© Joan-Marie Moss 1995
"Australian youngsters think America is a 'top place'. Most of them dream of coming here. Back home we think of Americans as a warlike people...we hear a great deal about the LA riots and grizzly bear attacks," said 15-year-old Janet Hoban. A citizen of both Australian and the United States, Janet is one of the lucky ones who can discover first-hand what life in America is really like.
This 10th grade student, is currently staying with her aunt and uncle, Virginia and Peter Vott, and cousin, Susanna, in Wheaton. She will be here roughly five months. This isn't her first visit. Every four years Janet and her family come back to the States for a short visit with relatives.
But this time is different.
Janet is here to learn about her "other country", according to her aunt, Virginia.
Educational opportunities will be the top priorities of Janet's stay here. Janet's been State-side only one week but her well-structured schedule is filled with activities designed by her family to be both enriching and challenging. Janet has yet to graduate from 10th grade. But she will complete the requirements for graduation here.
"I told the school I wanted to participate in the Distance Curriculum. We set the criteria based on what I needed to graduate and paid $250 to rent the books and notes," said Janet. "The school said the only requirements I needed to take for graduation were English and Math. I had completed all other requirements. My language, science and other requirements were already done and I didn't need to take the other elective courses," she said. "Now all I have to work on are English and Math."
Janet brought along all the required coursework and will be doing it at home under the watchful eye of her aunt, who also home schools her own daughter, Susanna. Sometimes Janet joins in, helping with Susanna's lessons.
Janet will fax the completed work required by her school back to her teachers at Kings Meadows, Launceson, Tasmania. Any other studies and activities she participates in are on her own.
"We begin the day with PE," said Virginia. "We all go out to the Wheaton track where we run the track and do stair climbing. Then we start. A normal classroom day runs from 9 am to 1 pm.
"I am required to read books, keep logs of what I'm reading, write reports and then send them back to the school," said Janet. "I'm working on Coordinate Geometry and Trig Functions in math."
Together Virginia, Janet and Susanna play math games. They are also working together on a play entitled 'Home School Hall of Fame' that will be presented at Blanchard Road Alliance Church in Wheaton on October 14. Susanna will play Beatrix Potter and Janet will play Abel Tasman.
These activities are over and above the requirements set by the school for Janet.
In addition to traditional coursework, Janet will be taking lessons in Latin, in violin and in art. She also will be participating in the Wheaton Tidal Wave Swim Team.
Because she hopes to become a veterinarian when she finishes school, Janet also has arranged to spend some time Monday each from 8 to noon observing and helping Dr. Mark C. Biehl, veterinarian and owner of the Cat Clinic in Wheaton. "On my first day, I observed a declawing, two neuters and a hysterectomy. I don't know yet how involved I will be in the actual care of animals. But I can see that I'll be learning a lot," said Janet.
"It's much easier to learn this way than it is in a traditional school," said Janet, who feels very strongly about the subject. "I get much more done and learn much better without all the distractions of a classroom. I can work at my own speed. I don't have to wait for others and they don't have to wait for me. And, it's a lot easier to ask questions, too. In classrooms, when you have a question to ask, you often don't ask it because you're afraid of what the other students might think."
Although the school will be grading Janet's work, Virginia has much to do with her performance. "We pay a lot more attention to revising. I know that if my work can be better, I will be required to do it again," said Janet.
Because Virginia works right along with Janet and Susanna, she said, "I spend more time and focus on detail, and I require a lot more re-writing than a teacher dealing with ten or twenty students might."
The idea of leaving home to take advantage of educational opportunities abroad is nothing new to Janet. "We had three exchange students visiting with us back home, two from Japan and another from Germany." Her older brother, Timothy, currently attending the University of Hobart, also spent several months studying in America as Janet is now.
"We looked at all the options that were available for Janet to complete her requirements includng the foreign exchange program. Had she participated in a normal foreign exchange student program, she would not have been allowed to stay with us. Our options were limited. Either they were prohibitively expensive or non-existent."
Education is very different in Australia. "Students get a certificate of completion after the 10th grade and another one after they finish college, which is the of 11th and 12th grade here. College in the United States is the equivalent of Universities there," according to Virginia.
"Graduation will be on November 10 back home and I'll miss that. I'm really glad I don't have to participate in that it really isn't important to me. I'll get back home in mid-January and will start my classes at Lounceson College in mid-February.
When Janet returns home, she'll get her Tasmania Certified Education Diploma (TCE). The TCE would be particularly important if Janet were to choose to go out and work. But she plans to follow in the footsteps of her sister, Alison, who attends Lounceson College and her brother who is currently attendig the University of Hobart.
Virginia has been home schooling Susanna for years, first in Pennsylvania and now in Illinois. "We begin with the curriculum offered by Calvert Schools of Baltimore and then build educational opportunities around that. My husband, Peter, is a hydro-geologist. With his scientific background he focuses on helping with the math and science modules. I work on the English, history and social studies."
"Home schooling is less expensive than sending Susanna to a private school. We begin with the costs of the books and curriculum and then add on the costs of the extra activities. On average we spend perhaps $1500 to $2000 a year on Susanna's education. Janet's education will be a bit less. Janet attends a public school so we pay for the books for English and Math and faxing her work back to her school. The extra classes like music, art and swim team are extra."
Much as she enjoys America, Janet said "Australia is home." Tasmania, an island state located Southeast of Australia, is much different and there will be a lot of adjustment during her stay. "Tassi is semi rural. Unlike here, where homes are built up, our houses spread out. We have chickens and goats and small farms. We spend a lot less time in our cars there and a lot more time walking. We can drive from coast to coast in five hours."
"We also spend lots of time sailing," said Janet. "In fact, every Saturday, we're out sailing. Our family has five boats ...dad's a boat collector...To us, boats are like bikes are to you. Everyone who lives near the water has one," said Janet, who was introduced to sailing boats at the age of two and sailed for the first time when she was nine.
While she said that she will miss cricket games and field hockey while she's here, Janet is looking forward to visiting Starved Rock and Devils Lake, Wisconsin. She also is looking forward to riding the Excaliber at Valley Fair Amusement Park in Minnesota. Virginia said that they will be visiting many of the museums and other places of interest right here in Chicago, too.
Janet hopes to make many new friends along the way, through her extracurricular activities, at the swim team, at a high school book club that she's joined and at church.
When Janet returns home, she may have to report that she saw no evidence of riots or grizzly bears. But she'll, no doubt, have many tales about her adventures and new friends here to share with her parents, Margaret and Peter Hoban, sister, brother and friends.
This is one of numerous
features Joan-Marie Moss wrote for publication in the Chicago Market. For
information on this and her other work, contact