Featured Stories

Homemade minds

The Shatsky family finds flexibility, creativity with homeschooling
by: Vern Uyetake, Nancy Shatsky reads to her daughter, Sarah Shatsky, and son, Sam Shatsky, at their Lake Oswego home. The Shatsky family is one of dozens of families in the city that choose to homeschool their children, rather than send them to school in the Lake Oswego School District.

When people think of education in Lake Oswego, several things tend to come to mind: The top-notch public school system that annually turns out Ivy League-bound college students; the athletes that often play in the state finals; and the stellar teachers and support systems that give the Lake Oswego School District its fabulous reputation.

What doesn't usually come to mind, however, is the option of homeschooling.

But for the Shatsky family, the at-home method of educating their children works out fine.

Eight-year-old Sara and 6-year-old Sam are taught five days a week by their mother, Nancy, in a make-shift classroom in the bottom story den of their home on Westridge Drive.

The classroom layout is phenomenal and filled with books, maps, charts and art supplies. Nancy teaches from the 'Well-Trained Mind' education series, which is a classical curriculum for K-4th graders that focuses on grammar and world history.

The only subject the curriculum does not emphasize is math, which is why the kids regularly attend the Kumon Math and Reading Center, a Japanese-based academic enrichment center based in Lake Grove.

They also participate in various other activities after school every day, such as ballet, violin lessons and soccer.

Nancy - who attended an all-girls private school and foreign embassy schools growing up - says that it was never her plan to homeschool her children.

'We used to do the flash cards and things with Sara when she was really little,' Nancy said. 'So we've always just been teaching her as much as we could. It wasn't a formal decision until it started.'

Sara, who is technically in third grade but has the reading and comprehension skills of a fifth or sixth grader, loves the arrangement. When talking to her, one can see that she is incredibly mature for her age and well spoken when talking to adults - a quality that is hard to come by in young children.

'I'm able to take a break whenever I want to,' Sarah said. 'It's fun and flexible.'

Nancy's main concern about Lake Oswego's public school system was that gifted kids such as Sara would be held back in a crowded classroom of 20 to 25 other students.

'Sara really thrives with one-on-one attention,' Nancy said.

Sara, who was busy reading the latest Harry Potter novel, said that she'd read one Harry Potter book in a day and a half because she loved it so much. She exhibited a spark for learning that's hard to find in today's world of television, video games and the Internet.

First-grader Sam is just as happy at home. He said that his favorite part about having school at home is 'math and mommy time.'

The best part for Nancy is the creativity involved in making the kids' lesson plans. The Shatskys have a huge garden in their backyard full of different vegetables and plants where the kids study horticulture.

Their father, Mark, is a doctor at Providence Medical Center, so he assists when it comes to science subjects, such as physics and chemistry. He also plays the cello with the kids when they practice their violins at home.

Nancy got ideas and made connections with other homeschooled families in the area through Web sites like Greater Portland Home Schoolers and Village Home. Both are non-profits dedicated to making home schooling easier and more community-oriented for families.

'Friends used to ask why we homeschooled our children,' Nancy said with a smile. 'Now they ask if I'll homeschool their kids. So there's flexibility on both sides.'

The only kind of stigma that Nancy can tell is from people that don't know them. Everyone that finds out what they do and how they do it are impressed and excited for them.

'The kids would probably like an easy answer when asked what school they go to when they go to camp and things like that,' Nancy said. 'But that's the only thing. The kids that know them don't care, and the parents are impressed with their maturity. We've never been too concerned with having them be around just kids their own age. We raised them to be around kids and people of all ages, which is why I think they are comfortable and confident around everyone.'

For now, the family's aspiring marine biologist (Sara) and potential violin teacher (Sam) are keeping Nancy quite busy. If and when they decide to go to formal school, Nancy said, they will probably go to a private school, such as the Catlin Gable School in Portland.

'We just take it year by year,' Nancy said. 'Every year we assess where we are and what we think would be best for them. Right now I feel that I can give them the best education, and want to do it for as long as we can.'

Homeschooling 101

There are 107 students enrolled in homeschooling in Lake Oswego as of September, according to the Clackamas County Education Service District.

Parents are required to sign up with the ESD if they plan to homeschool their children, but they are not required to check in if they decided to quit homeschooling and send their children to public or private school.

In September 2006, the Lake Oswego School District distributed a survey to 85 local homeschooling families as a research portion of its new marketing plan.

Twenty-three families, or 27 percent, returned the completed surveys.

Twelve of those families were homeschooling one or more students; while nine families homeschooled in the past (some students had since enrolled in the LOSD).

Their reasons for homeschooling included:

Religious purposes (10 families)

Personal philosophy of education differs from that offered in public school setting (12 families)

Public school in Lake Oswego did not meet the unique needs of my student and/or family (11 families)

Seven families listed reasons under 'other,' which included: lifestyle; poor choice of friends; more family time; too easy/boring for my children; book selections; wanted a TAG magnet school in LO.

Nancy Duin, communications director at the LOSD, provided answers to our questions about homeschooling:

How are homeschoolers tested to determine their grade level?

'When students who have been homeschooled come into the district, they are placed in the grade appropriate for their age. Their performance is monitored and assessed relative to the skill set they bring into the classroom, and adjustments are made when necessary.'

How much does it cost the district for each homeschooler not enrolled?

'The district would not receive state school funding support for homeschooled students - approximately $6,300.'

How difficult is it to transfer into the district after homeschooling?

'The district welcomes homeschooled students who wish to enroll in its schools. At the high school level, homeschooled students should be aware that the district does not award high school academic credit for homeschool work.'