During Angela Rioux’s first two years of high school, her mom, Maria, who was also her home-school teacher, needed to support younger daughter Adrienne during her leukemia treatment. Angela and her siblings supported their sick sister by working hard and helping each other with assignments at their Cummings, Kan., home. Although Maria worried about Angela’s education, her daughter gained confidence, developed good study habits, and scored above average on her ACT.
“I felt like Angela must be getting shortchanged,” Maria said. “I thought academically she must suffer. I turned out to be wrong on both counts.”
Nine years later, Adrienne’s cancer is gone, and despite the challenges it caused, Angela is among a growing number of young Catholics whose home-school education has not only prepared them to succeed academically but also has kept them grounded in their Catholic faith.
In 2007, 422,000 (2.8%) of U.S. high-school students were home-schooled, up from 1.7% in 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Passing on the faith, protecting children from the secular culture, and tailoring academics to individual needs are among reasons for home schooling. Parents deciding whether or not to home educate might be surprised by the benefits and options.
Home-schooling parents can teach their children everything in light of the Catholic faith — implicitly or explicitly — says Laura Berquist of Ojai, Calif., who home-schooled her six children and is founder and director of Mother of Divine Grace School, a Catholic distance-education program offering accredited college-preparatory courses for home-schoolers. She also is the author of Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.
“If you present the high and noble things to your children, and if you are a faithful Catholic, and you direct your attention and the attention of your children to the truth and beauty of the Church — and the truth and beauty of Christ’s sacrifice for us and his love for us — then what you find is all of these things will work in your favor, whether you say it explicitly or not,” she said.
Adds Maria Rioux, “If you have a habit of talking with your children about any questions that they might have, the kinds of questions that come up during the high-school years are pivotal for their happiness and health, actually all their lives.”
Besides providing opportunities to share the faith, home schooling allows parents to choose a curriculum to fit their children’s needs. Students also can take online courses, and depending on their location, classes offered by home-school co-ops, academies and colleges or universities.
“You’re the general contractor of your child’s education, but that doesn’t mean even if you home school you have to necessarily teach every subject,” Berquist notes.
Stacie Zens of St. Paul, Minn., teaches high-school theology classes for home-schoolers.
“It’s a really good chance to get together with other high-school kids, develop relationships with peers, and have the experience of having class aside from home and prepare for college with someone else as their instructor,” Zens says.
Home schooling also enables parents to better understand their children’s strengths and interests, says MacBeth Derham of Bellerose, N.Y., who has home-schooled her four children. “Sometimes I would say that you realize all of a sudden there is a strength in a child that you hadn’t realized before.”
Derham allows her four kids to explore subjects of interest, provided they continue with math and reading. Knowing her oldest son had the aptitude, she recalls, “I basically handed him a book of electrical wiring and let him spend two years rewiring the house. It was great. I have pictures of him installing chandeliers.”
Beth Richards of St. Paul, Minn., who teaches her three boys ages 13 to 16, says she led the lessons more herself and spent extra time on subjects when they were in grade school and middle school. Now that her oldest two are in high school, they work more independently and take outside classes.
Her son Zach, who will be a sophomore this fall, appreciates his mother’s guidance in working at his own pace. “My mom knows what I’m ready for and not ready for,” he says, adding that he also appreciates the opportunity to take outside classes and incorporate school lessons into daily life.
Children know whether or not their parents are committed to home schooling — and success depends upon that commitment, says Jean Rioux, Maria’s husband. “Be sure you both are pulling in the same direction,” he says. “Don’t be at odds over this, because it’s one of the most important parts of your children’s lives.”
Although employed full-time as the philosophy chair at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., Jean Rioux helps plan his children’s curricula, acts as a resource, and teaches classes.
A common concern about high-school home schooling is peer contact and social-skill development. But home-school kids see friends, take outside classes and have other social opportunities, just like traditionally schooled students.
Socialization within the family is also important, Berquist says. “People are concerned about socialization when they really mean: Are these children going to learn how to live in communities so they can work for the common good of their communities? Home schools do that better than anybody else.”
Home schooling can help teens see peers as companions more than role models, according to Beth Richards. “As they’ve gotten older, it’s clearer and clearer that they need friendships and peers, but not to train them in how to think and act.”
Whether or not home-school students get into college concerns some parents. According to Berquist, who currently enrolls more than 1,200 high-school students in her program, 95% of her students get into their first-choice college.
Parents say home schooling is worth it. “It’s tremendously rewarding,” Richards said. “We did it together.”
Angela Rioux’s home-school experience provided the foundation for college success: She graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. Now helping to coordinate Benedictine College events, she’s deeply aware of the value of her home-school education — and the family relationships that learning fostered.
Susan Klemond writes
from St. Paul, Minnesota.