Central Oregon home-school group explores

Field trips, social interaction are benefits of group

By Alandra Johnson / The Bulletin

Published Feb 28, 2014 at 12:11AM

Home-schooling resources

Central Oregon Open Learners: Group includes more than 40 members and values service, diversity and collaboration among other things. Contact: www.meetup.com/CentralOregonOpenLearners

Central Oregon Homeschool Group: Group with dozens of members hosts outings, from animal shelters to fire stations, several times a month. Contact: www.facebook.com/centraloregonhomeschoolgroup

Homeschool Tracker’s Club: Nature Skills of Antiquity Squirrel Clan: The club for home-schooled children includes nature songs, tracking, skills, crafts and more. Contact: email amara@wildheartnatureschool.com or wildheartnatureschool.com/friday-homeschool-program

High Desert Education Service District Home School Services: The ESD offers a link to resources and information. Contact: Sally West, 541-693-5656, or sally.west@hdesd.org or www.hdesd.org/services/home-school

Central Oregon Homeschoolers of Redmond: Yahoo group

Central Oregon Christian Home Educators: Yahoo group

When Jet Valenzuela was 3, he became extremely ill. In and out of hospitals for months with E. coli, his kidneys nearly shut down. “We almost lost him,” said his mom, Sarah Valenzuela.

This experience made Valenzuela want to be with her son as much as she could. “I realized how short life is,” said Valenzuela. That’s one of the reasons that when Jet became school age, she and her husband opted to keep him at home. Valenzuela home-schools Jet, now 8, and plans to do the same with his sister Violet, 3. They use a virtual school online program through Bend-La Pine Schools to help guide lessons and curriculum.

This year, Valenzuela decided she wanted to expand Jet’s educational and social life, so she created a new organization for home-schooled kids, Central Oregon Homeschool Group.

Valenzuela has planned a few outings each month for home-schooled children and their parents, including trips to the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Home Depot, an animal shelter, a radio station, Bend City Hall, the Environmental Center and more. The group now has dozens of members and is managed through a Facebook page.

Valenzuela likes her son to learn about new places and enjoys watching him connect with other children.

Unlike children who are in traditional school settings, children who are home-schooled are not required to interact with other kids (save for their own siblings). Instead, if parents want their children to have social outlets and make friends, they must make an effort to reach out. This group, in part, aims to help home-schooled children make those connections and gives them the chance to interact, as children in regular school would, with people who have different personality traits and come from different backgrounds.

The group is also helpful for home-schooling parents, who connect about curriculum and resources as well as regular parenting stuff. There is no unifying reason why these families are home-schooling their children, or one central core belief they share. “I think everybody does it for a different reason,” said Valenzuela.

Home-schoolers can be a diverse bunch — from conservative Christians to more bohemian free-thinkers — and this group helps bring them all together.

Something different

Growing up in Southern California, Valenzuela attended Catholic school. She was a manager at a retail store and called herself a perfectionist who loved to work. But once she had a child, she wanted to make a change. She and husband Stephen moved to Bend to find a smaller, more family-friendly community.

Valenzuela has open-ended plans for home-schooling her children.

“I’d really like to do it as long as it works for him. We can keep going until college,” she said.

Jet takes state tests every year. So far, she says, he has done well, meeting and exceeding benchmarks.

The home-school group offered Jet a chance to make more friends and to break from his normal schooling routine. Valenzuela calls her son very social, although she is more reserved. “This group helped me not to be as shy. There are a lot of great people out there who home-school that are like you. It’s kind of cool.”

Tours run the gamut: Children have helped make doughnuts at a local shop and toured a wastewater treatment plant.

Redmond mom Jenny Kettle says her son, 11-year-old Ryan, loved getting to climb into a cop car at the sheriff’s office and he liked getting to meet animals at the Humane Society of Central Oregon. She also likes the opportunity to link the outings to school lessons; she connected the water treatment plant visit to one of Ryan’s science projects.

Randi Ruddell, of Terrebonne, is a mom of three girls, Ella, 6, Anna, 4, and Lexi, 2. She likes going on the tours so her children can be around other kids in similar situations. And she likes to “pick the brains of moms who have been doing it longer than me.”

Why home-school?

Kettle has two sons but only home-schools the younger; her 13-year-old is in seventh grade at public school. She started home-schooling Ryan in the middle of fourth grade, when he had trouble concentrating in his class of 34 students. Kettle says he also experienced some bullying issues.

“The responsibility of actually teaching our child and being responsible for their future is a little bit intimidating,” said Kettle. But she tapped into a lot of resources and feels like the experience has been a success.

Kettle tried home-schooling her older son at the beginning of the year, but he had the wrong impression. “It just wasn’t for him. He thought he was going to sleep in and eat pancakes.” He didn’t realize all of the real work he would have to do, said Kettle. So Justin returned to school, where he enjoys sports and friends.

Jaime Suing also pulled her daughter out of public school in order to teach her at home. Her daughter Emma, now 8, struggled in kindergarten. She had experienced a death in the family and she became anxious — she was sick all the time and cried most of the day, Suing said. The school asked Suing to come to school during lunchtime so Emma would eat something. “She really didn’t learn much in kindergarten because she had too many other things going on,” said Suing. After that year, Suing began doing her work as a legal assistant from home at night to free herself up to teach Emma from home.

Ruddell, who went to public school herself, never really considered sending her children to school. She hated the thought of sending her children away, even for a few hours. She intends to home-school her three daughters throughout high school.

Benefits and challenges

Valenzuela’s favorite part of home-schooling is watching her son learn and grow. The most challenging aspect, she says, is keeping distractions to a minimum. Toys, the phone and other distractions are right there.

Ruddell was worried about her qualifications to teach. “It was something I didn’t feel smart enough to do.” But she found great resources. “If you can read or turn on a computer, you can home-school,” she said with a laugh. Now she finds it rewarding to watch her daughters learn something for the first time.

The tricky part, she says, is “putting on the teacher hat” when the girls know she is Mom.

Suing says the most challenging part for her is finding enough hours to do all she must, which includes working in addition to home-schooling. But Suing loves watching her daughter progress and for them to have freedom and choices. And now with the Central Oregon Homeschool Group, there are even more choices for families.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, ajohnson@bendbulletin.com

Students in Central Oregon

Number of home-schooled students reported for the 2011-12 school year, according to the Oregon Department of Education, by school district.

• Bend-La Pine Schools: 623

• Redmond School District: 321

• Crook County School District: 155

• Jefferson County School District: 69

• Sisters School District: 53

• Culver School District: 19

Total: 1,240