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Cover Story
Called to serve: Home schooling families in the military

On the frontlines: A few HSLDA military families

How do home school graduates enter the military?

How does HSLDA help families in the military?

"Grazie" from Italy

What can you do to help military families?

Special Features
Revisiting the Issue of Charter Schools

Congressional awards: America's best kept secret

Regular Features
A contrario sensu

Active Cases

Freedom Watch

Prayer and praise

President's page

Across the States
State by State

The Van Ravenswaay family

Major Kenneth and Cheryl Van Ravenswaay have been home schooling their children for nine years and in four different locations—Florida, Colorado, and England, as well as a month in Kansas. Their three children are Dane, 12, Kaulee, 10, and Courtney, 14.

Home schooling in the military has not caused us any legal problems. The military has always been supportive of our decision. We have never had to fill out any documentation for them, and we have always been able to use base schools, after-school programs, and sports programs just like any other military children could.

We have benefited from our moves-our children have experienced firsthand the geographical, historical, scientific, and cultural differences of each area. We have fed manatees, laughed at prairie dogs, marvelled at a group of deer, and rescued a hedgehog. How breathtaking it was to watch “Dad’s” Titan rocket launch into space from Cape Canaveral. How inspired we were to observe Pike’s Peak mountain on a daily basis and see where the inspiration for America the Beautiful came from. What fun we have had involving grandparents in long-distance projects such as stories, crafts, handwriting, and reports. And how amazing that we can just “ride the tube” into central London to see the English Ballet Company’s version of The Nutcracker, tour Buckingham Palace, go through the London Museum of Natural History, or even take a bus tour to Holland, to see where our family ancestry started!

But perhaps our greatest blessings have come through the people who have touched us. Most military families are very “family-oriented.” The military community itself is highly welcoming and shares a bond like no other. We are a very mobile group of people who have learned to put down roots quickly and share one another’s lives.

Most of us will never live close to family. Our neighbors, coworkers, and fellow home schoolers become our family. Numerous people have been “aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, parents, and grandparents” to us over the years. We’ve observed this same phenomenon of military bonding at the British Royal Air Force base where we currently live!

The downside of things is moving, moving, moving! That means constant packing and reorganization of home schooling equipment. It means finding a new network of other home schoolers who usually do things totally differently than the last group. And it means flexibility and a positive attitude are key to a successful year, especially when we have to pack up and change everything in the middle of it! It means not only tackling new math lessons, but also tackling sadness when leaving the familiar and fears of facing the unknown. It means regretting that we can’t live near family. And it means waiting weeks for curriculum to arrive when we live overseas . . . no cute little curriculum shops to zip over to in emergencies! Depending on the assignment, Dad may not have much time to spend on homework or field trips either!

We are getting ready to move back to the States in July where I think we will face a new type of culture shock. We have felt so “removed” from the events of Sept. 11, and have only seen a side of America from a British perspective. We have been unable to participate in local fundraisers for charity, watch the nightly American news, or even fly our American flag because of safety. It may take us awhile to “feel American” after we leave Britain. We don’t have a new assignment location yet, but we can be sure it will hold many new adventures for us!

- Cheryl Van Ravenswaay
London, England

The Sargent family

At 1998 retirement ceremony for E-5 USAF (Retired) Rick Sargent: (clockwise from top left) Shannon, Rick, Alisha (then 15) and Mydkel (then 12).

Rick and I became interested in home education while stationed at Ramstein Air Base, West Germany in 1984. I was pregnant with our now 17-year-old daughter, Alisha, when we knew that we would home school our own children. Mykel, our now 15-year-old son, arrived 21 months after Alisha and, 15 months later, we were on our way to Phoenix, Arizona, after being in West Germany for four years.

When the training base in Pheonix was closed in February 1990, we were off to Utah.

Alisha had turned 6 in July, so we wrote our “Letter of Intent” and became more structured and “professional” in our approach while seeking support and involvement with the Utah Christian Homeschoolers (UTCH, known as “U Teach”).

We became the support group leaders for Davis and Weber counties and were encouraged by both the civilian and military home schooling families the Lord brought our direction while at Hill AFB. We had always dealt with changing work schedules and always needed to be flexible with Rick’s duty hours. What a joy to be with Daddy and yet be flexible enough to get school done while Daddy was at work.

“Desert Storm” suddenly blew into our lives and Rick was deployed for four months. The morning he left for Kobar Towers, he was also notified that he had been assigned to South Korea for a one-year remote tour. We began our 18-month separation emotionally prepared for just a four-month deployment. God is always faithful and good and knows exactly what we can handle. With Rick’s blessings, and in his absence, I enjoyed serving UTCH as vice president.

