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Group provides foundation for home-schooling families

For teachers at home, this organization can be a valuable resource on issues such as extracurricular activities or where to find used books.

Ask D.B. Spates or Marni Jones about the back-to-school rush and they're likely to laugh. As moms who have chosen to home-school their children, they know better than anyone that for the home-schooled child, there often isn't a summer break.

Both Spates and Jones schedule their extended breaks for the month of December, when life tends to be hectic and kids often have a tough time focusing on school work. So there's no dash now for school clothes; no need to get the classroom all spiffed up.

"Sometimes the classroom is a tire swing," says Spates, referring to the place where her 11-year-old son Aaron likes to spend his time reading his favorites _ Hardy Boys or the Animorphs book series.

Marni Jones is the District 5 director for the Florida Parent Educators Association, established in 1984 by parents to serve home-schoolers in 12 districts throughout Florida. For an annual membership fee of $25, members can obtain valuable information on the how-to's of home-schooling. She says she realizes that those who are venturing into the role of teacher for the first time might be adhering their home-school schedule with that of the public school. That's why many home-schooling support groups still schedule their first meetings in August, Jones says.

Such as the Homeschool Fellowship of Central Florida, which will have its kick-off meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Dade City. Led by Spates, the organization gives members and their children the chance to meet with others who can offer support for the new and continuing home-schooling parent as well as the opportunity to participate with other home-schoolers in physical education activities such as tennis clinics and bowling, field trips and monthly park days. Spates also will be organizing those competitors who want to participate in the Tropicana Speech Contest _ which will be allowing home-schoolers in Pasco County to compete for the first time.

Jones is a mother of five who has been home-schooling since her eldest, Micah, now 11, entered kindergarten in his Gulfport home. She is new to the job of District 5 director for the FPEA.

Over the years she has accumulated plenty of helpful information that she's more than willing to pass on. Want to know how to register with your local school district or thinking about home-schooling your high-schooler? Looking for curriculum materials, used books at bargain prices or a support group in your local area? Jones can point you in the right direction.

If you're interested in extracurricular activities, she can help you there, too. Jones, along with her husband, Tom, are founders of the Castle Keepers Chess Club, which meets twice monthly at sites in St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor. The group, which competes on a regular basis, has acquired its share of trophies in the past few years.

The Joneses also are leaders of the newly organized Pinellas Home Educated Activities Teams Inc. _ or Pinellas HEAT. The group will offer extracurricular activities for all grades and competitive sports such as baseball, basketball, cheerleading and track and field through the Florida High School Activities Associations for students in grades seven through 12. Plans also are in the works for a Homeschool Band.

While the groups meet in Pinellas County, Pasco home-schoolers are welcomed and encouraged to participate, Jones says. If that's too far to go, give Jones a call and she'll see what she can drum up for you in your area. And don't feel put out if Jones doesn't answer the phone directly _ school is, after all, in session.

"Just tell them to leave their name, number, address and what their looking for on the answering machine and I'll get a package out to them," Jones says.

For information

To contact Marni Jones, FPEA District 5 director, call (727) 347-8259 or e-mail District5fpea.com.

State organizations

Florida Parent-Educators Association: P.O. Box 50685, Jacksonville, FL 32240-0685. Call toll-free (877) 275-3732; e-mail: officefpea.com. On the Web: www.fpea.com.

Christian Home Educators of Florida, 6280 150th Ave. N, Clearwater, FL 33760. Call (727) 539-1881; e-mail: cheffccpsaaol.com. Web site: www.flhomeschooling.com. Contact David Lind.

Homeschool Support Group listed by the FPEA as serving Pasco County

Bayonet Point Homeschoolers: (727) 868-1984

Heart Homeschool, 7543 Avocet Drive, Zephyrhills, FL 33544 (813) 588-4755.

Homeschool Fellowship of Central Florida: (352) 523-0494, or e-mail fitnaticaol.com (contact D.B. Spates)

Pasco Christian Homeschooling Association (727) 376-1176 (statement of faith required)

Victorious Homeschoolers (813) 991-7660, or e-mail dbotelloij.net

North Pinellas Homeschool Co-op (727) 784-7589, or e-mailor nstridelyahoo.com. (open to Pasco County).

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