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April 15, 2010|1:10 pm

Home schooling thriving, and support is widening

By Tanner Kent The Free Press

MANKATO — As a mother who is home-schooling seven children, Julie Hiniker has heard all the stereotypes.

But one in particular strikes her sense of humor.

“We roar with laughter when people ask, ‘What about the socialization?’” said Hiniker of Mankato “There is actually way too much for our kids to be involved in.”

As a growing, but often invisible, segment of the education community, Hiniker said support and cooperation among home-school families has risen significantly in this area.

Her kids are involved in everything from music lessons to Boy Scouts to bowling leagues. She often coordinates field trips and activities with other families.

Sheri Horn, who has three home-schooled students in grades 4, 6 and 11, has had her children participate in cooperative CSI-based science classes with other families as well as school-sponsored physical education courses and post-secondary courses at area colleges and universities.

Hiniker has even started a once-weekly cooperative among home-schoolers at Jesus Assembly of God in St. Peter where parents can get together and share lessons while students break off into several different classroom presentations, from art appreciation to chemistry. Hiniker said she is expanding the cooperative to accommodate more families and more classroom presentations next year (email her at for more information).

Another area home-school family is coordinating an online bulletin board to advise other families on upcoming activities and meetings (just Google-search “Mankato Area Home Educators”).

And coming up Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Rochester is Minnesota’s penultimate home-school get-together: the annual conference of the Minnesota Association of Christian Home-School Educators.

This year’s conference is headlined by Lew Sterrett, a nationally recognized horse trainer who draws parallels with the relationships that exist between horse and trainer, God and man and teacher and student.

“If you want to get in touch with other home-schoolers, that conference is a good place to start,” Hiniker said.

Each year, the statewide conference attracts thousands of visitors, from home-school veterans such as Hiniker — who will be attending this weekend with family members — to those just considering the move.

Hiniker said such local support is a crucial component to having success as a home-school family.

She said when her family made the decision to home-school, they were residing in Texas where there was a large community of like-minded parents and broad network of events and support groups. But when her family moved to Mankato more than a decade ago, they found similar support lacking.

“So, we’ve been trying to recreate that here for 10 years,” she said.

In the Mankato area, the number of home-school families is rising. According to demographic data kept by Mankato Area Public Schools, 136 students were enrolled in home school during the 2009-10 school year — a number that has risen steadily since 2004-05 when 80 students were home-schooled.

David Watkins, board chairman of Minnesota Association of Christian Home-School Educators, said families choose home school for a variety of reasons, from religious convictions and lifestyle choices to having children with learning disabilities.

He said the number of home-schooled families in Minnesota has “leveled off” recently after several years of increases. But at the same time, he said, the network of support has increased around the state.

“Twenty-four years ago, there was no network out there,” he said. “We felt like we were blazing the trail a little bit.”

Horn said her family decided to homeschool for the first time about seven years ago with eldest daughter, Sara. The youngest two children, Caleb and Isaac, attended Grace Christian until this year.

Horn said she has had no problems with traditional school — and actually credits both Grace Christian and Mankato public schools for their ongoing support — but wanted to educate her children at home because of the family cohesion it brings.

She said her family has always done things together — from camping outings to museum trips — and home-schooling was an extension of their personal values.

“We’re already a close family,” she said. “It was a very natural fit.”

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