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Best of both worlds?

New education model allows parents to choose a blend of home and private school

and Lynn Vincent-Add to the three dueling educational models-public, private, home schools-a fourth: the campus/home school hybrid. At one such school, Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, Texas, students spend two to three days at school-depending on their grade level-and the other days learning at home. The model combines rigorous academics with heavy parental participation in a K-12 setting. Ideally, parents tutor heavily in the early grades, but back off in high-school years in an effort to produce self-governed seniors. Administrators say the model is right for parents who don't want to homeschool full-time, parents who don't feel comfortable teaching advanced subjects, and parents who can't afford full-time private tuition: "It's the best of both worlds," said Bob Van Wieren of Christian Schools International. Michael Sneed, 18, is a tall, dark-haired chess tournament champ who was home-schooled through the 10th grade, along with most of his eight siblings. Then, he spent his junior and senior high-school years at Grace Preparatory Academy, which was founded in 1993 with 186 students (it now boasts 600 students, with 700 more families waiting for an open class in the two-story brick building set off I-20). Michael entered the University of Houston this fall to study architecture on a full, five-year academic scholarship. Out of his graduating class of 45, he was one of three National Merit Scholarship finalists. Grace's outreach director Barbara Van Wart just finished the 5th annual national workshop for those interested in starting new institutions on the Grace model; between workshops, she fields about 40 calls each month from people seeking information about the model, which Grace calls the "University Model School." Ten UMS campuses will offer classes during the 2001-02 school year; all are Christian and three are brand new. Parents will pay about half of what a full-time private school would cost-average tuition for a high-school student, for example, is about $3,000 a year. Private-school parents nervous about homeschooling, but who want more involvement in their kids' education, are among those willing to try hybrids. "They like the structure, accountability, lesson plans, progress reports, and report cards," said Margi McCombs, principal of The Community School in Winter Park, Fla., the CSI member school that is working toward CSI accreditation. The Community School mirrors the UMS model, but requires even more parental involvement: Parents must attend monthly meetings, and assist in their children's classroom for two weeks every semester. The arrangement suits Patti Reynolds, who pulled her blue-eyed son Jerrod, 9, from a Christian school two years ago. Jerrod would come home from his 22-child private-school classroom exhausted and crying. "Kids would hit each other and yell at the teacher," remembers Mrs. Reynolds. "Jerrod would say, 'I don't wanna go back there.'" Mrs. Reynolds hunted for a new school, but was disillusioned with long hours and high student-teacher ratios. And she found home school intimidating: "I was scared to death to do it all by myself." The Community School turned out to be her perfect solution: Two days each week, Jerrod learns in the school's formal classroom setting where the teacher-student ratio is 16 to one. The other three days, Mrs. Reynolds teaches Jerrod at home. He plays on the school's basketball team and "is excited about learning," smiled Mrs. Reynolds. "He's a totally different boy." Most UMS students are junior high-age or older. About half have been homeschooled since kindergarten, but their parents have become overwhelmed or feel uncomfortable teaching advanced subjects like algebra or a foreign language. Many homeschoolers come to UMS institutions for college preparation. The schools offer class rankings, grade point averages, and extracurricular activities such as drama, band, student council, yearbook staff, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and debate. Instead of a prefab six- or seven-hour school day, classes in university-model schools are scheduled like those in a college environment. Students must learn to balance class time, study, and outside activities. So far, many seem to be doing a good job of it. For the past eight years, Grace graduates have boasted a 3.38 GPA after their first college semester. Hybrids are "not for everyone," said Barbara Van Wart. "But at least now we're offering a fourth option that is proving successful."

Leah Driggers

Leah Driggers