In a time when schools are becoming more uniform and structured, Deer Park School District has watched a uniquely flexible program grow and flourish during the past 11 years.
Home Link, a Parent Partnership Program or P3, operates as a separate school within the district allowing home schooling families to have access to educational resources and classes.
“Home Link has been essential for me and my children,” said Sherri Davey of Deer Park. Davey has two children home schooled through Home Link. Each child has a custom learning plan and Davey, instead of the district, is responsible for her children’s primary education. Davey put her two oldest into Home Link because she wanted to provide an atmosphere that allowed for more control over their curriculum and less peer pressure.
“Why can’t we have more options within the school system? Democracy is working things out with each other. I’m under the banner of a school district that represents democracy,” said Deer Park Superintendent Becky Cooke. “It is the perfect way to make our schools work for everybody,” said Cooke.
Home Link offers classes ranging from algebra to tap dance for grades K-12. Approximately 550 students are enrolled in Home Link, with 70 percent coming from outside of the district. Each week, 430 classes are taught on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with high school students attending classes on Mondays as well. “I have two cooking classes going every hour,” said Carol Van Wormer, Home Link principal, who helped develop the program.
While almost every school district has a similar program to offer, that wasn’t always the case. Deer Park’s Home Link program started when two home schooling moms approached the school board with a proposal in 1999. At the time, Chewelah was the only district on the east side of the state with a home schooling program, according to Van Wormer.
In 2000, Van Wormer, a home schooling mom of six with a teaching certificate, was hired for the one-and-a-half day a week position. She was told, “here’s a key, make a good program.” By the end of the first week, her job had grown into a full-time position with 38 enrolled students.
In 2005, Home Link moved into the historic 1915 Clayton School Building. Van Wormer and Molly Murphy, a Home Link employee, were allowed to personally take part in the $1.25 million transforming process funded by an interest-free state loan. “We got to mess with the blueprints,” said Murphy. Suited to their needs, the building now boasts a cheery yellow color, dark wood trim, and smaller rooms.
By the time the restoration was complete, Home Link was already too big to be contained within its facilities. To allow more rooms for specialized classes, Home Link adapted to using two different facilities and swapping age groups in the middle of the day via two full-sized buses. Larger rooms within the old Deer Park Elementary building, now the administrative building, allow Home Link to provide programs, such as basketball, gymnastics, pottery and ballet.
“How do we run 430 sessions with only eight teachers? We don’t,” said Van Wormer with a smile. Home Link also employs just fewer than 60 consultant teachers for specialist classes, she said. “I’ve always had someone from the (Spokane) Symphony teach my violin classes.”