Home-school families are few but dedicated on Mercer Island

As of Monday, 28 home-schooled students were registered within the Mercer Island School District. Families had until Sept. 15 to file their declaration of intent.

School for the Baklinski sisters, Helena and Anna, starts at 9 or 9:30 a.m., usually with language arts. The subject is then alternated with math, science, history and other activities. But, they don’t leave home to do so.

Their mother, Veronika Baklinski, home-schools two of her seven children full-time. The eldest, Cyprian, is 10; then there is Helena, 9; Anna, 8; Eva, 6; Thaddeus, 5; Basil, 3; and Alexander, 1.

Cyprian started attending West Mercer Elementary this year. He was ready to launch and be in a bigger space, Baklinski said. Three of the younger children attend a Montessori school and the kids attend a language school every other weekend, steeped in Hungarian culture and heritage.

“We really embrace the method of teaching where you’re using every teaching moment throughout the day,” Baklinski said. “Fostering the relationship between myself and the child is really key to me … to be present during the day and to be doing that formation of their person, and helping them to strive for excellence.”

Baklinski was home-schooled from kindergarten through grade 12 while she was growing up on Mercer Island.

“I loved it. I really enjoyed being able to pursue my interests, being able to glean what my parents were passionate about,” Baklinski said. .

According to the 2012-13 “Home-Based Enrollment Report” released by the Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a total of 20 Mercer Island families were home-schooling their children. Thirty Mercer Island students were home-schooled last year, and eight students attended public  schools here part-time.

As of Monday, 28 home-schooled students were registered within the Mercer Island School District. Families had until Sept. 15 to file their declaration of intent with their local school district. The numbers are higher across the lake; the Bellevue School District reported 175 registered home-schoolers last year, and the Seattle School District reported 400.

Home-schoolers can use Mercer Island School District buildings and libraries, participate in music programs and sports teams, and attend classes. Colleen Giampapa’s children have joined Islander Middle School’s wrestling team and orchestra, and some have taken speech therapy. Giampapa and her husband, Paul, have 11 children, ranging from age 2 to 20. The older ones have all been home-schooled, and the eldest son is now attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

“The reason why I home-school is I genuinely enjoy spending that time with my children,” said Giampapa, who is currently home-schooling four of her kids. “To have the opportunity to be there when your child reads his first word and share that excitement with him — I guess I’m jealous, in a way, to share that with someone else because I get the joy of that … I genuinely enjoy that time with my kids.”

When the time comes for freshman year, the Giampapas enroll at Mercer Island High School.

“When they go into high school, they go in on much more stable ground,” Giampapa said. But she knows a lot of families who have home-schooled all the way through grade 12.

“A lot of them do Running Start,” she said. “Home-schoolers are as varied as any other group; everybody has a different reason why they are home-schooling — different goals, different capacities … in general, I think most of them, at some point, are looking for something in high school that’s outside of the home.”

Home-schoolers are required to take standardized tests at the close of the school year — the same as those in public schools. But there are various ways to take the test. Baklinski’s children took the test online at the end of the previous school year. A certified teacher can also come and do an assessment and look over the curriculum.

While curriculum can be purchased as one — the whole nine yards in one box, Baklinski said, she prefers the patchwork quilt style. She pieces her own curriculum together. Math is structured and organized, while she keeps science as simple as possible.

“Lab-intensive work could obviously use outside help,” she said with a smile.

With history, she allows room for “bunny trails.”

“Science and history are fun for any age, hearing stories and touching gooey stuff,” she said.

“Some weeks are more hands-on than others,” Baklinski said. “Last year we did meals from different cultures; other weeks we did map work.”

History is Anna’s favorite subject.

“I like home schooling because you don’t have to get ready and go off somewhere,” Anna said. “One reason I don’t go to actual school is … my brother tells me there are bullies.”

Helena said that it feels comfortable. “It’s your mother teaching you, so you’re not embarrassed. Your mother doesn’t ask questions you don’t know. I go to Hungarian school — they ask questions you don’t exactly know. At home, you know.”

The family attends a Catholic parish in Seattle and is also involved with St. Monica on Mercer Island.

“We have a lot of different groups — church, language school, a neighborhood group, and sports,” Baklinski said. “I value that. I really enjoy taking my kids into social settings — it is a great teaching opportunity. I enjoy getting to talk to other moms.”

Baklinski and her husband, Andrew, own Mercer Island Music along Island Crest Way. They live down the same street and their children receive instruction from teachers at the studio. The music store is now in its peak season with schools back in session.

“People have joked that we’re the Von Trapp family,” Baklinski said.

Her older children each play an instrument — Cyprian, cello; Helena, violin and piano; Anna, harp; Eva, violin; and Thaddeus, cello.

“We feel strongly that music adds another layer of really good education,” said Baklinski, who plays piano and grew up with music lessons.

Her husband, who is an insurance salesman, plays trumpet and drums, and is learning double bass. They also sing, and have all performed together in public — most recently, at the Mercer Island community center. The kids did a performance for the senior program that they plan to do once a month. At Christmas, they played with other Mercer Island Music students in a community center recital as a fundraiser to support the arts. They were also part of a full orchestra with “Excerpts of the Messiah,” in Canada, which Baklinski described as a big production.

The Baklinski family moved to the Island from Ottawa, where Baklinski was the executive director and administrator for the Sacred Music Society, a choral program.

Baklinski’s husband was raised in Canada, and when their jobs changed and they “outgrew” their house, they looked to Mercer Island. It was the perfect time for them to move into the home of Baklinski’s grandparents, who were relocating to Covenant Shores.

The family also considered moving to Austria. But friends living in Austria were having trouble with their right to home-school, Baklinski said.

“It made me appreciate, in the states and Mercer Island — people are so supportive of good education and parents being involved with their kids, meeting their kids’ needs,” Baklinski said.