DEER PARK, Ohio -- A school for home-schoolers sounds like a contradiction, but that's a simplistic description of Leaves of Learning in Deer Park.
Students who have opted to get their education at home, away from the traditional educational system, can choose to attend Leaves of Learning for an enrichment class once or twice a week, or they may enroll in the program full time – while still being considered a home-schooler.
The educational program began 19 years ago, when Diana Osborn was a year into being a self-described “reluctant home schooling mom” after deciding the traditional school system wasn’t right for her family. She wanted something for her children to do on a regular basis where they could see the same children each week and build friendships. So, she launched a one-day-per-week enrichment program with 33 children, which quickly grew.
“People kept asking for more. They said their kids were so inspired – and it gave them a day off from teaching,” Osborn said. “It went from a few enrichment classes to the full gamut.”
Leaves of Learning now offers more than 100 classes and serves 250 students from ages 3 to 18. About half of those 250 students attend classes part time as a supplement to their education at home, and the other half attend full time.
Located in the former St. John the Evangelist School, which vacated when it was consolidated into St. Nicholas Academy in 2010, Leaves of Learning offers students the flexibility to chart the course of their own education by choosing classes that interest them.
“The kids are excited to be here. They’re excited about learning,” Osborn said. “Kids aren’t learning for a test, they are learning for the true reason of learning, and that is because it’s a gift and it expands your world.”
Among the program’s 40 part-time teachers, most hold a teaching certificate, but that isn’t the top job requirement, said Osborn, who serves as the program’s director. Instead, experience, passion and enthusiasm for teaching a specific subject take center stage.
“I think that is the reason we’re successful: because our teachers are amazing. They aren’t generalists that say, ‘I could teach math.’ The math teacher really loves math,” Osborn said.
The hallways and ceilings at Leaves of Learning are peppered with student artwork. Instead of rows of desks, classrooms have tables, couches, floor pillows or overstuffed chairs arranged to facilitate discussion – the cornerstone of most classes. Some classes, which run from September until May, have just a few students. Class sizes are capped at a dozen.
Padgy Schrank works as the receptionist, and her son, Alex, went through the program. He received a scholarship to The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he is a sophomore studying political science.
Schrank took her son out of his private school after second grade. She said Leaves of Learning was a good fit for Alex because of the variety of classes. Those include core options such as math, science, history and language arts, as well as enrichment classes. Some offerings include: cooking, musical theater, astrophysics, mock trial, songwriting, video production, pottery, sewing, Spanish, engineering and yoga.
“It’s more individualized, and I liked that it was hands-on,” Schrank said. “He could move around the classroom and share his opinion in class. It was a lot more of a relaxed atmosphere. The teachers are very approachable.”
The switch from traditional school to home schooling was daunting at first, Schrank said.
“We didn’t know where home schooling would take us and how it would work throughout his education,” Schrank said. “We were worried about getting into college, but it was no problem.”
In recent years, home schooling has become a much more accepted, mainstream option, Osborn said -- so much so that colleges even have a specific home-schooler application. Leaves of Learning employs a counselor who assists in the college selection and application process. Ninety-two percent of the program’s graduates go on to college, and 40 percent continue on to graduate school.
“It’s not for everyone, but it really works well for some,” said assistant director Christie Sawyer.