Full-time Willow Wind school gains popularity

For parents who want more say in their child's education without full-blown home schooling or going online, Willow Wind Community Learning Center offers a parent-as-partner option that has steadily gained popularity since the program began two years ago.

Total enrollment at the school has not changed much, but now about half of the approximately 220 students at the school choose the full-time Parent Partner Program rather than the home school support classes that Willow Wind has provided since it opened.

Families in both programs suggest classes for the upcoming year, but parents as partners meet with a consultant several times a year to be sure their children meet all the state standards and review progress. Students must attend 21 hours of classes, but they can supplement classes with tutors or home school curriculum in one subject.

Parents say they like the extra choices without all the pressure of home schooling.

"It's different than home schooling in that the school takes back the responsibility, but you're still very involved," said Sheryl Cochran, whose daughter, Enya, 8, entered kindergarten at Willow Wind the year before parents partners began. "We had no intention of really home schooling her, so we stepped right into the program."

Enya, who loves outdoor activities, can choose science classes on biology and nature. Other students can meet the state standard of learning about the scientific process by studying kitchen science or volcanoes.

The Parent Partner Program is similar to increasingly popular online options because students are enrolled full-time in public school with extra support from their parents. Both offer parents the flexibility of moving their children up to a higher-level math class for example, or receiving extra help with reading.

But Willow Wind parents and administrators say there are several key differences.

For one, students attend a bricks-and-mortar classroom with peers rather than sitting in front of a computer screen. And in the Parent Partner Program, parents have a say in what classes are offered and which their child will take, rather than online models that already have a set curriculum.

Deniece Zeve considered home schooling, private and public schools when searching for the best options for her two daughters, Amelia, 9, and Greta, 7. She chose parent partners not only because of the flexibility it offered, but also because it harnessed the talents of the entire community.

"I think the parents as partners offered the compromise between traditional schools and home school," she said. "None of (the others) had the mix of parental involvement in designing a curriculum to meet the needs of each individual child."

She never considered online schools because she didn't want her children to miss out on social interaction, she said.

"We are very relationship-based, and that's hard to do online," said Willow Wind Principal Debbie Pew. Multi-age classes are common, she said, and kids from three to 16 are often seen playing capture the flag together on the front lawn. The system of creating and choosing classes, a "college for kids" of sorts, is also unique to the school.

The programs at Willow Wind are not right for every family, however.

Parents must volunteer 16 hours per year outside of the classroom, and families must be flexible if children don't get into their first-choice classes.

And for some parents, so many choices can be overwhelming.

"There are a lot of families who really don't want the responsibility," Pew said. "They very much trust the schools to make those choices for them."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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