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In the last 30 years, the number of home-schooled students in Wilson County has grown from 12 to nearly 800.
Across the state, the number of home schools grew from 381 in 1985-86 to 86,753 in 2017-18. In the same span of time, the number of home-schooled students went from 809 to 135,749 according to statistics maintained by the N.C. Department of Administration Division of Non-Public Education.
Statewide in 1988-89, home schools by type were 20 percent independent and 80 percent religious. That division had changed over time such that by 2017-18, 41.5 percent of home schools were independent and 58.5 percent were religious.
Charlene Dienes is director of foundations and essentials with Classical Conversations of Wilson County. The organization has about 91 home-schoolers it helps instruct among the 796 home-schooled students in Wilson County.
Dienes said “discipline, and lack thereof, is one of the biggest reasons to why I never really wanted to consider putting my kids in public school.”
Dienes had concerns about drugs, alcohol and promiscuity that her children could be exposed to in a public school.
“I want to be able to introduce my children to those things in a healthy way from my worldview, which is a Christ-centered worldview and a biblical world iew,” Dienes said. “I don’t want other immature people teaching my children important life lessons.”
Dienes said the reasons why families opt to teach their children at home differ with every family.
“I have talked to and advised many families who have left public and even private school,” Dienes said.
One family she knows of left a private school because the parents didn’t feel children’s educational needs were being met.
“I think it is various reasons, but typically it is lack of faith and lack of happiness, or lack of contentment with the quality of education the kids are getting in the public schools,” Dienes said.
Dienes has a son and a daughter who have been home-schooled since the beginning of their education.
“I actually learned of Classical Conversations through a friend. We went to an information meeting because we found out that they did science experiments and art, and they also provided an opportunity for our kids to do presentations every week, and those are skills that we wanted them to develop — especially at a young age,” Dienes said. “Then I learned that it was so much more than that, a total different philosophy of education than modern education.”
Dienes is a former high school teacher who “only taught for about a year because of the horrible discipline problems.”
“To me it is just inherently difficult to be successful because you have such a wide variety of people to teach to, so you really sort of have to teach to the middle so the people who are ahead get bored and the people who are behind get lost, and so you really can only teach to the middle,” Dienes said. “I found if I had 30 students in my class, there were easily 20 to 25 percent of them that I wasn’t reaching in an effective way. That is why I love home-schooling as well. I can tailor my children’s education specifically to what they need.”
Dienes has been affiliated with Classical Conversations for 10 of the 13 years the program has been in Wilson County. She has been a director for five years.
“First and foremost, Classical Conversations’ mission is to know God and make him known, so our focus is on learning more about who God is and how he connects and how it relates to every subject we study,” Dienes said. “It focuses on combining a biblical worldview with a classical method of learning. Traditional schools typically don’t learn classically. Our brains really are meant to learn in very clear, systematic way in that you have to learn the grammar of any subject first, so the classical method focuses on memory and repetition over time. In the younger years, their brains are like sponges, so we just do a lot of memory work and learning the grammar and then only expound on things the kids are interested in while building fundamental skills of reading and math.”
Dienes said in the middle school years, students “grow into being more dialectic, wanting to understand more about some of the material that they have learned, so that is when we move into expounding and being able to write and present and understand the information that they have learned. Then in the high school years, they become rhetorical, learning to persuade and understand and teach in relation to what they have learned.”
NO REGRETS FOR THIS FAMILY
Steve and Rebecca Barry of Wilson chose to educate their two sons in their home.
One of them is in the 11th grade, and the other one, Ethan, is now a sophomore at Campbell University. Ethan started his education in private school, but the family decided it would be better for their son to be home-schooled when he was in the second grade.
“We did it because we felt like a lot of his time was being wasted in the school he was in,” Steve Barry said. “Becky reached out to some of the home-school community here in Wilson. We did a little bit of research and talked to some of the home-school veterans that were available to us here in Wilson, and we made that call.”
The Barrys told themselves at that time that they were going to reassess at the end of the year, sit around the table and make an evaluation to decide whether they wanted to continue or not and whether their year had been successful.
They decided to continue. It has now been 11 years.
“In recent years it has been an easy discussion, but to begin with, it was a serious discussion. We had all of the same fears as everybody does. ‘Is my kid going to be unsocialized or social outcasts’?”
Barry was concerned that the boys wouldn’t have access to athletics.
“I was concerned about that for my boys, and for the first couple of years what we did was club soccer that’s year around, so they could express their athleticism that way,” Barry said. “Since that time we have found a bunch of outlets for it, and it has turned out to be no concern at all.”
Barry said the family has no regrets.
“None at all. It has worked out great,” Barry said. “Both the boys are very socially connected.”
Barry said it turned out that their fears about social and athletic issues turned out not to be of concern at all.
“Our boys are well adjusted,” Barry said. “They have got girlfriends and have had girlfriends, buddies to hang out with. We spend a lot of time hanging out with other home-schoolers as well as other public and private schoolers through athletics, so that is not a concern.”
Ethan has excelled in his academic career at Campbell, Barry said. “He was Dean’s List his freshman year.”
Their other son, Eric, “is tracking out as well and is doing well on his standardized tests.”
“We never really looked at it as a negative on the public schools or private schools that he could have gone to,” Barry said. “It’s not due to any fault of the schools. It is just the simple reality that a single parent or a single mom or a single dad or a family can spend more time on educating a kid than a teacher can spend educating a room full of kids. We have got a lot of family friends that are teachers in the public and private school systems and they are great, but they can’t possibly spend as much time focusing on educating my kid as my wife can at home. It’s just a bit of an unfair fight.”