By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published September 13, 2007
Annette Hew discovered the world of home-schooling 16 years ago when she realized that the public school system could not meet the needs of her oldest son who had a severe learning disability. After a short time Hew discovered that home-schooling wasn’t just about learning at home. “It’s a way of life,” she explained.
“Learning is an ongoing process. Everything we do teaching goes along with it.”
Whether at the breakfast table or in the grocery store, Hew has educated her five children, now aged 24, 20, 18, 10 and 7, and all have done well so far.
“When you’re going through it day by day, you don’t really see (the progress).”
Her oldest son, whom she was told would not be able to read or write, completed high school, works at Publix and is now applying to study at a community college so that he can land a better job and buy a home. Her second oldest will return to Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, and the third will begin school there this fall.
While she has managed to educate three, (with Hew’s third child attending a private high school when he was a junior) she admitted that “I still have to feel my way.”
“Each child is different, and I have to tailor the education to each child.”
Her children have learned how to interact with people of all ages, Hew said, who understands that they still need to be with their peers, usually through sports or other activities.
“I try to work in the social,” she explained, and added, “They don’t need to be socialized by their peers, but they do need peers.”
To allow for social interaction and to challenge or make sure that home-schooled children were keeping up, Hew ran Victory Academy, a two-day-a-week program with professional teachers located in Mableton. She is in the process of re-organizing the academy and is currently scouting out a location to reopen in the future.
Still, she contends, “there’s all kinds of home-school support” in the area.
Michelle Grunkemeyer can attest to that. She homeschools her eight children, who range in age from 12 to 7 months. She also offers art and writing classes to other home-schooled children as a way to give back to the community.
“I get mentored and am a mentor,” she said, explaining that she talks with parents of older children and also makes herself available to those with younger ones. “The home-school community is so helpful.”
She and her husband became attracted to home-schooling after she met a home-schooling mother at a church coffee break. “Her kids were just incredible.”
Grunkemeyer and her husband never considered anything else afterward.
Managing the needs of eight children is no easy feat, but what Grunkemeyer likes most about home-schooling is “that I can find things that work for the kids.”
She has explained to her children that in a formal school setting, catering to a child’s learning preferences is not always possible.
“What works for one does not always work for another.”
Creative learning is perhaps another draw. Grunkemeyer’s older children attended a “Lord of the Rings” festival organized by other home-schoolers.
With her experience maintaining a Web site of Catholic home-schoolers from across the country, Grunkemeyer explained that the number of Catholic home-schoolers in metro Atlanta is unusual “especially for the South.” Protestant home-schoolers abound, but the number of Catholics in the area and Catholic home-schoolers is relatively significant, which makes for a vibrant community.
And it helps, she said.
Having a community is “extremely important,” she added. “It’s what made it possible for me. To be around Catholics who are open to life, open to having babies. They will watch the kids for me, they’ve come over to the house to clean (and have brought meals). It’s much easier to bring a new baby in.”
Home-schooling does come with challenges. “There are days when I’m frustrated and (other home-schooling mothers) will give me ideas. They help me grow in my faith, too, and hold me accountable, particularly about going to daily Mass. Since I see them going, I realize that it can be done. I can’t slack off. They’re there for support.”
She enjoys monthly evenings out with other moms, where they talk about their children, their faith and other aspects of their lives.
A cradle Catholic who left the faith in college and went on to become an “on-fire Christian,” Jennie Prater and her husband chose home-schooling for academic reasons.
“We were both bookish kids, and we both felt socially isolated in school.”
As they met other home-schooling parents, however, they discovered that while their new acquaintances valued a good education, most important for them was “character building,” Prater said.
As Prater’s husband began to pursue studies in history, he soon discovered the Catholic faith.
“It took a lot to convince me,” said Prater, but about six years ago after some time studying and then meeting Catholic home-schooling families when they moved to Atlanta the family came into the Catholic Church.
One of the highlights of home-schooling her five kids has been sharing in their faith.
“It’s cool to be able to go to daily Mass with them,” she said.
They use the Seton home study curriculum, which is “very structured,” she added. “Now the older ones are really starting to teach the younger ones.”
And while their school year doesn’t “perfectly correspond” with others, “it all gets done.”
Children “really develop at their own pace. It’s beautiful to see how they develop.”
For more information on home-schooling in North Georgia, visit www.changega.org. If you are interested in helping with Victory Academy, contact Annette Hew at (770)745-5994.