Even though they don’t have a formal school to attend, homeschool students still have clubs.
Interior Distance Education of Alaska, a statewide homeschool support program, hosts group programs monthly to bring students together for academic activities.
Janice Habermann, an IDEA coordinator for the Kenai Area, said the meetups are a chance for the parents to exchange ideas about teaching and for the kids to socialize outside their families.
“It’s always fun to learn together,” Habermann said. “It’s really good for the moms. They get to see other moms modeling different teaching models. It’s really good for the kids to interact with each other — they build friendships.”
Each month’s program features a different theme — in the summer, the group met at Solid Rock for an outdoor-themed field day, and October is geography. The students from the seventeen families enrolled each choose a country, build a clay model of the county’s topography and create a report about the country.
Deb Mackey, another IDEA staff coordinator, said the parents will often exchange ideas at the meetups.
“The clubs are optional, you don’t have to attend all of them,” Mackey said. “But they’re a great way to meet up and get to know the other families.”
The activities are designed to have a learning component but also provide social time for the kids. IDEA is a coordinating program — the parents can choose from one of 400 vendors for their curriculum, but the IDEA staff provides guidance if parents need help, Habermann said. The staff produces the curriculum for the club activities, she said.
“We have an online ordering program with our vendors, so they can order online directly through IDEA,” Habermann said. “But we let families choose, and every family is different and unique.”
IDEA launched in 1997 and is offered statewide. Field offices are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Soldotna, Mat-Su, Juneau and Wasilla, with the rest of the state being coordinated out of the Soldotna office. The staff is all certified teachers, Habermann said.
Though the parents are able to pick the curriculum, IDEA is still required to meet the new Alaska Measures of Progress standards. The Kenai Peninsula’s approximately 590 IDEA students take the test in the Challenger Center in Kenai, administered by IDEA staff.
However, for the rest of the time, parents are free to run the school year as they will. Some parents teach year-round; others take traditional summer breaks, Habermann said.
“You can keep a traditional school year, but if you know you’re going to be outside for six weeks in the winter, you can go longer in the spring into the summer,” Habermann said.
The clubs are available to all ages, from toddlers to high school. When the students met at the Kalifonsky Christian Center on Friday, the approximately 40 students and parents ranged in age from less than two to early high school. Parents helped many of the kids with the projects, but some worked on their own. Next week, the students will present their reports and bring a sample of the food from their chosen country to sample in a “world’s fair.” Next month, the club will focus on math.
“We have a long history of really meeting parents’ needs,” Habermann said. “That’s really our goal, to meet your needs as a parent.”