An analysis of education in Butler County superintendent#039;s mind

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2001

In many ways it looks like a typical classroom. Colorful educational posters featuring presidents and planets dot the walls.

Cases filled with textbooks, dictionaries and storybooks fill almost every nook and cranny.

Children's artwork and snapshots of smiling students are on prominent display.

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Only this classroom isn't found inside a school building

it's located within the walls of the home of Mickey and Laura Skipper of Halso Mill Road in rural Butler County.

The Skippers are one of a constantly growing number of families in the area who are choosing to educate their children at home.

With eight years of home schooling experience under her belt, Laura Skipper certainly knows the ups and downs of taking charge of your children's education.

&uot;I admit the biggest challenge for me in the beginning was simply deciding I COULD do this.

At first, it was only Mickey's conviction we should home school our oldest child, Amy.

I said, Sure, you go right ahead!'I shuddered at the thought of her education being in my hands,&uot; admits the mother of three.

The Skippers knew of only one other family in the area at the time that was home schooling. After visiting the home of Norma Jean Wallace, a Crenshaw County resident, and taking note of how advanced the Wallace children were in their education, Skipper found herself becoming more enthusiastic about the idea.

&uot;[Wallace's] kids were reading newspapers in kindergarten.

We saw the joy and love that was in that home all daywe knew we wanted this in our home,&uot; she said.

Upon Amy's graduation from a local kindergarten, the Skippers used a home schooling curriculum and taught Amy how to read that summer.

This success gave Laura Skipper the confidence to pursue a challenging new endeavor.

&uot;All my fears of teaching left me [after that summer] and I became very passionate about the home schooling movement,&uot; Skipper remarks.

The family has opted to use ABEKA, a popular home schooling curriculum, along with the Saxon math program to instruct Amy, 13, Brandon, 9, and Caleb, 6.

&uot;I think I've learned far more teaching my children than I ever did in school

it’s truly something new every day,&uot; the Greenville High graduate notes.

The Internet is also a great help, one that has been used extensively in researching subjects for her history class this year, says Skipper.

Like children in a regular classroom, the Skipper children have exams, homework, science projects and other typical school activities.

&uot;We are required to send in regular attendance reports, test scores and other paperworkI really like being accountable to someone else because it keeps you on your toes,&uot; Skipper asserts.

One big difference for these children is that each day begins with Bible study and &uot;prayer down on our knees,&uot; notes Skipper, who adds, &uot;If my children don't excel at anything else I want them to excel at the word of God because that is what we are supposed to live by and that is what we are going to be judged by.&uot;

The classroom isn't limited to the confines of the Skipper home, either. &uot;Our classroom is truly portablewe may go to Sherling Lake for class one day; we may pack up and go to the mountains for a few days and the classwork goes with us.&uot;

The two questions Laura Skipper says she has most often had to address from those curious about the idea of home schooling concern the quality of academic education and

social life for home schoolers.

&uot;Home schoolers have proven their academic abilityour children are excelling at the SATs and ACTs each year and we are taking math, geography and spelling bees by storm across the country,&uot; Skipper asserts.

She admits she has a few reservations about Amy's instruction once she reaches high school, but says

&uot;I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.&uot;

&uot;There are wonderful video class tapes available today, or if we need to get her a tutor for some of the advanced work, we’ll do it

whatever it takes to get the job done,&uot; Skipper declares, noting that Amy is &uot;an excellent student&uot; who plans to attend college following graduation.

&uot;Our home schooling group has a graduation ceremony each year and our children do receive official diplomas,&uot; Skipper states.

The two most recent graduates from the group are both attending college on academic scholarships.

The Skippers belong to a group of approximately 40 home schooling families from throughout the area who meet regularly in Luverne.

&uot;We swap teaching

ideas, celebrate holidays together, have kickball games for the kidsit's a time to socialize and to give each other moral support,&uot; Skipper explains, adding, &uot;There is another group that meets in Montgomery monthly and it has many Butler County families involved.

There are about 100 families in that group, I believe.&uot;

As for social activities, Skipper says her family is all too frequently on the go.

&uot;People wonder about home schooled kids not having enough contacts, but believe me, our children dodrama team and choir at church, kickball, sleepovers, my daughter's piano lessons, little league, scoutingthere's always something going on,&uot; Skipper says.

&uot;We also encourage them to interact with people of other ages through, for example, visits to the nursing home.

We want to expose them to a variety of social situations.&uot;

The old image of the home schooling family as white, isolated, anti-social and strictly blue-collar is fast disappearing in America and in Butler County.

&uot;We are told there are now approximately 10,000 families in Alabama who home school. You will find the children of doctors, lawyers and business owners who are being taught at home.

In our group we have families of all different backgrounds, religions, colorswe don't discriminate concerning who is involved in our group and I'm really glad of that,&uot; Skipper says.

One thing Laura Skipper wants to stress is her belief that home schooling is definitely not for everyone.

&uot;I don't want to lay some guilt trip on anybody out there, thinking there's something wrong if they don't choose this for their family.

It takes a lot of perseverance and good nerves and it really improves your prayer life,&uot; she comments.

&uot;I try to bring joy into each day of my children's livesI smile, I sing, I joke with them and some mornings, frankly, they look at me like I'm nuts. But ultimately I think it's all worth it.&uot;

And if the pupils cause a disciplinary problem?

Skipper grins.

&uot;When our principal' [Mr. Skipper] gets home from work, he can do wonders with attitude adjustment.&uot;

A milk and cookie break in the middle of the morning works wonders, too.

&uot;Our day is structured and yet relaxed with more freedom than in a typical classroomI think my kids would really miss that aspect of their education,&uot; comments Skipper.

&uot;My children always have the option of returning to a traditional classroom because I don't want them to grow up resenting us, feeling we forced them into thisif one day my daughter has children and chooses to home school them, I'll know I really have chosen the right path.&uot;

As for Skipper, she is committed to continuing to teaching the three R's

plus a whole lot more

in the little school house' outside of Greenville.