording is to clarify homeschooling as an entitlement for grandparents and those who have legal custody of children. The second area is to clarify what is “supervised learning” -- you’re supervising piano lessons, but have hired a teacher to work with the child. “The law is a little grey in that area,” Wentz said. “All parties are actively partnering to word it in an appropriate way.”

For more information on homeschooling or pending legislative bills, call Wentz at 701-590-3770.