Rick was home just six weeks between Saudi Arabia and South Korea-that was our “summer break.” While Daddy was gone, we completed three years of curriculum in our “little red schoolhouse.” Alisha grew 18 inches. When dinnertime telemarketers would ask for Rick, Mykel would tell them “He doesn’t live here anymore!” I would remind the children that Daddy was coming home. We would listen to a story that he had taped from their favorite storybook and then write him a letter. Some days were harder than others. God always provided strength! We always had a support team from our fellow home schooling and church families.

Upon Rick’s return, we were to move yet again. This time to the Mojave Desert. We have been here nine years. We have continued to support, encourage and lead the home educating community of Edwards AFB. Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA) provides home schoolers the annual opportunity to grow and share. We haven’t missed an opportunity to be fed! God loves us and has always provided for us! We believe that to always honor God is our first task. God is even in control of all the military orders!

Each new circumstance becomes a great challenge and God grades our responses. We believe we must bloom where we are planted! We have moved eight times in our 12 formal years of home schooling. Our lifestyle choice of home schooling through the long haul has created consistency for our children, family bonding of eternal value, relationships that endure the storms of life, but, most of all, the legacy of dedication to family to pass on to the next generation. Our children began attending college classes this morning, but we are not finished yet! Our encouragement to each reader is to allow your home educating opportunity to become a lifestyle conviction not just a momentary convenience.

- Rick and Shannon Sargent (USAF Retired)
North Edwards, CA

The Simon family

Home schooling is a family affair: (L-R) Elijah, 7, Paula, Sharbel (2 mo.), Lt. Col. James "Jim" Simon, Veronica, 11, Patrick, 15, and Regina Simon, 5. (Not pictured—the photographer: Christopher, 17.)

My husband is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. We have been home schooling our children for the last 7 years. We are blessed with 7 children, ages 6 weeks to 17 years. My husband is just as much a part of the family school as I am. As commander of the training squadron here at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and an MH 53 pave low special operations helicopter pilot, he has a very demanding job. Yet he still manages to help with the family and schooling our six school-age children (K, 1st, 5th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grades).

- Paula Simon
Albuquerque, NM

The Whitfield family

Building strong relationships: (clockwise from top left) Laura, Jack, 2, Bob, 2, Major John, Emrick, 8, Xiadoi, 5, and Julia, 9. (On top of the couch: Beanie the dog.)

We are an Army family and have been home-schooling for the last 3 years. We were convicted we should home school while in Kansas, started the following year in Missouri, and are now in West Virginia. We have five children, two school-age. One of the biggest advantages to home schooling has been the ability to mold our schedule around Dad’s crazy hours. Our middle daughter is 5 years old and this is her fifth home-obviously continuity wouldn’t be very good if our children were enrolled in the public, or even local private schools.

The biggest problem I have encountered overall is our transient lifestyle. It was almost too easy getting started in Missouri, with no oversight or interference from the state, then coming to West Virginia, the regulations seem so burdensome. We are currently in a civilian community, four hours from the nearest supporting post. That has pros and cons in our overall lifestyle, again the biggest “con” being labeled as “the transients.” It makes it very difficult for the children and me to form a supportive network.

On the other hand, the Lord has been very faithful in giving our children strong friendships within their own family. We are frequently asked about that, because four of our five children have been adopted from various other countries. It has been neat to see how the Lord took these five children, all so very different from one another, and has brought them together in a relationship closer than most created by birth. Would that have really happened if they were all separated daily into different classrooms!

I spent almost four years on active duty before getting out and marrying my husband. Just watching military families during those four years, I had come to realize that it wasn’t just Dad’s job, but rather a whole lifestyle for the whole family. I made a choice to join my husband in that lifestyle, but my kids never had that choice, we just pack ‘em up and move ‘em whenever the orders come in.

- Laura Whitfield
Huntington, WV

The Allison family

Waiting for "hello": (clockwise from top left) Nik, 11, Dina, Sam, 7 mo., Mary, 7, Lauren, 5, Andrew, 4, and Jessica Allison, 9.

I am currently home schooling four of our six children while my husband is currently serving the Air Force in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (he is the Staff Security Officer there). He left in October when our sixth child was just 6 weeks old. It has been a surprisingly positive experience for us. Though we would love for my husband to be home with us, we know his job is very important.

This has also been a great opportunity for us to be blessed by others. I could tell you story upon story of how our church family (Cottonwood Church) and others have stepped up, unasked, and have given of themselves to help us through this trying time. My husband and I went to the same elementary school and that school has adopted him as “their soldier.” He has received wonderful letters and pictures from the children there.

