Ukrainian` home-schooling concerns refugee advocates


By Emily Heffter

Times Snohomish County bureau One visit to his daughter`s public high school was enough to convince Lynnwood pastor Vladimir Monich that home- schooling would be better. He saw «all the people walking around half-naked or whatever,» said Monich`s son, 18-year-old Vlad, translating for his father.

Vladimir MonichNow Monich, whose family has been in the United States for seven years, spends an hour a day with his daughter, Julia, 16, teaching her about their Pentecostal faith and giving her tests on her schoolwork. She spends another hour or two each day studying by herself and expects to earn a high-school diploma next month. After that, she said, she plans to go to a community college.

«It`s better to be home-schooled than to go to school,» Vladimir Monich said, estimating that about 30 percent of the Ukrainian families in his Lynnwood church home-school their kids.

But the growing popularity of home-schooling among Snohomish County`s Ukrainian population concerns some refugee advocates. They say teenagers manipulate their parents, who often don`t speak English, into giving them permission to quit public school.

The students aren`t learning the lessons necessary to be successful in the United States, they say.

A Marysville church could help address some of the concerns. The Light of Hope Ukrainian Church, which meets in the Twin Cinemas building in Marysville, plans to open a Ukrainian Christian school in about a year.

Four portable classroom buildings were donated to the church, and the congregation already has renovated and installed two of them. The new school will allow Ukrainian children to learn from American teachers in a conservative, disciplined environment, said Victor Litovchenko, the chairman of the Slavic Association of Snohomish County.

Litovchenko said many Ukrainian families will stop home-schooling to enroll in the church`s school. The church is saving to buy more land in Marysville for a permanent school.

«All families are dreaming to get their families in a Christian school of some type, but … it`s very expensive,» he said. Nearly 4,000 Ukrainians lived in Snohomish County in 2000, according to the census. Many moved to the country during the early 1990s to escape religious persecution. As a result, they often live in isolated, very religious communities.

Litovchenko said there are seven Ukrainian churches in Everett alone. But Mia Anderson, chairwoman of the Washington Homeschool Organization, said language is just the latest thing opponents are using to try to devalue home-schooling. «This complaint about, «Well, the»`re not learning because … » has always been one of the concerns (of home-school opponents),» she said.

But specialists at the Snohomish County Immigrant and Refugee Forum, an advocacy-and-resource organization for immigrants, say the Ukrainian students are missing out. The parents aren`t qualified to teach, they said, and the students are ending up without a legitimate education.

«They do not teach (their children in) home-school. They don`t have the skills to teach it,» said Gina Chegarnoz, a job specialist with the forum and a Ukrainian immigrant.

Chegarnoz said she tells Ukrainian parents, «You may not like the culture, but you`re going to be living in it.» But Ukrainians` pastors are sending a different message. Monich said he leaves the choice up to the parents in his congregation. He has two other daughters, 8 and 15, who are enrolled in public school. But when it comes down to it, he said, he thinks home-schooling is better.

Julia Monich said home-schooling is harder than the six years of public school she took. She opted to learn at home rather than start public high school when she finished junior high. In public school, she could ask the teacher for help. Now she has to depend on her mother, who doesn`t speak English, or her father, whose English is limited, she said. The company from which she ordered her curriculum, Pennsylvania-based Harcourt Learning Direct, has a help line she can call, she said.

«Parental involvement in this case probably is pretty limited,» said Debbie Jurasek, a Seattle home-school parent. The Harcourt curriculum popular with Ukrainian families here is set up for children to learn on their own, she said. Harcourt is a branch of Reed Elsevier Group, a publishing company that provides curriculum to public schools as well as home-school students. «Their parents would have to keep them on task, which surely they could do regardless of whether they speak English or not,» Jurasek said.

The Everett School District, which has more than 170 Ukrainian-speaking students enrolled this year, encourages children to stay in public school, said spokeswoman Gay Campbell. «It`s a real burden, often, to home-school their kids,» she said.

Campbell said she wasn`t aware of a specific problem with Ukrainian students and home-schooling.

Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or eheffter@seattletimes.com.

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