Alternative learning experience
What is it: An alternative to traditional school which is developed and supervised by a public school teacher. These programs include online schools, contract programs or other education options school districts offer, such as the Valley Academy of the Wenatchee School District and Columbia Virtual Academy of the Eastmont School District.
Laws adopted: 1996, 2005
Funding: ALE is considered part of the public school system, so the state provides education funding for every student enrolled. Several programs offer reimbursement to families for non-religious materials the student needs to finish their “student learning plan,” including books, software, admission to museums or plays. The program approves the purchases in advance.
Requirements: Parents sign a document saying they understand of the difference between home-school and ALE.
• Students follow a learning plan and their progress is monitored and assessed by a public school teacher.
• Students follow the same testing rules, attendance and graduation requirements as public school students.
• Students must prove they are doing their own work.
• ALE programs submit an annual report to the state and the school board of the program’s school district. The report includes enrollment, staff-to-student ratios, a program description and evaluation.
What is it: Parents are solely responsible for planning and supervising their child’s education.
Law adopted: 1985
Funding: No state funding, parents pay for their child’s curriculum materials, transportation and extras, such as music or swimming lessons.
Requirements: Parents must qualify for home school by doing one of these things: take a college course about home-schooling, earn 45 college credits, a local school superintendent deems the parent “qualified,” or the student works with a teacher an hour a week.
• The parent sends an annual form to the school district declaring that their child will be home-schooled.
• Students take 11 subjects a year: occupational education, science, mathematics, language, social studies, history, health, reading, writing and spelling and art and music appreciation.
• Students test annually, either the state test or another test approved by the state. Several testing companies offer tests and grading. The results stay with the family, not reported to the state.
• Students cannot graduate through a public high school unless they meet state and local graduation requirements. The Washington Homeschool Organization hosts an annual home school graduation.
• Home-school students can still attend school part-time and request some services, such as speech therapy or academic counseling.
Source: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
EAST WENATCHEE — Connor Lester was four years old at his first piano recital. He played “Eensy Weensy Spider” with a box under his feet to keep his legs from dangling off the bench.
That same year, he learned to play chess and read books. As other families in the neighborhood registered their children for kindergarten, Connor’s parents searched for a school that could keep up with him.
“It was almost ludicrous what we would have done to him if we forced him to go into that environment,” his father Don Lester said. “We were making jokes about music class, when the other kids are banging sticks, he’ll be playing Mozart.”
The Lesters studied dozens of home-school curriculum options and enrolled him in Washington Virtual Academy, an online school. WAVA is funded by the state as a public school, so everything is free. WAVA sends boxes of books, worksheets and supplies to supplement his work online.
His mother, Cindy Lester, said she admires home-school families who teach their children outside of the public school system. She felt she needed more guidance.
“I like the structure,” she said. “I like to make sure he has that every day. I know he’s not missing anything that he needs to know.”
While Don works as an engineer, Cindy stays home to help teach Connor and guide him through the WAVA curriculum.
Everything Connor needs is in the dining room of their home — a sprawling computer desk, a tall bookcase of academic games and books, a piano and a table.
School starts at 7 a.m. He spends two hours on language arts, then math every day.
A few days a week, he studies science, art and history.
After school, he practices piano with his mom and chess with his dad. He also plays at the park, goes to the YMCA, and joined a chess club where he can talk to other children.
Connor only recently started feeling comfortable when the other children ask him, “What school do you go to?”
“I tell them, ‘Well, I’m home-schooled’ and then they ask me a bunch of hard questions,” Connor said.
“Like ‘You don’t ever have to work,’ and ‘You don’t ever have to go to school’” his mom said.
“Yeah, I just tell them, ‘Oh well guess what, you’re wrong,’” the boy said. “They don’t know what home-school is like because they go to a regular school.”
WAVA requires students to finish a certain amount of school work each month, and in most subjects Connor is ahead.
Now 8 years old, he’s working on third-grade math, art and history.
A state-certified teacher, Gerry Davis, calls Connor and his mom weekly to check his progress and talk about the work samples they send him.
“We send e-mails to him and he’s also my friend,” Connor said. “He gives me a little pop quiz on my stuff.”
Connor lights up when it’s time for science and history. He loathes spelling, although he’s an excellent reader. He is an average second-grader in spelling, which used to worry his mother.
Davis helps with that, too. He referred Cindy to a Web site, www.SpellingCity.com, where Connor can play fun spelling games and build his vocabulary.
While other kids take winter, spring and summer breaks, Connor continues his studies. In summer, he works for an hour or two a day.
“He’s competing globally, not just with kids down the street,” his dad said.
“One of the big problems with public school is that they’re out a lot of the year. Those are all instruction days that we’re not losing.”
Cindy and Don are still studying other programs and classes for Connor. For now, they’ve ruled out a traditional classroom.
“There are problems with public schools I’m not inclined to tolerate,” Don said.
“He has no idea what a bully really is. He’s never had to deal with one. And schools are very driven by the lowest common denominator.”
Maybe when Connor is older, he’ll enroll at the local high school, where he can take higher-level classes, drama or sports, Don said.
“Every year we have a serious discussion, especially when spring rolls around, about whether we’re going to enroll in the next thing,” he said.
“He will at least complete elementary this way, and then, who knows?”