Classroom of the Week | Home-school expo connects independent learners

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PITTSFIELD — On Tuesday evening, visitors to the Berkshire Athenaeum auditorium were given a passport to tour around the world and explore the science of everyday life during the 11th Berkshire Homeschool Geography and Science Expo.

Projects featured the history and culture of multiple countries, from India to Scotland, and detailed students' inquiries into topics ranging from a detailed tour of the digestive system to the effects of sugary drinks on teeth (colorful, but not pretty). Also on display was the sheer enthusiasm from students who enjoy sharing their knowledge.

"I love goats," gushed Morgan Dix, a fifth-grader who is home-schooled at her family's house and small farm in Richmond. "I'm crazy about animals, and goats in general," she said.

Morgan, a first-time participant in the Homeschool Expo, shared drawings, photos and written research relative to the anatomy and characteristics of goats, particularly the Nigerian dwarf dairy goats she has helped her family raise over the past three years. When not presenting, she visited the various displays and mingled with other student presenters around her.

"It's quite neat," she said of the other projects. "They explored some things I never would have thought of."

Morgan shared a presentation table with siblings Jeremiah and Caroline Smith, of Pittsfield, who are in sixth and seventh grades, respectively. Their display detailed the human digestive system with drawings, written facts, a model of food before and after digestion, and a humorous comic about a piece of chocolate cake being chewed and converted to waste.

While Jeremiah said he wasn't too keen on being there to present, Caroline relished the opportunity to share a subject she is passionate about.

"I love the human body," she said.

Caroline also says she loves studying at home.

"I like that you can do things at your own pace," she said.

Nearby, the students' mother, Sheri Smith, watched how they interacted with the other kids and visitors.

"It's good for them to talk to other people and to be proud of what they've learned," Sheri Smith said.

And in the home-schooling community, coming together through events like this, and through various cooperatives, conventions and other social and learning groups, gives families the opportunity to learn and grow from each others' experiences.

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The Smiths learned about the expo through friends and event organizer Elaine Caligiuri, a home-school parent, 4-H coordinator and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) educator.

"To me, this is an assembly for home-schoolers. It's really about diversity, community and getting to know each other," Caligiuri said.

Her daughter, Fiora Caligiuri-Randall, has been home-schooled all her life. Now, at age 16, Fiora is an avid advocate for her own independent education.

"A lot of people have one set idea of what home-schooling is, but every kid has a different way to approach their education, and you have to find a method that works for you," Fiora said. "Everyone has different goals, and home-schooling gives you a chance to find out really what it is that makes you tick as a person."

Home-schooling can be a misnomer, because nowadays, families often connect with each other outside the home to share everything from subject teachers to textbooks to car pools to different activities.

Fiora is doing a number of internships, including at the Norman Rockwell Museum and at SubStation Studio, an independent recording studio in Lenox owned by Robby Baier.

"I want to somehow combine music and illustration into animation," the self-proclaimed "naturally curious" Fiora said.

Wendy Thomson and several other parents at the expo said they are connected with the Homeschool Heritage Co-op, based at the First Baptist Church in Cheshire. There, her children have been able to access a home-school library of curricula and textbooks and take part in the Choir of Berkshire Homeschoolers, which had nearly 50 students this year.

"I'm going to miss it," Ashley Thomson said of the choir group.

She will start ninth grade at McCann Technical School in the fall. Her brother, Dylan, is a junior studying computer-aided design and drafting there.

Ashley said she'll also miss "being able to learn anything I want, when I want to."

This year, for example, she is taking five science classes. Her Homeschool Expo project focused on the geological profiles of rocks, minerals and crystals. She also is taking a micro-business class, and has started her own baking enterprise, Love & Sprinkles Confections.

Dylan said he is a naturally social person and didn't have a hard time transitioning to a more traditional public school setting, but said some kids could struggle. He also said events like the Homeschool Geography and Science Expo can help home-schoolers find new connections.

"I think it's amazing. Everyone here is friendly, and it has a great community aspect to it," he said. "Home-schoolers aren't in the public setting, but there are a ton of us."


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