Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 7, 2005
Home schooling wins top marks
School of Hope, a Vermilion-based distance learning program won Today's Parent 'One Of A Kind' Award
By BILL GLEN
"Academically, they are at the top of the class."
- Marla Waldner
Waldner printed off a list of 60 Edmonton and area field trips the school has booked ranging from ecosystem awareness at the Muttart Conservatory to attending a ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Jubilee Auditorium.
There's fun at West Edmonton Mall, a Get Ready for Christmas day at Fort Edmonton and an aboriginal gallery tour.
Worrying about passing on the Catholic faith or socialization for children enrolled in Sign of Hope is unnecessary because home-schooling parents and teachers in the Edmonton area have formed a Catholic support group.
"We are a Catholic family and prayer is a very important part of it. With home schooling, we have more time to do those activities," Waldner said. "We get together as moms, starting each meeting praying the rosary. We support each other not only in our faith, but in our own schooling journey."
The children play with other home-schooled Catholic children. They are free to live in faith without anyone pointing fingers.
"Home-schooled children don't live in a bubble. What I notice more is their ability to blend in with different age groups. It's important for my own children to know this because in the work force, you are with others of all ages."
Waldner joined the Vermilion program in 1992 when fewer teachers were employed, making for large travel routes. She drove hundreds of kilometres a month from Manning to Airdrie, dropping in on students to teach the curriculum set out by the provincial government.
She said it would be impossible without the help of her husband, Darryl, a tax supervisor with the federal government.
Lorraine Person is vice-principal in charge of the school's elementary students. She coordinates students to teachers, designing travel routes for teachers to visit the students whenever necessary. As the students advance to the junior and senior high levels, more of the course materials can be downloaded from the school's website.
"Being named in Today's Parent magazine is quite an honour because we had no idea it was coming," said Person.
The typical classroom setting does not work for every student. Something that sets the School of Hope apart is its flexibility.
"Students can work at the subjects in their own order," Person said. "For example, if a student is on a roll with a language arts story, he can keep going until he's finished. He doesn't have to stop at 10:15, go outside for recess and come back in to cover something else."
The school ensures that it meets the learner outcomes identified by the provincial government. The school's curriculum is developed according to those guidelines. Students are guided to complete a year of school in synch with the regular school systems.
"With all of our elementary students, they fax their assignments to their teacher so that they are in regular communication. When we started the school, we provided fax machines as part of the package. And now with the Internet, students can email their assignments. We'll accept them hard copy or via the Internet."
Section 23 of the Alberta School Act specifies the parents' right to home school their children if they meet the requirements spelled out under the regulations and are under the supervision of the family's resident school board, a willing non-resident board or an accredited private school.
"We try to offer assistance to the students who have a learning disability or who struggle with various things," Person said.
Irene Long is the school's principal with Linda Jacejko serving as junior high vice-principal.
Students enjoy freedoms not always available in a school system because they manage their own time and learn according to a style best suited to them.
Waldner says students are provided with plenty of exercise, socialization and faith development. School of Hope is Catholic based but is has an open policy because many of its families are not Catholic.
Grades 1-9 full-time students receive the regular provincial grant of about $1,400 per student. The school puts the money into a trust account. The family receives half of the amount.
"The school is successful because the staff provides everything it can to support the parents. They strive to improve completion rates in an on-line and at-home setting," said Valerie Burgardt, superintendent of East Central Catholic Schools, based in Wainwright.
A lot of attention is given to determining what learning style is best for each student by matching it with their individual interests. Burgardt called the work "phenomenal."
"They have carved a niche market for themselves by meeting the needs of the kids. They have been recognized on a national level as one of a kind because of their commitment to helping parents help their children and other students in very untraditional environments."
The school is so named because some students who have not succeeded within traditional classroom settings find home schooling a sign of hope. Burgardt estimated that four per cent of students in Alberta do not fit into regular school structures.
"This school provides them with another avenue when all the other doors are shut," she said. "Their perseverance has to be high to get themselves to follow a routine when it's so easy at home to watch television or go cook," she said.
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