The Owens, who are home schooling their five children, congregated at home on Tuesday. Front row, from left, Chase, Kimberly, Caitlin, and Becky. In back row, from left, Christine, Vance, and Corinne.

Isle family sacrifices but
also enjoys the rewards of
home schooling their children

By Susan Essoyan

When Kimberly Owen first suggested to her husband that they home school their five children, he balked.

The couple had a successful business, Owen & Owen Photographers, and he didn't know how they would survive financially. He also wondered if they were qualified for the task.

"My first reaction was that we cannot educate our kids," recalled Owen. "We both have college degrees, but we didn't major in education. Our background is photography."

Art His parents adamantly opposed the idea. "My mother told us, 'You have to send them to school. How are they going to make friends? How are they going to socialize?'"

Six years later, oldest daughter Corinne is about to graduate and head off to college. The Owens are proud of the way their kids are turning out, and even the grandparents "have come to accept it," he said.

For Kimberly Owen, who grew up in Dallas, home schooling was not an alien concept. Kimberly wanted to give her children a Christian education, and she was familiar with home schooling because her sister was doing it.

The timing seemed right, too. The Owens' daughter Christine wasn't happy in third grade at Kuhio Elementary. Corinne liked school, but she was about to enter sixth grade at intermediate school, a prospect that troubled Kimberly, who felt she was too young to make the leap from elementary.

The timing was daunting, though, in other ways. The Owens' youngest, Caitlin, was just 1, Rebecca was 3 and son Chase was not yet 5.

"When we first started, it was really hard because I still had the baby, and the little ones all needed individual attention," Kimberly recalled.

To make it work, she and Vance would divvy up the kids and have one parent at home and one at the photo shop, where part-time employees helped run the business. Kimberly's switch from photographer to educator took a toll on their bottom line, but the family feels the sacrifices were worth it.

As the children got older, home schooling became more manageable because the kids study more on their own. Everyone also pitches in with house chores and helps out at the studio on weekends, too. A schedule posted on a board spells out the school plan each day, from Bible study to science, history, language, math, Latin and piano.

"I think of the school teachers and how many students they have in their classroom," Kimberly Owen said. "I only have five. They have 30!"

On a typical morning last week, Chase, 11, and Rebecca, 9, sat at the dining room table with their mother, writing in their workbooks, with a large world map hanging on the wall above them. Caitlin, 7, curled up with a book on the couch.

Christine was at the computer in the family room, researching a topic for her debate club. "I can just work at my own pace, and don't have to worry about peer pressure," she said during a break. The downside of home schooling for her? "Not having as much time to hang out with friends."

Chase said he likes home school because "I can study my frogs," and "I don't have to stand in line to get lunch." But he thinks his mom shortchanges him on recess.

Corinne was poring over her Algebra II book in the bedroom she shares with Christine. If she needs help, she calls her father's accountant, her math tutor. Their room looks like any typical Hawaii teen's, plastered with surfing photos on the walls and Roxy stickers on the bunkbed.

"When my parents first pulled me out of school, I missed my friends," Corinne said. "I'd ask, 'Why can't I go back to school?' Now that I'm older, I see the benefits. If I had gone to public school, I would have been so social I wouldn't have concentrated on my studies."

All of the Owens' children are on swim teams except Corinne, who recently switched to paddling with a group of Kalani and Kaiser High School girls at Maunalua Bay. The whole family surfs regularly. The younger girls are in Brownies, and Chase has played soccer and basketball.

The Owens meet weekly with other home-school families, giving the children another chance to connect with their peers, and allowing the home educators to draw on each other's strengths.

Home schooling tends to be popular in lower grades, but some families bail out before high school, daunted by the prospect of subjects like chemistry. The Owens solved that problem by having Corinne take biology and chemistry from another home-school mother, who has a degree in science.

Interest in home schooling seems to be on the upswing in Hawaii, with 6,620 students registered with the state as of last April, up from 6,500 last year, according to Betsy Moneymaker, the educational specialist at the Department of Education who oversees home schooling inquiries.

Families who want to home school must submit a notice of intent to the public school their children would otherwise attend. Parents are also required to turn in annual progress reports for their students, and have their children take standardized tests in certain years.

The Owens' children take SAT tests every year to help measure their progress. While their parents are pleased with their academic success, they most appreciate the chance to shape their children's values, rather than having peers do that. "Our goal was to give our kids character," Kimberly Owen said.

"I'm a product of the public school system," said her husband, who graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Hawaii. "But I think there are a lot more outside influences now than before. Thirty years ago kids were disciplined for chewing gum in class or running in the halls. Now it's drugs and guns."

But won't their kids be too sheltered? Don't they need to learn to handle a variety of social situations, deal with cruel remarks and bounce back from being teased?

"We want our kids to grow up in an environment where they are free to express themselves without anyone putting them down," Vance Owen said.

"Because they haven't been beaten down going through school, they're pretty confident and able to deal with these things a little better," his wife added.

The kids seem to have no trouble making friends at their various activities. Despite a family ban on dating, Corinne has already attended a winter ball and a senior prom at Iolani School with friends she met through swim club. She can thank her debate skills for that.

"We have a really good rapport with our kids," explained her dad. "At first I said no, but she brought up some very valid points. She came back and said we are going as a group, and it's not a 'date' date. So I said OK."

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