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Home Schoolers: Learning From Experience

Posted on 05 September 2008

by Annette Hinkle

It’s early September — time for children across the East End to head back to school.

But for the Yacoes of Northwest, there are no bells, buses or backpacks. Instead, the first day of school this past Wednesday included a trip to Kennedy Airport and a flight to Cairo where the family will spend the next two weeks. The trip came about after Joseph Yacoe, a cinematographer, was hired to shoot a commercial in Egypt.

The term experiential learning takes on a global perspective for Joseph and his wife Marina, who live near Northwest Creek and this year are home schooling their three children, Aluna, 14, Owen, 5, and Zuber, 3.

The Yacoes have turned travel into a learning experience before —Patagonia, New Zealand and a sailing trip last year to the Bahamas are just a sampling of the destinations they have visited. In the Bahamas, the children studied marine biology and the history of the slave trade.

“It’s so fascinating, and so intimate,” says Marina. “You find an octopus and you study it. We spent three weeks cruising, and every kid you meet is a home schooler.”

Marina notes that her motivation to home school stems from her own love of learning.

“I’m a forever student, a questioner and investigator,” explains Marina, a photojournalist who traveled to Bali to shoot a project with Joseph and Aluna when she was just a baby.

“My friend who’s a midwife in Bali was home schooling, that was like a seed planted. I had never thought of it. Why not be your child’s teacher? I’m intelligent, aware of the world. I wasn’t intimated.”

Aluna, who is entering tenth grade, was home schooled last year, but attended Hayground School from third to eighth grade. When given the option this year of either home schooling, attending Ross School or East Hampton High School, Aluna chose home schooling again. This is the first year that the Yacoes are home schooling all three of their children.

“I approach it by knowing it’s possible and not impossible,” notes Marina. “In July, I panicked, I said, ‘I have to send the boys to school.’ But I can do it. They’re my kids. It’ll only make us stronger and more organized.”

 “We can individualize the kids’ strengths, get the requirements done efficiently and dive in,” says Marina who ascribes to the teaching philosophy of turn-of-last-century British educator Charlotte Mason.

“Mason’s philosophy sounds groovy and crunchy, but it’s ‘Don’t give kids twaddle’ —Â that’s everything watered down instead of real poetry and real art, real history.”

“That to me was a great encouragement. I can share with my kids real stuff and know that’s going to be inspiring. Instead of watering it down we’re diving in,” she says.

“At first, Aluna was like, ‘Oh Mom, you’re so alternative and weird.’ Then she saw how efficient it was,” adds Marina.

Marina notes that her family now gets up at a leisurely pace, shares breakfast and gets the required school work out of the way in three or four hours. That leaves Aluna time to pursue other interests — which includes socializing with friends.

 “It’s calm too,” says Marina. “When my daughter stopped going to school, she was still a teenager, but that pressure of eight hours a day was gone. She’s able to be a little more who she is. I think it allows us to still be friends.”

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For eight-year-old Abigail Loos, the first day of school consists of a desk situated by a sunny window of the small fishing cottage she shares with her parents, Teresa and Dan, on Northwest Creek — just across from Barcelona Neck.

On Wednesday morning, Abigail’s first day of third grade, she leaned over her worksheet and practiced spelling words in cursive while a line up of plastic toy horses and her mother looked on.

There are any number of reasons that families choose to home school — from religious beliefs, to fears of peer pressure or dissatisfaction with school curriculum. For Teresa, who has home schooled Abigail since Pre-K and uses a Christian based curriculum, the decision to home school came with a certain amount of trepidation.

“I was the only one I knew of who was doing it when I first started,” says Teresa. “It was so scary. I didn’t want to send her to public school — I couldn’t bear putting her on a bus at age 5 and saying goodbye. But I didn’t know the legalities of it. I had pictures in my head of a social worker coming and taking my child away.”

“There’s a big misunderstanding,” notes Teresa who, per state mandate, submits an instruction plan for Abigail, quarterly reports and testing results to the school district. “It is legal, it’s a family decision. We’ve decided it’s the best thing to do.”

Though home schooling is a tradition that goes back centuries (public education as we know it is a relatively recent invention) the advent of computers and the Internet has meant that home schoolers need not learn in isolation like they may have a century or more ago.

These days home schooling families form networks that stretch beyond the confines of the living room. Parents can subscribe to any number of educational services from “school in a box” curriculums with DVD lessons to on-line schools that offer a full range of services to the home-schooled child. There are also websites that keep parents up to date on legal issues related to home schooling.

Closer to home, Teresa has created a new website (www.groups.yahoo.com/groups/easthamptonhomeschool) with the hope of networking, sharing information and organizing field trips with like-minded home-schooling families on the East End.

 “I finally set it up two months ago,” says Loos of the new site. “We’ve made contact with nine families so far, each one with about three children, except for me.”

“I hope that it will alleviate any fears that any new home schoolers will have when they start,” offers Teresa. “I was scared to death when I started. I thought, ‘Am I doing this right?’ We’d like people to know that home schoolers are not all hippy dippy. People home school for all kinds of reasons.”

Teresa has planned a number of field trips this year for her home schooler, including outings with a naturalist, camping, farm visits and an exploration of homestead arts like candle making and sewing.

 The experiential learning that hands-on activites offer her daughter is an important part of the home schooling process for Teresa. When a pod of dolphins became stranded in Northwest Creek a couple of years ago, it was a backyard laboratory for Abigail — one she might have missed had she been at a traditional school.

“She got to hear the dolphins. She helped rescue one of the baby dolphins,” says Teresa. “It washed up right in the creek by the shore. We called animal rescue, she talked to it and stayed with it and felt she was helping with the rescue.”

“We had science class right outside,” says Teresa.

Photo Above: The Yacoe family perusing information on Egypt in advance of their trip to Cairo.

Annette Hinkle photo

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