Homeschooloers Hammer on Vo Tech Door
by Howard Richman
Nineteen-year-old Tim Lefnefki of MacDonald PA was a public school 11th-grader attending Western Area Career Vocation Technical School to learn auto mechanics. Like other students at the Vo Tech, he spent the other half of his school day at a public high school. (Vo Tech students normally attend the other half-day at a public or private school.)
Tim had been classified as LD (learning disabled). His mother, Linda, hoping to bring up his academic skills, began to homeschool him in October, 1996, with the understanding that Tim could continue his auto mechanics classes at the public Vo Tech.
At first everything went smoothly. But then in January Linda was told that Tim could no longer attend the Vo Tech. She called me and I urged her not to let the matter drop. She then arranged a meeting with her assistant school superintendent who, in turn, arranged a meeting between Linda and the school's psychologist to put together a new educational plan for Tim. As a result of these meetings, Tim is being allowed to continue at the Vo Tech while Linda continues to homeschool him the other half day at home.
Linda is just one of several mothers who are homeschooling half days and sending their high school students the other half-days to public Vo Tech schools to learn a trade. While some of these parents have received initial rebuffs from the local school district or Vo Tech, no conflict over homeschool access to Vo Tech schools has yet reached the courts or even been appealed to the State Board of Education.
If a conflict does go to court, it is likely that the homeschoolers would win. I can't find anything in the law which could even be construed to exclude homeschoolers. In general, the wording of the law appears to open Vo Tech schools to part-time attendance by all residents. Many private school students are already attending public vocational schools half-time with their Vo Tech fees paid by their local public school districts.
So, if you try to enroll your homeschooled student at a Vo Tech but get refused, don't let the matter drop. Be persistent and keep us abreast of what you are doing. You may not even have to go to the expense of going to court. One alternative could be to file an appeal with the State Board of Education (Peter Garland, Chairperson, State Board of Education, 333 Market St, Harrisburg PA 17126-0333.)
I once attended a lecture by Paul Stevens, a lawyer from the Curtin and Heefner firm which often represents school districts in court. He urged school districts to let homeschoolers enroll in Vo Tech programs. He argued that the chance of a school district losing such a case in court was about 50-50, and that a ruling against the districts could open public schools to homeschoolers in many other ways as well. In general, he urged that school districts let homeschoolers participate in any activities that are already open to private school students.
Felicia Wallin's Experience
I know of several homeschoolers who have had very positive experiences at local Vo Techs. Felicia Wallin, who graduated with a PHAA diploma in 1996, attended Warren County Career Center to study drafting during her junior and senior years.
During her junior year her class projects included taking apart machinery and drawing the plans that would be necessary for making them. One of her projects was a vice, another was a guitar tuner, and a third was a one-pound vent such as is used on gas tanks of tanker trucks. For each project she drew the assembled object and its constituent parts. Other homeschoolers were amazed when she shared her drafting projects at a homeschoolers' project fair.
Her Vo Tech instructor was very pleased with her work. He singled her out to receive a certificate of achievement for her "enthusiastic efforts and accomplishments in the drafting/CAD program." She was one of the only two students given awards by her teacher that year.
Three weeks into her senior year, the Vo Tech chose her, as one of their top students, to participate in a co-op job from Betts Industries (makers of mostly parts for tanker trucks) where she made various drawings using Autocad Release 12 on the computer. She worked at Betts throughout the year from 8 to 2 each day, and made $8 per hour while receiving her Vo Tech grades from her boss at Betts. Her grades from Betts were always quite high ranging from 96% to 100%.
As a result of her success she received many honors including a Pennsylvania Skills Certificate from the PA Department of Education and an Outstanding Co-op Student of the Year award from her Vo Tech.
After graduation, Betts Industries offered her a job as a drafting CAD operator, and she works there to this day.
Andrea Bell's Experience
Andrea Bell began to take Cosmetology classes at Seneca Highlands Area Vocational-Technical school during the 1993-94 school year, her sophomore year. She attended classes every afternoon from 12:30 to 3:15 and scored very well on tests.
The next year she expanded to two separate cosmetology courses mornings and afternoons five days a week. In addition to this full schedule she continued her academic work at home with English, math and history courses. She had one of those years with no free time for herself.
At the end of the year she was ranked first in her classes (based upon attendance, grades, and practical work). She had also attained the 1250 hours of practical work required in order to take the state cosmetology license exam.
In a letter of recommendation the supervisor of the cosmetology program, Nancy Nichols, wrote, "As an instructor it is always a pleasure to have a student like Andrea because she is such a good example and has a positive influence on the other students."
At the end of her junior year, Andrea took and passed the state cosmetology license exam. Then she enrolled at Pensacola Christian College as an early admission student. Now she is using her cosmetology skills to work her way through college.
Not every homeschooler's experience at Vo Tech schools has been positive. I have heard negative reports from many homeschoolers about lack of discipline, teachers who don't care, drugs, poor attitudes by students, and so on. The peer group at the average Vo Tech school may actually be worse than the peer group at the average public high school! Many homeschoolers have been looking in other directions for vocational or technical training.
Learning Construction at Home
Some homeschoolers have learned their vocational skills from their parents. For example, Jeremy Brubaker (PHAA class of 1991) did his high school academic work with his mother in the morning and then joined his father for afternoons in apprenticeship with Jim Brubaker Construction where he learned the carpentry trade. At the PHAA graduation ceremony he gave a slide presentation in which he showed a house taking shape as he and his father framed it in. Since graduation he has joined his father in the construction business. He has even been training high-school-age employees on the job.
Learning Cabinet Making at Home
John Michael Yoder, a twelfth grader in Lancaster County, has been doing many vocational projects all through high school. He learns both from his father and from neighbors who are master craftsman. He especially excels with woodworking skills. Last year he made many beautiful projects which I saw when I did his evaluation.
I was especially impressed by a beautiful small chest that he made for his sister which involved splicing walnut and oak to give a very attractive zebra effect. This chest required precise sawing and planning to get the precision required.
I was also impressed by the kitchen cabinets that he and his father made starting from scratch. They shaped the wood for each cabinet, and put together the cabinets beautifully. Every door fit perfectly. The appearance of his family’s remodeled kitchen is quite beautiful.
Learning Auto Mechanics
During his 11th and 12th grade years Steve Gehman (PHAA Class of 1992) worked through the automotive course of International Correspondence School (ICS, 800-233-4191) in Scranton. He completed the 15 units and two weeks of on-campus resident training (ICS resident training usually takes place at State College) where he got hands-on experience under the direction of a skilled mechanic.
At the same time he often applied his new skills at home. For example, during eleventh grade he successfully replaced the timing belt and water pump on his mother's car. During twelfth grade he replaced three transmissions, installed dual exhaust, replaced a starter, welded shock mounts, replaced cam and lifters, and welded his own bumper from scratch.
Soon after graduation Steve supplemented his income by buying used cars, fixing them up, and then reselling them for a profit. A few years later he was able to get a job as a maintenance technician.
The automotive course at ICS currently costs $589. ICS also offers courses in many other fields including catering, gourmet cooking, drafting, bookkeeping, home health aid, and private investigation. On-campus portions of their courses usually take place at Penn State.
I expect that homeschoolers will continue to pursue vocational-technical training both at home and through half-time enrollment in public Vo Tech schools. When you find an option that works well for your family, let us know so that we can tell others about it.