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    Photos by Mickie Winters

    This morning, 125,000 kids in Jefferson County begrudgingly got up before sunrise. They packed their lunches in Frozen lunchboxes or brown sacks, or brought lunch money, or forgot all of those things as they rushed out the door to the bus stop or the minivan. Or maybe they rolled out of bed, threw a backpack on, making sure to bring their homework, and walked a few blocks to school. Many made it to school after an hour-long ride and a few unfortunate ones may have gotten on the wrong bus at the depot. The late ones were reprimanded. The ones with too many unexplained tardy marks to their names got detention. Some fell asleep in French class. Some made new best friends. Some found a new favorite teacher. Some stayed after school for cross-country or Beta Club or a pep rally. Some kids did none of these things. Some — at least 2,106 — are home-schooled.

     

    Eight years ago, Ian Guerrero was in second grade at Jeffersontown Elementary School. Up to that point, his mom Toya recalls, he had been doing well and hadn’t received any complaints from his teachers. But in second grade Ian started to bring home incomplete schoolwork. Toya would sit down with him and help him complete the worksheets that he hadn’t done in class. “That kind of baffled me,” she says. When she questioned the teacher, she says, the response was that everything was fine and not to worry. But then October came around: same thing. November: same thing. “And I said, ‘Listen, I’m really concerned that Ian’s not going to pass. He’s not learning anything,’” Toya says. The teacher said that he seemed distracted. She didn’t have any advice for Toya at that point, so Toya went to her church leaders. They suggested he should run in the morning to work out some energy, so her husband Rudy would get up and Ian would run with him before school. December: same thing. “I mean stacks of worksheets,” Toya says. “By December I had brought it to her attention so much that she’s starting to think I’m accusing her, and I’m not — I just want to know what we can do to help Ian.” The teacher suggested supplementing with a tutor and said that he would have to see a doctor, that he might have ADD or ADHD. Toya talked to some moms who told her not to let anyone put her son on drugs, that nothing was wrong with Ian. “I had a degree in psychology. I really did not think Ian had any type of learning disability. So finally I said to (his teacher), ‘What would you do if this was your child?’ She said, ‘Well, I would home-school.’” Some of Toya’s church members who home-schooled helped her get a curriculum together and she told the district she wasn’t coming back. 

    Ian, now 15 and a high school freshman, and his 11-year-old sister Apolonia (she goes by Apple) are two home-schoolers in Jefferson County. Home-schoolers make up at least 2 percent of the county’s student population. The district and the state have not kept year-to-year records of the number of known home-schoolers. A Courier-Journal story from 1982 noted that Kentucky officials knew of two home schools the previous year and that that number had climbed to 14 (five in Jefferson County) a year later. By 1995 the statewide number was 5,200. Today, the Kentucky Department of Education estimates that there are 15,000 to 20,000 home-schoolers in Kentucky. Nationally, the estimate is more than two million, and the percentage of students who home-school increased from 2.2 percent in 2003 to 3.4 percent in 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

    Home-schoolers I’ve met share the sentiment that home schooling has become mainstream compared to when they started out 10 or 15 years ago, that in response to telling someone they’re home-schooled they no longer get as many questions like, “How do you make friends?” They’re more often told, “I wish I could do that.”

    The home-school page on the Kentucky Department of Education website reads: “While professional educators urge extreme caution to those proceeding with this often overwhelming challenge, it is imperative that parents and guardians opting for a home-school environment equip themselves with the knowledge, information, contacts and legal obligations pertaining to the establishment and daily operation needed for compliance.”

    To home-school in Kentucky, parents are supposed to record attendance and maintain a portfolio of work and a record of courses taken. Core instruction should be in English, which can disqualify non-English-speaking families. School should happen over a minimum of 1,062 hours in at least 170 days out of the year. Subjects should include “reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, mathematics, science and civics,” the website reads. While parents are supposed to send a letter to the superintendent each year declaring that they are home-schooling, the district would not know if someone had not sent a letter and therefore would not keep a tally of such students. That is, unless a concerned neighbor or family member calls the district to report that a kid isn’t in school. None of the families I met for this story have ever had that happen, and JCPS director of pupil personnel Brent Lynch says he rarely gets a call like this. “Parents come in all the time and say, ‘I’ve signed up to home-school. Where’s my curriculum?’” Lynch says. “Well, no, you’re the home-schooler. It’s up to you to decide.”


