When my son was a toddler, he attended gymnastics class. One of the hot topics for the mommies in the waiting area was the Clark County School District. Nobody had anything good to say, and I chalked it up to snobbishness. I graduated from Las Vegas schools. In my opinion, school was what you made of it. The gymnastics moms frequently traded information about the various private schools – costs, uniforms, curriculums. They talked about explaining to relatives back East that the expense of private school was simply unavoidable if you lived here because the schools were so dreadful. At that point, I’d already made some calls and knew that private schools were running about $10,000 a year. Homeschooling, which I considered the province of the deeply religious and somewhat anti-social, was not on my list of educational possibilities.
Then my son started school, a lovely little place within easy walking distance of our home. I’ll call it Mayberry Elementary because it’s a great school. It turns out it’s just not the right school for my son, but that’s another story. Here’s the bottom line in Las Vegas: if you want alternatives to our public schools, your options are limited. And our public schools are stretched wafer thin. They’re doing the best they can, and they’re full of dedicated professionals, but they’re facing challenges on several fronts (now including massive budget cuts). Private schools are still about $10,000 a year. Clark County’s virtual schools, which look very promising, are still in their early phases. Their enrollments were closed in November, when I checked, but they’ll be accepting applications in March. That left homeschooling. Since I’m a writer who primarily works at home, I felt obligated to at least give it a try.
Honestly, I thought my son would quickly loose interest when he found out this wasn’t going to be some kind of edu-tainment experience featuring loads of TV and video game playing time. Instead, he quickly adapted to the new routine and, six weeks or so into our test period, he’s doing well. He’s accepted that math will be a part of his life, no matter where he goes to school. He’s not real happy about that, but lately he doesn’t complain much.
While your options for alternative modes of education are limited in Las Vegas, if you do elect to homeschool, Nevada is an excellent state in which to do so. In Nevada, the parent decides what curriculum to use, the teaching method, the hours of instruction, and most other details – you assume full responsibility for your child’s education. When you notify the school district that you’re homeschooling, you must agree to cover the basics of reading, writing, math, and so on and supply at least a basic lesson plan. Homeschoolers aren’t required to submit to state oversight or additional testing. No NCLB here. Homeschooled kids in the upper grades, just like any other teens, face a battery of tests for college placement and scholarship eligibility. One of the drawbacks is that a homeschooled student doesn’t receive a regular high school diploma from the school district, but you can enroll in accredited distance programs that offer diplomas. Homeschoolers who want to re-enter Clark County public schools for middle school or high school must demonstrate proficiency and competency in all their studies, and may be required to pass examinations or other evaluations. Virtual school students receive regular diplomas because although they attend school at home, they are still attending a public school.
Homeschooled kids are still eligible to attend classes and participate in activities like sports at public schools. You must submit a form to the school district to request to participate in school programs, and you also need to contact the principal of the school your child would attend. I’m currently waiting to find out if my son has been approved to attend his old Gifted and Talented classes at Mayberry; he’s been missing his GATE teacher. His new Mom-Teacher, so he says, is kind of tough. But we don’t have a dress code and snacks are allowed, so I think it’s kind of a wash.
If you’re interested in homeschooling, check the Nevada Homeschool Network’s web page at http://www.nevadahomeschoolnetwork.com/.
Photo courtesy of Sadiya Durrani at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/398272