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Last week saw school-aged children around the county start the 2008-09 school year with desks, lockers and backpacks filled of supplies.

But for a growing number of children, the school year started instead at home, with kitchen tables, home computers and a different kind of "home work."

Home schooling in Carroll and elsewhere has slowly been on the rise, not only in numbers but also in acceptance.

Records kept by Carroll County dating back to the 1992-93 school year show a total of 252 registered home-schoolers back then, according to Mary Cashdollar, supervisor of student services and special programs for Carroll County Public Schools. By the 1997-98 school year, the number had grown to 490.

Today, there are 1,291.

"The reasons for home schooling vary for each family," Cashdollar said. "Parents may feel their child needs something a little extra that the public school can't do. Some have a more faith-based reason."

Jennifer Metz, community coordinator for Educating Our Own, a Westminster-based home schooling support group, had been a middle school teacher before her son was born. She knew that she wanted to home school him as he grew older.

"A lot of home-schoolers come across as people who hate the school system," Metz said. "I loved teaching and loved my job. There are many wonderful, wonderful teachers out there. My big thing is they can't be one-on-one or even two-on-one."

On an evening when most parents and children were recovering from the first day of school, Metz shared her experiences with a group of parents at an open meeting of Educating Our Own.

Held twice yearly, the meetings are designed to give interested parents some guidance on the ins and outs of home schooling.

"It's an opportunity for parents considering home schooling to connect with other (home schooling) parents," said Debi Robertson, co-founder of the group. "It's an opportunity to ask questions and feel comfortable and relaxed."

Founded in 1996, Educating Our Own provides home schooling families opportunities for activities, exchange curriculums, take field trips and start friendships.

Many activities are free, though the group of 80 members does charge new families a $25 fee (returning families pay $20 annual dues).

"When you're starting home schooling, it seems so overwhelming to look at all the information and what to do," Metz said. "There are all kinds of curriculum and (the selection) grows every year."

Whether parents use a complete curriculum style or a more eclectic style, an approved school must review all forms of home schooling twice a year. For the review, a portfolio of the child's work is required.

"For most of the reviews, the portfolios are very thorough and well documented," Cashdollar said. "I think the quality of home schooling for the most part is excellent. The parents are very dedicated parents who do a thorough job."

"Your portfolio must show each of theses subjects -- English, math, science, social studies, health, music, art and gym," said Metz.

This will be the first year Teresa Watkins officially home schools her son. Though he attended preschool, Watkins tried some home schooling and was pleased with the results.

"It went well," Watkins said, proud mother of four. "We will probably do them all. My mother home-schooled my brother. At the time, I said I would never home school."

Ana Marie Llayton has found being a member of Educating Our Own to be very helpful.

"There are so many different styles to home schooling," Layton said. "It is really nice to listen to other people's ideas and listen to their suggestions. Last year I started teaching Spanish."

Families may find once they start home schooling that they love it ... or that they don't. The important thing, said members of Educating Our Own, is to keep an open mind on all the possibilities.

"It is just a choice as to what is better for the family," Metz said. "I really enjoy being a part of my kids' lives. I know all of my kids' friends and parents. I enjoy how much my son loves to learn."

For more information about Educating Our Own, a support group for Carroll County residents who want to learn about home schooling, contact Jennifer Metz, community coordinator, at 410-751-3862.



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