    The Guerrero family

    “I can remember him twiddling his thumbs and playing with a pencil for the first month or so and just constantly saying, ‘No, Ian, don’t do that,’” Toya says. With daily one-on-one instruction, they were able to break those habits. Toya says that after that there was no question — home schooling is what works for their family. Apple was already home watching Sesame Street and picking up books, so Toya started more formal home schooling with her when she reached kindergarten age. 

    “There were times I was just at the end of my rope. I thought, This is not working,” Toya says. Times when she felt Apple was lacking or being lazy, she’d say, “Listen, you’re gonna go to public school if you can’t do this, if you can’t get it together, if you can’t focus.” Apple would say, “Oh, no, please don’t take me to school!”

    Apple, sitting on the sofa with her feet dangling above the floor, shrugs and says, “I just liked being home and not really having to go anywhere in the morning.”

    “She’s never been in school,” Toya says of Apple, “whereas Ian, he knows what’s expected. She never knew that every day children were getting up at 7 or earlier and getting dressed, getting their breakfast, going to school, doing their schoolwork for so many hours of the day.”

    Ian and Apple politely shake my hand, smile and stand tall when I visit them at their Jeffersontown home. It’s a chilly rainy Monday morning, and the kids are in T-shirts, shorts and socks. Today Ian is finishing a lab report from an experiment in which he observed what happens when solid butter is put in liquid butter and when ice is put in water. As a freshman, Ian now mostly works independently, and he’s taking courses with the Air and Space Academy at Bowman Field — his goal is to get into the Air Force. Apple, in sixth grade, still needs direction, so she and Toya sit at the kitchen table and work on Apple’s writing skills before diagramming sentences and labeling parts of speech. Toya spent two hours the previous evening watching a DVD to learn how to present the material to Apple, though they try to keep evening studies to a minimum. That's when Toya's husband Rudy is home from his job at Reynolds Aluminum, where he's a maintenance manager. 

    The Guerreros have switched up their home-schooling methods and curriculum over the years. For the past several years, they've used a common home-schooling curriculum from a Christian publisher named A Beka. (The Guerreros, like many home-schoolers, didn’t set out to home-school for religious reasons, but Toya likes that her children can now talk about God in an academic setting.)

    Toya decided to have her kids tested to see if they met academic standards for their grade levels, so she found a home-school group that uses the Stanford Achievement Test, employed nationally by many private schools. Ian did average or above average in most categories. Apple struggled a bit. At the testing, Toya met other home-school moms who raved about a co-op called Classical Conversations. “I didn’t understand what a co-op was,” Toya says. “I felt like, you’re taking your children out of school to be with you and to teach them. Why would you take them to a building with a group of children? Basically, I felt like you were getting back into the same situation as public or private school, but this is not like that at all.” Every Friday, the kids join 47 other students at Jeffersontown Baptist Church and break up into different classes. They then work on assignments throughout the week based on what’s learned in class. Even with the more scheduled, formal setting, Toya and the other home-school teachers have the freedom to commit at whatever level they want. And Toya doesn’t grade. If Apple does her math work wrong, Toya will make sure she understands it and tell her to correct it. “I feel like with home school, it’s not so much about the grade as it is learning.”

     

    Jackie Hawkins, like most parents, wants the best education for her daughter Jooniper. To her, that wasn’t going to happen at their “resides” schools when they were thinking about kindergarten. She chose Brandeis because of its reputation as a high-performing magnet school. She gathered the application requirements, the recommendations from preschool teachers, the samples of her daughter’s preschool work. When Jooniper was accepted and started school, it wasn’t what Hawkins and her ex-husband hoped it would be. “Her kindergarten teacher yelled at students. What kind of kindergarten teacher yells at people?” Hawkins says. Jooniper also dealt with a bully, and the way the classes were set up, she’d remain in the same class as her bully through fourth grade. Hawkins wrote letters and was on the PTA, but says that nothing was done about the bully and that her daughter’s cocooned demeanor reflected that. One afternoon, Jooniper was supposed to stay after for a math and science class, and Hawkins got a call from the school 45 minutes after school let out saying they hadn’t seen her daughter since before school let out.

    “I freak out, I mean, who wouldn’t?” Hawkins says. The school bus arrived late with Jooniper mistakenly on it. This was in November 2007, when the girl was in second grade, and the school had already accidentally put her on the bus three times that year. “I realize that there are a lot of families who have great experiences at that school. We just weren’t one of them,” Hawkins says. The cost of private school eliminated that as an option, so she decided to home-school.

