Identifying what stands out about Connections, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s homeschool program for grades K-12, was easy for Lee Young, principal of the program for the past 10 years.
“The relationships with parents,” said Young. “I’ve been in public education for a lot of years and a homeschool education provides for a setting to become education partners with families. Also it’s about seeing the success of dedicated homeschool families and the overall achievement that’s attained.”
Add to that a measure of freedom and flexibility.
“It’s really neat for students and parents to be able to kind of create their own education plan with guidance from teachers that meets the needs and requirements of a high school curriculum, but in their own special way,” said Derek Bynagle, in his third year as Connections’ Homer area student contact advisor for grades 7-12.
For Homer parents Jim and Niki Socha, enrolling in Connections ensured their son would receive an education in spite of him being challenged by a severe speech impediment. Eleven years later and with five children enrolled in the program, the reasons for staying with Connections have changed.
“We enjoy the time we get together and the freedom to go and do things as a family,” said Niki Socha.
For the Torsen family, Connections was a way to keep 11th-grader Breeanna in school in spite of medical issues that plagued the end of her sophomore year.
“We didn’t want to set her up for failure having to pull her out to see specialists and when she wasn’t feeling good enough to go to school,” said Doris Torsen.
The Torsens met with counselors at Homer High School and with Connections advisors and decided to give Connections a try.
“I thought it was going to be, ‘Here, here’s your online stuff. If you have questions, sorry.’ But it’s not like that,” said Torsen, pleased with the support they have received. “They’ve been totally helpful.”
Connections has been offered by KPBSD since 1998. It has an enrollment of 721 students throughout the district, 232 from Ninilchik south.
“Our number last year was maybe 703, so the program continues to grow,” said Young.
Transferring into the program from another school, district or state is made easier because of Connections’ individualized program. Letting the public know about Connections is done through print media, radio, Facebook and emails. Unlike some districts that extend their borders by offering homeschool programs to students living elsewhere, Connections is only offered within the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
“It is our belief that our resources, finances and efforts should remain local and focused only on our Kenai Peninsula students,” said Young.
Connections teachers and families work together to create educational plans specific to each student. The program provides instructional resources, curriculum counseling, technology, funding to support the learning plan, and access to local school academics and activities. Each student can take up to two classes at a local school.
“I have one child taking art and another who is taking advanced science and welding,” said Socha. “It works out pretty good. Because their classes aren’t until the afternoon, they get most of their (home-) school work done before going to the class.”
The program has an end-of-year graduation ceremony for high school seniors. It also coordinates group activities in which families can participate.
“The guys in the Homer office just have taken 50-60 kids with True North Adventures for a day of kayaking and learning,” said Young of one recent outing. “We’re just so rich at being able to provide cool things like that.”
The program’s “mobility” has benefited the Torsens on days when Breeanna’s health requires close supervision by her parents, both of whom work.
“We made a desk for her and she had her work and computer right there with me,” said Torsen.
For some, Connections proves a vital partner in completing high school.
“Students that don’t have involved parents or live on their own are at risk of not finishing high school,” said Young. “Even though this is a challenge, Connections can in many cases create an individualized plan to meet the needs of students. For example, we have an online learning program with certified teachers to help the students be successful while they may be working a job, too.”
As individualized as the program is, its success depends on those who enroll.
“Homeschool education for parents is a whole lot of work. It is a lifestyle choice and is so rewarding,” said Young.
“It’s something that takes a lot of work, takes commitment, but it can be very rewarding,” said Bynagle.
While her daughter’s personal motivation may sometimes be challenging, Torsen believes that without Connections Breeanna’s poor health would have resulted in her dropping out of school.
“I’m so grateful for things like this,” said Torsen. “Even if we have doctor appointments, she doesn’t have to leave it behind.”
Having more time with her children is the reward for Socha, who plans her days around her five children’s studies.
“You know when you see your children walk for the very first time, how enjoyable that is? I get to see the first time they figure out how to write their name or use a new word they’ve been struggling with,” said Socha. “I get that with every little thing. It’s something I’ve learned to really embrace and enjoy.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Offices in Soldotna, Homer, Seward
721 in grades K-12 district-wide; 232 on the southern Kenai Peninsula.
Of 501 Alaska Schools rated by the Alaska School Performance Index, Connections received a three-star score of 83.12.
1 of 149 schools in the state to receive three-star rating;
Connections score is the 294th highest in the state;
Connections is one of the 7 three-star schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District;
Connections score is the 35th highest of the 43 in KPBSD.