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More Alaska families choosing home schooling

KENAI — A growing number of families in Alaska have been enrolling their children in a home-schooling program that officials say offers flexibility to those who live far from their nearest school.

Interior Distance Education of Alaska, based out of Galena School District on the Yukon River, is attracting students throughout the state. Enrollment has risen by about 5 percent annually over the past five years, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

"The power of an individualized education cannot be underestimated. Home school allows families to spend the best part of the day together, not just the evenings when everyone's tired from their day," said Daryl Bowers, IDEA director. "The family bonds that are formed through home schooling are priceless."

The program has offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, southeast Alaska and the Mat-Su Valley.

Suzanne Alioto, field representative for the Kenai Peninsula region, said the program allows parents to be more involved in deciding what their children are learning. The program has no mandated curriculum but parents and students can reach out to staff for assistance, she said.

"Parents want a more active part in their children's education, and at IDEA it is a public school but we are still giving parents all their rights and all their own curriculum they want to use," Alioto said.

Because IDEA is a public school, she said, students are still required to take the Alaska Measures of Progress and other state standardized tests.

Alioto said the trip for some families to their nearest school may be too far to make the journey during Alaska's harsh winters. But IDEA offers them the flexibility that other public schools do not, she said.

Kristie Miller, a coach with the program, said enrollment was at 170 students in the 2014-2015 school year and now stands at more than 230.

Bowers attributes the growing numbers to the power of word-of-mouth. He said parents are encouraged by their positive experiences to tell other parents about the program.

"IDEA was created by home-schoolers, and we've never lost sight of the priorities that were formed in our very beginnings," Bowers said. "We also have many, many home-schoolers on staff and it allows us to better understand our parents and to give them the exact support and understanding they're looking for."

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