    I visit her in Clarksville, where the family is in the middle of unpacking from a recent move. At 11 a.m., the kids are in their pajamas. Joshua, 10, and Jayceline, 9, sit at the kitchen table with laptops open. They get up every so often to quietly ask permission for a piece of gum or a Jell-O pack or to play outside in the graveyard that they erected for Halloween. Jooniper keeps to herself, curled up on the couch in the living room with her laptop. Now 16, she’s studying geometry and chemistry this year. It took her less than a semester to finish her last algebra class, so if she finishes geometry before the end of this semester, she will likely enroll in some classes at Indiana University Southeast for dual credit. (Among the home-schoolers I meet, most have taken the ACT by the time they are sophomores and enroll in classes at U of L or JCTC to get a head start on college credits.)

    “This is Frank Cardulla,” Hawkins says, reading the back of a DVD case. “He has a master’s from the University of Illinois. He received the National Catalyst Award for outstanding chemistry teacher — you get to hand-select the people that teach your kids with the things that you outsource.” She bought the chemistry lesson used for $45 (it’s $400 new) at a curriculum sale that home-school groups host every year.

    Jayceline comes up and taps her on the shoulder. “Yes, sweetie?” Hawkins says. “Here, you can set the timer. Do you want to take my phone?” She turns to me. “Jayceline is taking a test. She’s doing a read-and-think skill sheet.” Each of her kids learns differently. Joshua likes to do his favorite subjects first, then his least-favorite subjects. Jooniper likes to read out loud. Joshua needs complete silence. “Then we have kids like Jayceline who are like, ‘I want to make A-pluses! And I want to be tested on this and it’s so much fun!’” says Hawkins.

    “It’s never: You have to get this done right now. It’s: When you get done, you can do something that you want to do. But it’s up to you how long it takes you. Which is nice because in school you have 30 minutes to do this math, and if you’re the kid that gets done first, you get to sit and be bored, and if you’re the kid that can’t finish, you’re a failure at math. We don’t have that.”

    Jayceline walks in from the test. “How long did it take you? A minute?” Hawkins asks her. The girl nods and skips away, her long golden-blond hair flowing behind her. 

    Joshua, now wearing a yellow Pokemon Pikachu hat, calls his mom over for help with a math problem. At night, when she's not monitoring her kids, Hawkins drafts for the property survey business her husband owns. She's also a registered nurse and has been in school working to become a nurse practitioner, though she took this semester off to focus on the family's move.

    “How many 100 millions do you have?” she asks. He utters something. “OK, how many 10 millions do you have?” She works down the long number until they reach the 10s. “See, I told you you didn’t need help,” she says.

    “Teachers are fantastic and I love them, but they’re not parents,” Hawkins says. “I can look at Joshua, and if I know that he needs to get up and take a break, there’s nothing preventing him from doing that. And I know when he’s doing a problem he knows the answer to but he wants a little attention, he’ll ask me for help.”


    Jackie Hawkins with her husband and children

    Home schooling has grown in part because we live in a time when we can customize anything and make everything more efficient. From apps to online shopping to TV programs and even online visits with doctors, everything is now what we want and where and when we want it. It’s no wonder education would start to move in a more customized direction.

    Stephanie Barnette, 24, was home-schooled all the way through high school, while her four siblings chose to go to public high school. She would read any of the classics she could get her eyeballs on, while her brothers were interested in physics and would read Stephen Hawking and watch various documentaries. Her sister was really into medical information and would pick up diagnostic books and go around diagnosing the whole family. “There wasn’t the limitation of, the school doesn’t offer this or the school doesn’t have funding for this or you don’t have time to take this class,” she says. “We had time to take it.” Her family also took vacations while everyone else was in school. They’d go down to St. Augustine, Florida, or Jamestown or Williamsburg, Virginia, places that could double as educational experiences. For a couple of years, the Guerreros would go to Mexico for months at a time and visit with Rudy Guerrero’s family. They brought their books and materials and had school down there. Hawkins and her family also vacation during the off-season when places are less crowded and travel is cheaper. They’ll do schoolwork in July or August when it’s too hot outside to do anything anyway. And Jooniper visits her father often wherever he is with his wife, who is a travel nurse. This past year she’s been to New Mexico, Seattle, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

    The JCPS school guide is titled “Choices,” though families cross their fingers with uncertainty when they apply to their first-choice school. The district has over the past decade grown its eSchool for middle and high school students. High school students can take all four years of classes from a computer wherever they choose. Home-school students may take these classes but they are not recognized as public-school students.

