By Mike Whittlesey
As JoEll Perry approached the age of five, the time when parents typically send their children off to kindergarten, her parents, Rodney and Veronica, were conflicted about where that schooling should take place. As strong practicing Christians, the couple’s faith was foremost in their thoughts.
“We have always felt if we were blessed to have a child, we would raise her how God would want us to raise her through the Word,” she said.
Veronica was raised in the Philippines, and though she was never experienced homechooling as a child, she was familiar with the concept, courtesy of a neighborhood subdivision where missionaries lived and educated their children outside of the local school system.
Rodney, a product of the public school system in Iowa, though, had concerns that homeschooling might be an environment that was too sheltered for their daughter.
“I wanted her to be with the rest of the kids in a ‘normal’ school environment. As a kid myself, we were not homeschooled. I was torn because I wanted her [JoEll] to have that [public school] experience, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure she was being brought up with Christian-based schooling.
While the Perrys initially enrolled JoEll in the Cedar Falls School District for kindergarten, they decided to continue to learn as much as they could about homeschooling. As the year progressed, several factors led them to conclude that homeschooling JoEll would be the best option for their family. Most distressing for Veronica was the fact that her work schedule was at odds with the time when JoEll was not at school, resulting in very little family time to spend with her daughter. And while they had no desire to be critical of the public school system, the Perrys did come to have concerns about a secular shift they were witnessing in JoEll’s school. Like many schools throughout the nation, the removal of references to Christianity that were commonplace in the schools Rodney and Veronica attended was difficult for them to accept. For example, what once was a “Christmas” concert had morphed into the politically correct “holiday” concert where certain religious Christmas carols could not be sung.
As they explored the methods and models of homeschooling, the Perrys attended numerous conferences and consulted with friends who were actively involved in teaching their children at home. One of the conferences that proved quite helpful was hosted by NICHE, the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators. It was there that they learned of the variety of educational materials and resources that were available to parent educators.
Rodney, who knew Veronica would be taking on the majority of teaching, was pleased to discover the tremendous support system that would be accessible to them.
“You’re not alone in this,” he said. “There’s all kinds of help. It’s natural for moms to be scared because it is such a big change, and now many of them are responsible for teaching.”
For Veronica, the concern wasn’t so much the schooling, it was the time commitment.
“In my heart, I knew, if we were ever blessed with a child, I wanted to raise her, even if I had to stop working or live off one income. I did not want her to be raised in a daycare or at school.”
Once the decision was made to homeschool JoEll, the Perrys invested a lot of time and the effort selecting the educational materials they believed would be most appropriate for their daughter. What they found was a surprising abundance of curricula from a variety of publishers. Some of the materials they reviewed included those published by My Father’s World, A Beka and Saxon. Each of these companies offer educational materials ranging from preschool to high school, complete with parent/teacher manuals and texts marketed specifically to homeschools and private education.
“What I liked was that I could pick from all the different vendors that are out there. I could pick what I thought was the best in each subject from different vendors,” Veronica stated.
Following JoEll’s kindergarten year, Rodney and Veronica, with input from their daughter, decided it was time to make the change to school at home.
“For me, the first thing was, can I discipline myself to do this? Now that we’ve been doing this for six, seven years, I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t have that time,” Veronica said.
When JoEll began reading very early in first grade, her parents knew they had made the right decision for their family, even with the significant lifestyle changes that came with it.
“The first thing is the discipline of homeschooling. You’re really changing your whole life for as long as you plan to homeschool. It’s the art of disciplining yourself. From 9:30-2:30, weschool. It would be easy to say, ‘Oh, it’s a nice day. Let’s go outside. We are very structured in how we school. We have to be, though.”
Structure. Discipline. Commitment. These are qualities Veronica learned growing up in a military family, and through the practice of martial arts, specifically karate. In fact, Hanshi [Veronica] Perry plays an integral role in teaching the discipline of karate to area students, including several from La Porte City, at Seishin Ryu Karate in Cedar Falls.
The Perrys were highly motivated and committed to making the homeschool experience a successful one for their family. After a year of careful study, networking with other home educators and attending a number of homeschooling conferences, they were well-prepared to take on the responsibility of instructing their daughter at home. However, they were not licensed teachers, nor were they affiliated with an accredited private school. Living in Iowa, one of the last states in the nation to make homeschooling legal, Rodney and Veronica Perry knew that the right to educate their daughter at home came with a degree of accountability imposed by the state.