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Teacher dad

Clint is perplexed. The 8-year-old easily deduced that a ruler measures length, but he cannot decide on the right tool to measure a liquid.

His teacher closes the book, leaves the room and brings back two glasses of water and a glass measuring cup.

Clint pours the water from one of the glasses into the cup, squinting at the lines on the side. "It's two-thirds of a cup,'' he says.

Cameron, 6, is counting change by 10s at the other end of the table but stops to watch the demonstration. Kendra, 4, offers the nonsequitur, "Sometimes I don't listen to what Clint and Cameron say.''

The children's teacher, wearing cowboy boots and a skull ring, is familiar, yet serious. He pushes Cameron to focus on the counting. "Can I have a hot dog?'' Kendra asks.

The teacher is working to keep them all on track academically while permitting sidetracks. His name is John Daynard. They call him dad.

Bullies and sheep

For three months, Daynard has been homeschooling his children. He left his job as a Pinellas County teacher and pulled his sons out of public school because he found the environment chaotic, even threatening, he says.

More families are making the choice Daynard and his wife did. About 52,600 students were registered in home education programs in Florida last school year, a 15 percent increase in five years.

Daynard taught art at Shore Acres and Woodlawn elementary schools in St. Petersburg for about five months. He complained about unruly kids and passive administrators.

"I complained a lot. I didn't have art supplies. I was so stressed out I wasn't even a good teacher anymore.'' He and administrators agreed it would be best for him to go.

Clint and Cameron enrolled at Sanderlin Elementary in 2005. Last year wasn't bad, they said. But this year, Clint and Cameron said students were threatening and aggressive.

John, 39, his wife, Allyson, 44, and their three children moved to Florida from rural upstate New York. For more than a decade, they lived on a 28-acre farm near Little Falls. They raised sheep and angora goats.

"I learned how to shear,'' Daynard says. They had laying hens, three horses, a cat "and like 20 dogs,'' says Cameron.

The couple wanted to live close to the land. Allyson could take wool from their sheep and produce a sweater. For Daynard, learning to be a sheep farmer came after a job at a lumber mill and another harvesting vegetables. He once worked with the developmentally disabled, even taking the clients home on weekends before collapsing under the responsibility.

He lived for a while in a neighborhood of American Indians and went to powwows in full regalia, he says. Each day he puts on a necklace of bear claw-style beads. Like their father, Clint and Cameron have ponytails and ear piercings.

The Daynards moved here because they were weary of long, frigid winters and high taxes. "We're having a much better time in Florida,'' Allyson says.

Only the school system let them down.

"I didn't feel my kids were learning,'' she says.

Metamorphosis

A room in their rented Tierra Verde condo has been turned into a classroom. Sunlight and artwork dapple the walls. School begins at 9 a.m. Give or take.

Recently they all went to the beach for an archaeological dig. They mapped what they found buried in the sand. They identified birds and measured shells and drew diagrams and wrote reports.

Now they are studying metamorphosis. Clint and Cameron are watching a video showing a larva changing into a pupa on the computer in the corner.

"Everything you do should feed that main thrust. For example,'' says Daynard, "Clint gets his reading in, but instead of reading about cars he's reading about moths.''

Many of the lessons involve art because it is Daynard's passion. His oil paintings of landscapes and portraits from New York are dreary compared with the bright blues and yellows of ocean and sky in the abstracts he now puts on canvas and wood panels.

Allyson works as an intensive care nurse at Edward White Hospital. When John quit teaching, she switched to the overnight shift for the pay differential.

"I have to work overtime to make up for what he's not making (as a teacher). I feel lucky I can do this'' for the family, she says.

Cameron is a first-grader and a struggling reader. He was failing the subject in school. "At this point, I'm trying to protect his ego or his id. He was frustrated,'' Daynard says. Clint, a third-grader, often tutors his siblings. Kendra, a preschooler, works on some lessons but is allowed to wander.

When he began researching homeschooling, Daynard says, he found many resources about "God's way.'' He says he is not religious.

"I'm spiritual," he says. "I'm not a prude. I hang out with bikers."

Kendra is practicing her sounds. She is looking at a drawing of a dog. "Duh, duh, duh. A d!

"Fish. Fuh. Fuh. Fuh.'' She is puzzled.

"I know which one it is,'' boasts Cameron.

"Tell me,'' says dad.

"An F.''

In his short stint as a Pinellas County elementary teacher, Daynard says he saw a student take off her clothes and streak, another slam a student against a wall. If he intervened, he was chastised for not following policy, he says. But he also failed to follow the credo of teachers everywhere: Don't whine. Deal.

In his art classes, "the good kids would just sit there and fade to the background. I'd apologize at the end of class for not spending more time with them.''

Free spirits

Kendra, who has been asked to wait for a hot dog, lies on the floor and pushes the open door with her bare foot. When the three children are later seated at the kitchen table with hot dogs and ketchup, she wants to watch Tom and Jerry on television. Told no, she unleashes a fake cry.

"Say you're sorry for crying,'' her dad says.

"Sorry,'' she says petulantly.

"Daddy, now can I put my baby soup on?'' She wants to wear her bathing suit. She changes clothes every 20 minutes, "because I'm a girl.''

It's time for the boys to go back to class.

"They don't feel stressed and pressured like they did,'' Daynard says. "I taught three years in New York, and then I came here and it took me a month not to want to teach anymore.

"I'm just starting to feel like I'm a teacher again.''

"He's giving up his career,'' says Allyson. "I can't picture him doing this forever. But for now it's what we have to do.''

Clint says he likes homeschooling because he can concentrate.

He says he went to the beach and caught a fish and he was surprised when his dad told him they were going to cook it. His dad made the fish's mouth move: "Why did you catch me, Clint?'' the fish asked.

Clint smiles at the thought of the day outdoors and a talking fish.

At school when it was time for recess, he says, his face falling, the teachers would say, "It's too hot to go outside.''

Susan Aschoff can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or aschoff@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS:

Homeschooling in Florida

* The number of homeschooled students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Florida has increased 15 percent in the past five years.

* In 2005-06, 52,613 students registered with the state as homeschoolers.

* There were 2,504 homeschoolers in Pinellas County in 2005-06, down slightly from the previous school year. Hillsborough County reported a 2.8 percent increase in homeschoolers during the same period, Pasco County, 2 percent; Hernando, 7 percent; and Citrus, 15 percent.

* Florida requires parents intending to homeschool to notify their local school district.

* There are no state requirements for curricula for homeschooling, but if requested by the school district, a portfolio of a student's work must be available for review.

* An annual evaluation must be submitted for each homeschooled student. Many parents opt to either have their child take a standardized test or to have the child's portfolio evaluated by a certified teacher.

* Homeschoolers are not required to take the FCAT.

Source: Florida Department of Education

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