    Jessica Philpott home-schools her two sons. She previously worked at several schools in town, including a JCPS school, and says that the test-performance pressure is something that always bothered her. However, her main reason for home-schooling her seven-year-old son Drake is because he’s autistic and she wanted to be able to spend more time with him and take him to see behavioral, occupational and speech therapists for more training than he would have gotten at public school. With her teaching background, her home-school style is more orderly, all lesson plans and curriculum. But she does get to spend time on subjects that her kids gravitate toward. Drake wants to be an astrophysicist. “By the time you do your 90 minutes of math, 90 minutes of reading, recess, lunch, bathroom breaks, morning meeting, all that stuff, there’s like no time left for science,” Philpott says of public schools. Now that Drake has worked so closely with his therapists, she says she would have no problem sending him to public school, that he’s more equipped now. “We would have to move to get into a good school,” she says. “If we had money and we could send him to Stopher (an elementary school near the Lake Forest subdivision in the East End), yeah, he could get more science, because it’s a rich school.”

     

    Hawkins formed a cottage school a couple years ago under the organization Louisville Homeschool, a resource on local home-school groups and extracurricular activities. Hawkins was home-schooled for her last two years of high school in the late ’90s — Toya Guerrero calls her a pioneer compared to their family. Hawkins also runs a field trip group called River City Field Trips.

    Unlike co-ops, cottage schools generally have trained or certified instructors. The 70-student (up from about 30 last year) cottage school at Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church has classes throughout the week on STEM subjects, writing, performing arts, sign language, geography. Students can enroll in one or several classes and the program is secular. With the overwhelming majority of cottage programs being Christian — some require a statement of faith — Hawkins says she felt there was a real need for a secular version: “I wanted something where my kids would meet children and there would be diversity.”

    Guerrero, who is black and whose husband is Hispanic, says that most of the home-schoolers she meets are white. “But that being said, everyone is friendly and open and I’ve never felt like I’m different,” she says. “You kind of wonder, maybe if Ian had been a different color, if he had been Caucasian, maybe he wouldn’t have been overlooked in public school.”

    Looking at the ZIP-code data that JCPS has on file for this school year, you see that home-school families are spread out across the county. Hawkins says she can think of 15 black families out of the more than 700 subscribed to the Louisville Homeschool newsletter. For poorer people, or single-parent homes, home schooling is more difficult but not impossible. Hawkins says that some families who join Louisville Homeschool can’t participate in an activity if it’s not on a bus line. “I want to reach out to them and say, ‘Let me help you,’” she says, “but I can’t do that. I don’t have the resources.”

    On a Tuesday morning at the Louisville Homeschool cottage school, handfuls of students sit on the floors of several classrooms at the Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church. Some young ones are in a beginning STEM class, where the teacher tells them how to budget their hypothetical $7. In an art history class, Debussy’s “La mer” plays in the background. The kids paint their rendition of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” There’s also a band class and an end-of-semester performance showcase. All of the teachers have some sort of certification or teaching background. Some have worked in JCPS or still work there part-time. (None would talk to me about that experience.) Many are mothers who now home-school and no longer teach in a formal setting. 

    After the first week of classes in September, Hawkins’ younger daughter, Jayceline, came to her excited about the creative-writing class she’s taking. Hawkins had no idea her daughter would enjoy writing so much. “I’m a mom and I teach, but I’m not a teacher,” Hawkins says. “I don’t make lesson plans; I buy curriculum. I feel like I can provide the best education for my children just because I know them and I know when they need help, but I’m not the creative type that can make writing all day fun.”

    Because moms (I say moms because every one of the home-schoolers I’ve met is a mom and Hawkins knows of maybe a handful of dads who lead their family’s home-schooling efforts) are only invested as long as their own children are school-aged, these home-school groups have in the past dissolved, disbanded and then made way for new parents to take over or start new groups entirely. The previous organizer of River City Field Trips was stepping down when Hawkins took over. They go just about everywhere in town that can provide a learning experience and an opportunity for kids to socialize. Groups recently went to see Dracula at Actors Theatre, to pick pumpkins at Gallrein Farms in Shelbyville, and to see The True Story of the Three Little Pigs at Derby Dinner Playhouse. 

    The cottage school costs students $188 per class, per year. Toya Guerrero says the cost of Classical Conversations, more than $2,000 a year for both of her kids to attend, was “sticker shock.” (A Beka was about $1,000 a year. JCPS spent $12,257 per student last school year.)

