At Home at Delta College

Delta College, home-school families see advantages in joint program

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More than 100 home-school families in the Saginaw Valley area are pooling their talent – literally and figuratively – in a cooperative program with Delta College. The program brings hundreds of children to Delta’s campus each Friday for classes ranging from swimming to Spanish to geography. Parents teach most of the classes, making use of the pool, fitness center and classrooms on site.

"You can do some types of physical education (at home), but it’s pretty hard to do a good swim program at your house," Sue Passeno, parent coordinator, told Michigan Education Report. Passeno said the program began about 10 years ago as "swim-and-gym" for home-school students at the Saginaw YMCA.

As more families joined, the program outgrew that facility, so the group contacted Tara Cunningham, manager of Fitness and Recreation at Delta College. Cunningham previously held a similar position at the Saginaw YMCA.

"They called and asked about moving things over here," Cunningham said. Since Fridays are usually a slower day on campus, she helped arrange for the group to use campus athletic areas and classrooms.

"We really see it as filling a need in the community," Cunningham said. "Something like orchestra is really hard to do at home, but here the kids can all be together in one place and play their instruments."

Most sessions are offered in 10-week blocks, with registration fees that cover the costs of supplies and the use of the rooms. Classes are offered to four age groups, ranging from pre-school swim for 3- to 5-year-olds to Spanish I for 14-year-old students and older. Many of the classes focus on physical education, music and art, but older students have the option to study drafting, money management and geography. There also is an ACT Preparation class. In the fall of 2005, the group’s first at Delta, almost 260 students from 106 families participated. Last fall, that had grown to 310 students from 133 families.

"We’ve got families from all over," Cunningham said. "The Tri-Cities and the Thumb, and as far away as Clio and Standish."

"The kids love it," said Passeno, a Saginaw resident and home-school parent of five. Many families spend the whole day on campus, with students taking up to five classes and eating lunch on site, while parents teach, supervise or help in other ways. Every parent is asked to volunteer, she said, even if it’s only by setting up equipment.

"We always really stress that the parents stay involved," she said. Parents can visit any class at any time, and they also are expected to make sure that their children do any assigned homework.

A growing number of Michigan home school families are sharing resources, particularly for advanced classes or physical education, according to Lois Ericson, a staff member with the Grand Rapids-based Information Network for Christian Homes. INCH sponsors a Web site that serves as a clearinghouse for information about home school and puts families in touch with nearby support groups.

"Families aren’t just doing field trips any more," Ericson said. "As people home-schooled and kids got older, they began to see the need for classes." One building in Grand Rapids — built and donated privately for use by home-school families — houses a gymnasium, library, educational areas and a store. "A lot of them (home-school groups) meet in churches or in other facilities they rent. A lot of times the parent teaches, if they have expertise. Other times they hire out."

One of the parent teachers at Delta is Michael Back of Montrose Township, who instructs 85 students in a type of karate called kal-kin-odo, with some Tae Kwon Do and judo mixed in. Back was semi-retired from operating his own martial arts school in Flint when he was recruited for the home-school program.

"I thought it was a perfect opportunity for me," he said. "The style I teach is very suited to kids. … They can, in a very short time, look very impressive."

Kal-kin-odo movements incorporate the use of rattan sticks about as long as the user’s arm. The emphasis is not so much on self-defense as defense of others, according to Back, a home-school parent of four.

Passeno said Back’s three karate classes are among the program’s most popular. "He’ll have 35 kids – and total control," she said.

On the academic side, Back also teaches apologetics to sixth through 12th graders. He calls it "kind of a college prep course," meant to teach students headed to college how to defend their beliefs.

"They have not always been challenged very often in what they believe," Back said. "My goal is, number one, for them to increasingly recognize the assumptions of any argument and, number two, to be able to reason logically."

For example, he said, in one class he asked students to answer this question: What is 10 plus 1? When most of them said 11, he asked them to think about what assumption they made before answering. Ten plus one equals eleven only in base ten, he said, not in any other base.

Like Back, most of the parent teachers are volunteers who have personal interest or expertise in their subjects, Passeno said. "One of the advantages of teaching is that you get to register first," she said. That’s no small benefit, since classes fill quickly.

Cunningham said the program benefits not only the families, but also the college.

"It gets the kids on campus and gets them exposed to Delta," she said. "A lot of home-schoolers at the high school level take dual enrollment classes, so it helps that they’re already familiar with Delta and what it has to offer."

Reader Comments

I think this is an awesome opportunity for homeschool students, it would be nice to offer classes like these so that all students (public and parochial) could benefit.
- Kim Browning, reader, Pinconning, Mich.

This sounds like a great opportunity for children who are getting educated at home. Many times these children miss out on extra-curricular activities and the socialization which take place during them. It also seems like a good way to introduce them to college-life. I hope it continues and other parents look into this opportunity for their children.
- Susan Newkirk, social worker, Otsego Public Schools.

Having spent half of my professional career in parochial schools and the other half in public schools, I fully believe that schools are not "one size fits all." The specific needs of each child must be taken into consideration and where opportunity allows, parents should have the right to make selections for educational experiences that meet those specific needs.

That being said, I have difficulty believing that most home-school situations afford quality educational experiences. This article indicates that many home-schoolers also see the weaknesses in home-schooling. By meeting together at Y's or at churches, they, in effect are creating a private school. My major concern with home-schooling is the quality of instruction. How many parents are qualified to teach Advanced or AP quality ELA AND Chemistry or Trig? My second concern is the social development of home-schooled children. The program at Delta can be a help in this area. But even weekly opportunities for in-depth course work leaves me skeptical that home-school children get the best of opportunities.

There are exceptions, of course. Some National Merit Scholars have been home-schooled, and some go on to universities and succeed admirably. But I see, too often, parents who disagree with school discipline or one book in the library, and pull their children to home-school them. These parents are frequently unsuccessful in their own schooling and look for issues that will justify their own lack of success. These children are being educationally neglected. The state has no set requirements for home-schooling. Parents are urged to register with the ISD but are not required to do so. There is no standard to which home-schooling parents must adhere. The neglected may well be a minority in this but when we are called to leave "NO CHILD BEHIND" haven't we, as a state, left these behind? And isn't one child one too many to fail?
- Rita Linnenkugel, counselor, Albion High School.

This program is spectacular. With the new high school graduation requirements coming into effect and the inclusion of the ACT into the high school testing set-up, any type of additional class offerings, especially those geared toward these new requirements, will be impressively beneficial.
- Chris Conley, psychologist, Saginaw Intermediate School District.

I educated my two children at home for four years; enjoyed it immensely even though it was hard work. I tried to find a Spanish teacher for my kids and could not. I was fortunate to find an Italian teacher and so the kids went to Italian class at a gal's house once a week. I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO HAVE HAD A COLLEGE COOPERATE WITH HOMESCHOOLERS! I would have had that Spanish teacher and perhaps a lab science available to my kids. How innovative for Delta College to offer their campus for instruction. My children returned to the formal classroom, but had this kind of situation been available to me, I would have still been educating my kids at home. My hat's off to Delta College and these dedicated parents.
- Rosemarie Denton, reader, Novi. Mich.