Our family has been apart several times in his career although never for this length of time. We know that the only “good” in goodbye is the “hello” we will someday enjoy.

- Dina Allison
Albuquerque, NM

The Espinoza family

Recognizing the importance of community involvement: Technical Sergeant Gilberto "Gibby" and Paige Espinoza with (L-R) Aaron, 7, Jonny, 5, and Joshua, 9.

I have been home schooling for two years, which our family turned to after being transferred to one of our country’s worst-performing school systems. (We gave the public schools one year of “benefit of the doubt” before pulling them out to school at home.)

I would say that the best part of being in a military home schooling community is that due to the frequent transitions of this lifestyle, military members know better than anyone why community involvement is so important. My community of home schooling parents have been there for me in ways that blood family simply cannot be because of distance constraints. In addition, we are (it is no secret) not a highly paid segment of the community, so the exchange of low-cost ideas and the freedom that others feel to exchange, lend, and give away curriculum that has been used by one family to another is, I feel, probably more generous than in other environments.

A detail often overlooked by civilian families without military ties is that to be considered successful in work and not behind the “power curve,” active-duty members are expected to contribute to their communities, achieve as high an education as possible, and excel in their individual career fields in their away-from-the-office time. To do less is considered adequate justification to cause a member to be overlooked for promotions and career advancement opportunities. Not only do they continually study their job-related duties for periodic promotion test cycles, but many like my husband attend night school as well, reaching for the next degree of college (or in some cases, post-graduate) education. This leaves most of the teaching responsibilities, if not all of them, on the plate of the committed spouse/teacher.

My husband has spent time away from our family, but fortunately for my sanity, not during the time that our family has schooled at home. The stress that we have had to deal with recently is the semi-isolation of moving to a new state mid-year during the coldest of winter months. The support I have received through e-mails from my “old” support group is sustaining my determination to not give in to the stress and turn my children’s educational responsibilities back over to the local school system. I am still in the process of connecting with a new support group. I think that the conditioning of years of moving around has prepared me somewhat for the move, as I know where to look for resources. I believe that the active-duty families at my husband’s base and the local church resources will together be what hold me up.

- Paige L Espinoza
Colorado Springs, CO

The West family

Keeping focused on the needs of others: (L-R) Heather, 16, Barbara, Lt. Col. Bruce, and Tiffany West, 18.

We are a second-generation Air Force family. Bruce’s father was a commissioned officer attaining the rank of Major while my father was a noncommissioned Chief Master Sergeant. After college, Bruce used his finance and international business degrees as an investment and tax counselor working with wills and trusts. The Lord intervened, leading Bruce to quit his job, apply for Officer Training School, and then Undergraduate Pilot Training.

Bruce is now the Squadron Commander of the U.S. Air Force B-1 Weapons School. He makes decisions about who will go to Afghanistan and who will stay. Every military member in the squadron wants to go, even Bruce. Mission is paramount. Bruce tries to maintain a balance between mission and people when making decisions. In so doing, he may take individual family life considerations-pregnancy, surgery, marital problems-into account. Making the decision to send someone to Afghanistan to work with Operation Enduring Freedom is a task not taken lightly. They may not come back.

Factors affecting the choice are who has or has not been sent, the particular training they will receive while there, the experience they can bring back, and home life stability. Interestingly, everyone who has been sent has been married. After the decision, my job as the Squadron Commander’s spouse kicks in with support for the wife, children, and extended family. Support ranges from a phone call to cooking and cleaning. My main work is to ensure that lines of communication stay open.

Home schooling has always been a lifestyle, with emphasis placed on relationships-with the Lord and then others. This is just another opportunity to keep priorities where they need to be-on people. We have always looked outward and not been egocentric in living our lives. Operation Enduring Freedom helps to keep us focused on the needs of others.

We have two daughters. Tiffany, 18, is enrolled in Abilene Christian University, and we are still home schooling, Heather, 16. We have home schooled for 14 years through six states and one foreign country.

Tiffany is particularly adept at getting youth outside military circles educated on world affairs and how those events impact their daily lives. This helps to expand circles of ministry to other arenas that would normally be overlooked.

Heather assists with Operation Warmheart Food Pantry. Many young military moonlight at second jobs to supplement their family income. With husbands deployed, there is no supplemental income. Heather helps with Operation Warmheart by getting the word out to home schooled seniors, juniors, and sophomores in addition to being a collection site for boxed and canned items.

- Bruce and Barbara West
Rapid City, SD