    For a couple of years, after Rudy Guerrero was laid off from his job at Ford and was forced to retire, the family had very little money. They qualified for free/reduced-price lunch, and were able to participate in things like archery and golf for a minimal fee. Ian and Apple are now on a home-school swim team at Lakeside that costs $200 a month, something they’d pay little to nothing for if they went to public school. When they first started home-schooling, they asked Ian’s former principal if he could participate in any of the extracurricular activities or sports. The principal would not allow that. In Kentucky, it is up to the principal to decide whether private-school or home-school students can participate. The “Tebow bill,” named after former NFL player Tim Tebow because he was home-schooled in Florida, where the law allowed him to play on a public-school team, was introduced in Kentucky last year. It failed to pass.

    Tennessee requires home-schoolers to submit attendance records and proof of vaccinations every year. The parents must have a high-school diploma or GED in order to home-school. And testing is required for grades five, seven and nine. If a student tests below grade level for two years or more in a row, the superintendent may require the kids to enroll in public school. In Ohio, a licensed teacher administers a nationally normed test to home-school students. Parents must list the courses and textbooks when they notify the district. As with Tennessee, the home-school parent must have a GED or high-school diploma. Ohio home-school students can participate in public-school sports, and students have the option of being a part-time student in the public-school district. While Kentucky has more lax home-school requirements, which date back to the late 1800s, not long after Louisville had established its public school system, JCPS does not allow part-time students.

    Brent Lynch says that while home schooling could be beneficial for certain families and students, in some cases home schooling may not be the best option for students. “When I was a teacher, a (certain) kid was home-schooled up until his freshman year of high school. He was dyslexic and couldn’t read. In JCPS we have a lot of professionals for MMD (mild mental disability) or autism. But for those with school anxiety, where a school environment is not suitable, home schooling is a better fit. It’s a very fine line and you don’t want to infringe on parents’ rights.

    “Venture to say there are probably some kids out there not being properly home-schooled. We don’t know until we receive a call.” Lynch says he got maybe two calls last year about a home-school student going into foster care for educational neglect.

     

    Britta Stokes goes to the JCPS showcase of schools every fall. “The only input I got from JCPS was how busing works and how to get kids into different programs. The conversation I want to have is: What are they gonna learn?” she says. Over the years, she applied to Lincoln for its performing-arts magnet, and Kennedy and Coleridge-Taylor for the Montessori programs. Neither of her two kids ever got in. She was unimpressed with the resides school near their house in Fern Creek. After attending a private Montessori preschool, Eilieh Stokes started the Catholic school path at St. Bernard, where the family attends church. 

    On a gray October evening I meet with the Stokes family at their home in Fern Creek. Two years ago they built a shed in the backyard. Britta’s disabled mother had moved in with them and the shed allowed the kids to escape the hubbub of the house. The bright blue structure, insulated and with air and heat units, resembles a tiny house. Inside, maps are pinned to the bare-wood walls, facing a table, chairs and bookshelves. Eilieh is what you might expect an artistic 16-year-old girl to look like, with short blond hair and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and jeans with paint on them. 

    Eilieh first presented issues as a kindergartener. At least one day a week, Britta would have to pick her up from school early to mitigate her chronic emotional breakdowns. She and her husband learned early on that Eilieh was intellectually gifted. When she was sitting in her car seat, she looked up at a sign on Bardstown Road and said, “Copycat Video.” The witnesses, her mother and aunt, were shocked at Eilieh’s first words.

     

    (Britta had a deaf roommate in college and has since felt the need to watch TV with closed captioning. She thinks that watching Reading Rainbow and other shows this way is probably what taught Eilieh to read at such a young age.) Looking back on her daughter’s kindergarten experience, Britta says, “She was frustrated. It’s hard to think of a kindergartener understanding that they already know everything, but that’s what was happening.” Against the school’s philosophy, Eilieh was able to skip kindergarten and join a first-grade class, but Britta still saw signs of early depression. Eilieh was withdrawn and would lash out verbally at her parents. Psychologists eliminated the possibility of learning disorders and autism. “There are misconceptions: ‘Well, if you’re gifted, you’re OK. School doesn’t have to worry about you. We need to worry about the kids who are struggling,’” Britta says. “But in reality, the higher the IQ, the higher the emotions, the higher the intensity of everything. In addition to being emotionally intense, they learn really quick. Everything is amped up. You get problems with that in society. You get problems when that goes to school.” So the family decided to home-school. “About three months in she was a completely different kid,” Britta says.

    Britta always made sure the kids were learning math, English, science and social studies. Because memorizing multiplication tables would send Eilieh “into a frenzy,” Britta says, she taught her algebra first.

