Homeschooling can be challenging no matter where you reside. However, some cities and states have easier access to resources and are generally more receptive to home schoolers than others. Here we will take a look at some of the important aspects of schooling at home while living in Denver as well as Houston to see which city makes the grade. I am a mother who has had the opportunity to school my children at home in both of these cities. Below are my personal observations and experiences.
Since Houston is under the Texas homeschooling laws, home schools in Houston are considered private schools. Therefore, no attendance records or records of any kind need to be turned in to the state. However, there are certain courses that you are required to instruct the children in, which are mainly core subjects. While courses will not be regulated, it’s still a good idea to teach the required courses, as they are all vital to a rounded education. However, the way in which they are taught is solely up to the parent/s and/or home school teacher. In Texas, a child can be home schooled by someone other than the legal guardian. Standardized tests can be taken by homeschooled students, however, they are not a requirement. The parent must find out how and where to register for these tests. They are generally available at local schools and institutions or specialized testing centers.
The Texas Education Agency will have information on that. You can find them online at www.tea.state.tx.us. In Texas, if your child has never been to public school and you wish to homeschool, you can simply do so of your own free will, without notifying anyone. You never have to notify anyone. If your child has previously attended public school, you will need to withdraw your child from that school district by sending written notification of withdrawal to the principal of the school last attended. The Texas Homeschool Coalition provides a suggestion on what to say in the letter, which can be found online at http://www.thsc.org/Getting_Started/LetterOfWithdrawal.asp. The written notification will prevent a visit from the truancy officer and will serve as notification and proof that you are, in fact, homeschooling and not keeping your child home for unethical reasons. In Houston, once you withdraw from a school, you don’t have to send notice again. It is permanent, unless you decide to return your children to a traditional school.
In Denver, you must apply to the Denver Public Schools main office for your children to be schooled at home. Generally, as long as your family has no truancy history or other negative history that may show you are unfit to school at home, you should be approved. You will be asked upon your review request to specify the date you plan on beginning to homeschool. Once approved, you can begin schooling at home. However, Denver is not quite as lenient as Houston. You might be required to submit a letter stating what your curriculum choices are, especially if your child has been absent from class more than the average number of days (even if the absences are excused due to an illness or other circumstance). Also, in Denver, you will have to re-apply every year. As with Houston, Denver also has certain subjects that are required and each homeschooled student in grade 3 or above must take the annual standardized tests (such as CSAP, SAT, and PSAT). If a student in home school does not pass these tests, he or she may be required to return to public school until scores are improved. Denver Public School’s main office will give you information on taking the CSAP test.
Important Information Applicable to Both Cities
It is beneficial to register with a national homeschool support group, such as the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) so that your names are in the database of homeschoolers in case a neighbor reports you. This is beneficial, even in Texas. Sometimes people don’t know about home school or don’t approve of it, so you may get reports stating that your kids aren’t in school. Reference the HSLDA (linked above) for what to do in those cases. Most of the time, it will be easy to explain to an officer or CPS that you homeschool, but once in a while, people can be difficult for whatever reason. That’s where HSLDA comes in.
Local Homeschool Support Groups
Houston is fairly large, so as expected for its size, there are homeschool support groups all over Houston. The fact that Houston is under the Texas law for home schools being private schools, thus making people more open to homeschooling, could also contribute to the abundance in support groups. Homeschool education is pretty widely accepted in Houston and most other areas in Texas.
Denver has support groups for home school, but when I home-schooled my children in Denver, I found it difficult to find one that met our needs and was in the right area. I would say that Denver needs to work on gaining more support groups or if there are more than I found, they need to work on spreading the word about them. It was very difficult to find the small amount of local groups I found. We never did end up officially joining any local support group in Denver, as none fit our needs at the time.
Museums and Zoos
Houston has a variety of museums on a wide array of topics. Houston also holds the NASA Space Center, which also houses a museum called Space Center Houston. Space Center Houston hosts a special event especially for homeschoolers about twice every year. The Houston Museum of Natural Science in Houston holds educational classes just for home schooled children, as does the Houston Zoo. The Houston Zoo is also something to talk about, besides just the classes. It houses many unique creatures and even has a rare Clouded Leopard, which is an endangered species. In addition to the zoo and museums, you can find many nature reserves and other educational centers. In Texas, home schools are private schools, so if you belong to a homeschool group and have identification that shows you are the homeschool teacher (an id badge from the support group), you can receive an educator discount at most of these places.
Denver’s main museum is the Museum of Nature & Science. There are many other interesting museums, such as The Children’s Museum, The Art Museum, and Tiny Town (not in Denver; in the mountains). However, Denver’s amount of museums pales in comparison to Houston’s. To give Denver a little credit, the Museum of Nature & Science is an excellent museum, as are the various smaller museums around Denver. It’s just that Houston has so many more museums about so many different topics and subjects that, in my opinion, Denver would not be able to keep up. It’s too small of a city. The Denver Zoo, while smaller than the Houston Zoo, is still an excellent zoo to visit. You can also find an endangered species here; the Komodo Dragon. In Colorado, homeschooled students and teachers do not receive educational discounts at the museums and zoos because they are not considered teachers, but just parents.
