Belvoir Home Educators enrich educational experience
November 29, 2012
For many parents, educating their children at home is an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional classroom setting, according to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.
In 2007, the number of home-schooled children reached 1.5 million in the U.S., an increase of 74 percent from 1999 when the organization began recording the statistics.
Parents who choose to educate their children at home cite a variety of reasons, ranging from moral values and religious convictions to financial restraints, and despite the increase in the home-schooled population, there is still a measure of controversy regarding the long-term utility of this alternative method.
Critics of home education often cite the limited scope of social interaction and development in what is often called the narrow confines of learning at home -- specifically, such children do not have the same opportunities as children attending public schools to meet new peers, develop intrapersonal relationship skills and get exposed to the cultural diversity offered in a larger group setting.
For many military Families living on Fort Belvoir -- Families who live in a unique environment which often involves frequent reassignment and relocation -- the home schooling program can offer the ideal setting for children to excel in and out of school and build lasting relationships.
A group of Fort Belvoir parents formed an organization designed to balance home-schooled children's educational experience by adding a wide variety of extracurricular activities that students can use to establish those very relationships.
The Belvoir Home Educators was formed more than five years ago to meet the challenges of educating the installation's youth in the home and has grown in membership ever since.
"The purpose of the group is to provide a support structure for (primarily) military Families who choose to educate their children in a non-traditional setting," said Lisa Sierra-Davidson, a Belvoir parent who took over BHE as president in April and heads the organization with her husband Paul Davidson. "The group is here to support these Families with that decision by sharing resources and providing social and educational activities. These include cooperative teaching sessions which are held twice a year at the Markham School Age Center, field trips, clubs like cooking, Lego engineering, and crafts."
Davidson added that including sports into the home-school curriculum has allowed the BHE to expand its activities through cooperation with established youth sports programs here on post.
"Our sports program is rapidly growing due to the commitment and hard work of our parents. We are also establishing more partnerships in the community," she said. "(Fort Belvoir's) Child, Youth and School Services has been a new, valuable partner this year that has opened up valuable venues. BHE has participated in the President's Fitness Challenge."
Fitness-focused activity is an important aspect of the BHE program and contributes to the U.S. Army's commitment to getting children interested in and dedicated to proper exercise habits and active lifestyles at an early age.
"We have been able to offer classes in yoga, bowling, ice skating and hiking. Monthly fitness (programs) such as open recreation and park play days are also offered year round to promote healthy living," she said. "Fitness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important component of education. We believe that homeschooling provides the optimal opportunity to educate the whole person."
"Athletics is a part of overall health and fitness. It is about teaching the children that fitness is a part of everyday life and it can still be fun," added Paul Davidson.
Track and field activities are a particularly popular component in the BHE sports programs, one that is growing to include more participants in more events.
"The (running) team started out with five kids and now has over 15 participants," Paul Davidson said. "(Because of) the overall quality and increased numbers of participants, cross country will continue in the spring. The team recently participated in the Fort Belvoir Turkey Trot event. The cross country team was recently added to BHE in September. The team's coach, Jorge Guzman, works tirelessly to provide a program which is fun while instilling a life-long appreciation for fitness."
Paul Davidson also said that, in addition to sports teams and recreation groups, the BHE offers the students opportunities to interact in study organizations as well.
"We also have academic support groups," he said. "The Biology Lab group is held once a week until June. Each week students are led through different labs. The labs are facilitated by a Harvard graduate."
BHE is a growing collective of home-schooled students and supportive parents that offers a comprehensive approach to education with a sense of Family and community at its core.
"BHE currently has 157 Families as members of our support group and we have six board members. Our group represents a fraction of the Families that home school," Paul Davidson said. "How many Families on Fort Belvoir choose to home school? Look at a single neighborhood. Most would say they have a neighbor that home schools. BHE is a growing group with limitless opportunity for growth. We are also open to new members. BHE is an organization that is run solely by members who volunteer their time and expertise. We are a community. We are responsible for educating our children. We participate in the support activities and programs within BHE to enhance the education. That said, we find the bond our children have to Family and community is stronger because of the shared experiences, community service and involvement. The inherent flexibility of home schooling enhances these bonds."
Lisa Sierra-Davidson and Paul Davidson encourage Families on Fort Belvoir to learn about the benefits of homeschooling and consider what BHE has to offer.
"I simply encourage parents considering the choice to (home educate their children) to reach out to the BHE website or talk to a parent who participates," Paul Davidson said. "I think anyone will find that my wife is very open about why we made our choice and she welcomes talking to others. Families come to the decision to home school their children based on many different reasons. Whether the decision is easy or hard, Belvoir Home Educators provide a forum where Families can flourish while maintaining their desired autonomy. We are motivated to serve by the knowledge that we not only enrich our children's lives but also support the fellow home-school Family in their personal endeavors.
As military Families, we understand and live change with every aspect of our lives. The focus of BHE is to ensure these remain our focus."
More information regarding BHE and its programs is available by contacting Paul Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org.