    “I have always taken exception with simple things,” Eilieh says, “and I won’t go into a rant about it because this applies to my philosophy on pretty much anything, but the idea of something being black-and-white has always bugged me — always. There is no such thing as a yes-or-no issue. There’s no such thing as ‘it’s good’ or ‘it’s evil.’ It’s always a lot more complicated than people look at it.”

    “I get accused of being an unschooler,” Britta says. “I think that’s a dirty word. They don’t see me with pens and papers and books. But I expect my kids to read a lot and write a lot and I hold rigorous standards.” She has friends in Massachusetts, home-schoolers who, by state law, have to turn in a portfolio and meet with a teacher. “I think, The way I home-schooled? Meeting with somebody?” Britta says.

    “They probably would have forced me in public school and I would have hated my life,” Eilieh says.

    “I can tell you this now that my kids aren’t (home-schooled),” Britta says. “There were two years when my husband was having chemo and I was so tired that we didn’t do a whole lot.”

    “I spent a ton of time in the library and read a ton of books,” Eilieh says.

    “She’s luckily the type of kid that can self-educate,” Britta says.

    Britta would get a lesson from the library on World War II or a copy of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech for Eilieh and her 11-year-old brother Paxton to analyze. Eilieh read The Odyssey at age nine, after her grandfather brought her a collection of English texts he had found at a yard sale. One year Britta handed her a math textbook and told her to finish it by the end of the year, which she did. For a while, they teamed up with another home-school family. Britta taught the kids literature and the other mom taught the kids science, having them take apart radios and learn about the mechanics.

    Eilieh and other home-schoolers I’ve talked to all mention how Louisville is a great place to home-school, with institutions like the Frazier and 21c and Locust Grove to explore. “The vision of sitting at the kitchen table for eight hours a day,” Britta says. “The world’s out there. It’s not in your kitchen.”

     

    Home schooling, as the KDE warns, is a huge undertaking. Families have to figure out if they can make it work financially, if one parent can give up working or work part-time or, in Jackie Hawkins’ case, work from home part-time. Jessica Philpott says that when she started home-schooling, her husband, who works in IT, started a woodworking business on the side. Going out to dinner and to the movies is pretty much nonexistent for them now, but she says that it’s worth it for her children to get a quality education. Molly Isaacs-McLeod, who with Britta Stokes started an organization called Parents of Gifted Students, recently spoke at a conference in Orlando about what to consider before home-schooling. She refers to herself as a “general contractor,” combining different lessons and resources and tutors for her sons’ education. Her youngest son is an “extreme extrovert” and she’s not sure if home schooling will work for him like it has for the other kids. She and her husband are both lawyers, but she has not been working so that she can home-school. “While I feel very blessed,” she says, “this was not my plan. I’m 51 years old. I was going to be a partner at a firm by now.” 

     

    Britta and her husband John have a mantra: one year at a time. And they told the kids that if they ever wanted to go to regular school, to let them know. “Wherever they are, are they happy? That’s a big indicator of mine,” she says.

    Eilieh decided she wanted to go to high school a few years ago. It wasn’t that she didn’t have plenty of interaction with other kids — she had taken martial arts and met kids through the neighborhood and other extracurricular activities. But she wanted interaction in an academic setting. “There’s only so much you can learn at home on your own,” she says. She applied to Atherton for its college-like International Baccalaureate program but didn’t get in. Without a record of specific courses, she didn’t even bother with duPont Manual. She ended up choosing St. Francis, a private school downtown where she’s now a senior. She’s taking AP courses and plans to enroll in U of L’s small-class, discussion-heavy honors program next year. 

    Paxton started at St. Gabriel in August after being home-schooled through fifth grade. While he’s made some friends, and says he’s learning a lot and likes it overall, he has experienced some adjustment issues — in part because of the intensity Britta has talked about that gifted students can experience. (She also suspects he might be what’s called 2e, or twice exceptional, with a high IQ accompanied by a learning disorder such as ADHD.) While most kids might get annoyed with group work, having to deal with kids that don’t do their part or who take over entirely, Britta says that these kinds of assignments infuriate Paxton. But he’s addressing and working through his struggles for now.

    I catch Britta on the phone one afternoon as she’s picking Paxton up from school. “Carpool is so funny — how things are so normal for other parents,” she says. “It’s the soup I live in now. It’s kind of hard for me to have kids in school. I know the exceptions to everything but the rules are very strange for me.”

    This originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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