Naturally, since Houston is so large, there is a large selection of large libraries. Many libraries even offer educational classes and activities for free. These are open to all children, regardless of schooling methods. Many classes are for elementary-aged children down to babies, but some older kids might still enjoy them.
Although Denver is smaller than Houston, you can still find many libraries all over the city, which also offer classes and activities, just as in Houston. However, the Denver libraries tend to mainly focus on the children under 5 years old. Some activities will be enjoyed by older children, but they are mostly geared towards the younger set.
Since the state of Texas is generally pretty supportive of homeschooling, there are many events all around Houston all year long for homeschoolers, some hosted by museums and others hosted by home school families and groups. Many of these are open to the public. Some are also just for home schools. Many of these events are free or low-cost. Home school curriculum fairs can even be found here.
While homeschooling in Denver, I never found any homeschool-specific events. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist. However, I did search for them often and could find none. Small home school groups might host their own events, but these were not open to the public. You had to be a group member. However, Denver does have many child-related activities and events that would be beneficial to a homeschool family.
Extra Classes, Co-Ops, and College & Junior College Courses
There are many classes offered to home-schoolers in Houston, and in a variety of places. Most all the museums and the zoo have classes just for home schooled children. The junior college offers classes to kids of all ages. The YMCA has a home-school gym class and other classes open to homeschoolers. There are even home school co-ops that are similar to traditional schools, where the homeschooling parents/teachers share teaching responsibilities, based on each parent’s area of expertise. Aside from that, there are many local venues that offer extra classes, such as drama, gymnastics, creative writing, and more. There are even many homeschool sports team or homeschoolers can play sports with public schooled kids, depending on the district.
Denver doesn’t seem to have any classes that cater specifically to home schooled students. However, Denver does have many educational classes and activities (mainly on the weekends, evenings, and in the summer time) that are for all children. The Denver Zoo has educational classes, as do many of the museums. These classes can be taken by anyone.
In Houston, home schooling is widely accepted. Of course, anywhere you go, there isn’t going to be 100% approval of anything, but Houston comes pretty close from my experience. Most people I’ve talked to say that the disapproval is more likely to come from family members than anyone else. My family supports me and I haven’t yet come across anyone else who has been completely against it. I’ve had people ask the kids where they go to school , and of course, they say “we homeschool”. Most responses here in Houston have been “good for you” or “you must be smart”; generally positive feedback. I would even go so far as to say that many Houstonians admire homeschooling families for all their hard work, rather than question their ideals.
In Denver, we came across two opinions on homeschooling. There wasn’t a middle ground among any of the people we came across. About 50% of people favored it and offered praise. However, the other 50% was completely against it and weren’t afraid to let me or the kids know.
One person (one who happened to be a teacher we knew at one of the kid’s old schools) even went so far as to rudely suggest to the children that regular school was better and that they should try to get me to let them go back. My children’s response: “Why would we want to ever go back there? They don’t teach as much as our mom does and the people are rude sometimes. We like homeschool. Also, we can learn all day in homeschool if we want to and it can happen at the park if we want. We also get to take lots of extra field trips and learn about our favorite things, too. It’s harder in home school, but it’s more fun, too”. The teacher’s response back was a simple “Oh”. I think she really didn’t know what to say and probably never thought about homeschool as an opportunity to learn more, as many people don’t. We did also come across a really nice person one time that asked the kids and I lots of questions and praised me for having the strength to homeschool. She used to be a teacher and understood my decision.
While there are some people who are against homeschooling in Denver, overall, it didn’t really seem to have any effect on our well-being. I would still say that Denver is a great place to homeschool, and just like when someone doesn’t agree with you on any other of your beliefs, you can’t let it get to you.
Since home schooling is very prevalent in Houston, most people aware of the concept. From time to time, as with anywhere, I have heard of neighbors reporting other neighbors for not having their children in school. However, in Texas, once it’s determined that the family homeschools (you don’t have to provide any paperwork because of the private school rule), that’s the end of it. It’s usually just determined by asking the parent about it.
Since home schooling is not as common in Denver as in other places, there are many people who don’t really know what homeschooling is. However, most of the people we came across pretty much understood what it was and were aware that it existed. The main thing Denver might need to work on is educating the public with common knowledge on homeschooling. Some people we crossed paths with seemed to think that if you home schooled, it meant you hated people or were in a cult or fit some other radical extreme. Others would make assumptions that maybe the kids were bad and got expelled or the parents were too lazy to take them to school. They simply didn’t understand that kids still learn in homeschool and that it is a valid option.
Openness from Public Places
In Houston, I haven’t had anyone ask us any questions while we’re out during the day. I guess that’s because home schooling is more popular here. Based on that, I will have to say the public places are very accommodating here and won’t bother a home schooling family too much.
No one bothered us when we were out during the day taking field trips, visiting libraries, or studying in parks or museums. Once in a while someone would ask why the kids weren’t in school. Then, once we said we were homeschooling, they understood and left it that. I’m sure that they probably noticed the children had notebooks in their hand and we had textbooks and other school items stored under the stroller.
*To the best of the author’s knowledge, the above information is correct. However, since laws and other life situations and events are always changing, anyone considering looking into anything mentioned in this article should do the research themselves to be sure they have the most current and accurate information. This is simply written based on personal experiences the author has had.
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