Alternative urban education: Parents and city kids benefit from homeschooling

It's a decision encountered by nearly every young Detroit parent with a choice: Do we stay or do we go? If we stay, where will the kids go to school? Facing poor performing and often unsafe public schools, the choice inevitably is a charter school or private school, or leave. For some, however, the choice is simply to stay home.

Homeschooling is a quality of life option for Detroit parents who have the time and ability to organize an educational routine for their children. It likely means a one-income household and all the compromises that entails, but it also means a revival of the homestead and, for some families, a one-room school house.

Victoria Koski and Trevor Footitt are committed Detroiters and want their children to experience their Boston-Edison neighborhood and greater urban potential of the city. Early on they decided that their children, Jehnya and Jaeden, would be educated at home.

Brian and Lesley Koehn wanted to offer their children Jessie, Lydia, and Robert a personalized education steeped in Christian values, which resulted in a modern version of the one-room school house -- the front room of the family's Craftsman-style home, also in Boston-Edison.

Emily and Andy Linn, brother and sister and partners in City Bird, a boutique selling housewares, jewelry, and Detroit-themed creations, were home schooled at their Berry Subdivision home on the East Riverfront.

It's not for everyone, of course. Yet home schooling is diverse in its educational opportunities for those who choose it. For Detroiters it is increasingly a choice that not only helps keep young families in the city but also creates a new kind of nuclear family experience.

Education goes year-round for the Koehn family, and that includes the family vacations. "I am always looking to make any trip educational, not just for the kids' sake, but for the adults as well," says Lesley Koehn, who likes to travel and camp with her family in the summer. "The family that studies together stays together."

Her children have grown to be more secure in who they are and what their individual strengths are. "They're confident, not afraid to try new things," Koehn says. "You're not waiting for the rest of the class to catch on. A lot of times we would skip a lesson. It's like having your own private tutor."

School is also an endless process at home, notes Koski. "There is no 3 o'clock, the bell rings, and you're done." If they can still handle it, it's another class. "I'm never going to make them do something if it's a struggle or they're not into it. That may be a time to take a break and play in the back yard. To be productive, the mind has to want to be productive."

In the Linn family, home schooling began with Andy, one of the youngest. "Our family has always had long dinner conversations. We probably had a number of long dinner talks about how intriguing the home schooling idea was," he says. He and his parents decided that this would be an interesting way to go. And so the Linn household of five kids became a home school.

Several years separated Emily and the youngest Linn children, but with subjects like ancient history all of the kids could study the same topic, only in different ways and at different levels. Emily recalls reading Homer in high school while her youngest brother Rob would read a picture book on ancient Greek history.

Homeschooling "absolutely" strengthened the family bond, says mother Diane Linn, whose husband Thomas, a practicing attorney, also taught. "Growing up, our children observed us working our hardest for them, to help them learn in academic areas, to show them how to handle life's challenges with mature adult judgment Today, we are all each others' best friends." And they've remained dedicated Detroit doers, as evidenced by City Bird.

While the family experience is enriching, these Detroit homeschoolers still play with in the neighborhood, pursue athletics and general fitness, and become involved in the arts through home school collectives. Victoria Koski arranges play dates for her children. "It's a way to support other stay-at-home families. When we're not home, we're doing co-ops with 30 other kid..." For physical fitness, her children belong to the Homeschooling Athletic League, which offers competitive athletics and dance.

The Koehns have gone to ENRICH, a weekly homeschooling co-op that provides activities from early childhood through grade 12. It's Christian-based and ethnically diverse, two key criteria for the Koehns.

The Linns also got together with other homeschoolers for fitness and cultural activities. Andy recalls playing hockey and belonging to a boy scout troop. The family took swimming lessons and figure skated together. "My mom wanted us to do something active, but we got to choose what that was. If we had an interest in figure skating we could take figure skating," he says.

Despite the wireless options, home schooling for Diane Linn and Victoria Koski began with the inspiration of books: for Koski it was The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise; for Linn, it was Homeschooling for Excellence, by David and Micki Colfax.

Homeschooling is a choice made by parents regardless of city residence. But the option has increased relevance for parents faced with urban schooling decisions -- where quality and safety are important issues. While those interviewed for this article feel that some charter schools and public high schools like Cass Tech and Renaissance are safe, quality educational environments, local choices remain few.

"I believe homeschooling is a viable and optimal option for education during the grammar school/middle school years in Detroit," says Koehn. "Yes, I definitely think that more Detroit parents see homeschooling as a positive alternative to the current situation in the public schools."

Koehn's son Robert attends Renaissance. "Sure there is always concern about safety these days," Koehn says. "We feel very good about Renaissance's safety policies. All students must have an ID to enter the school and everyone goes through a metal detector and backpack check. The teachers are excellent. The kids at Renaissance are there because they are motivated and determined students."

As a new Detroit village emerges, the idea of the urban homestead and adaptive environment is redefining what it means to live, learn, and lounge here. Education remains a decisive decision in the life of a young Detroit family. Some will leave, others will choose private schools -- and a few will set up a classroom at home.

Dennis Archambault is a Detroit freelancer and a regular contributor to Model D.

All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


Wayne County Homeschoolers learn how far the moon is from the earth at Wayne State University's Planetarium

A homeschool history lesson

Victoria Koski with her children, Jehnya and Jaeden Footitt, on a field trip to Wayne State University's Planetarium

Tom and Diane Linn with Lucky in their Berry Subdivision home on the East Riverfront

At the The Linns', music lessons were part of the homeschool curriculum

Wayne State University's Planetarium

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Read more articles by Dennis Archambault.

Dennis Archambault is a Detroit-based freelance writer.