Michelle Simpson-Siegel is the new executive director of the Oak Meadow School in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Friday, May 4, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- The new executive director of Oak Meadow Curriculum & School is excited to be part of a fast growing trend around the nation -- homeschooling.

"Homeschooling is much more accepted by and available to people," said Michelle Simpson-Siegel, adding many people have an out-dated image of homeschoolers. "The image of the isolated homeschooler in a prairie dress ... not anymore."

Oak Meadow is a kindergarten to grade 12 print-based homeschool curriculum and distance learning school, based in the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro. It has been developing curriculum since 1975.

"We've been doing distance learning pretty much longer than anybody," said Simpson-Siegel.

Oak Meadow offers different resources for different forms of homeschooling: One level is private individualized schooling and the other is the more traditional homeschooling program.

"We have students from 36 countries and 39 states," she said, with 500 directly enrolled in Oak Meadow's distance learning school and thousands of families using its curriculum.

Students who participate in the private individualized schooling program not only use Oak Meadow's accredited curriculum, but also have access to teachers and other students.

"It's everything they need for an academic program," said Simpson-Siegel. "All work is reviewed by teachers."

In kindergarten through eighth grade, there is one teacher for all subjects. Students send their work to that



teacher, who is also available to parents to advise them on how best to present lessons to their children.

In grades nine through 12, students have one teacher for each discipline, she said.

Oak Meadow's 9 through 12 program is accredited by six national boards, including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. However, said Simpson-Siegel, it is not accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, because it only accredits "brick-and-mortar" institution.

Simpson-Siegel received her undergraduate degree in Education and English from the University of Rhode Island. She pursued her graduate degree in Environmental Education from Antioch University New England. Before coming to Oak Meadow, she taught English at Northfield Mount Hermon, was a Learning Specialist in the Massachusetts public schools, and worked as a Program Director for The Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Even though Oak Meadow has students in faith-based programs, many of their parents understand a more secular education is required to get into college.

"They need a broader knowledge base and broader experience to be prepared for the world," said Simpson-Siegel.

But many of the students who choose Oak Meadow are dedicated to a particular passion or interest, she said, including skiing, snowboarding, playing tennis, ballet, art or photography.

"A traditional school day doesn't fit with their schedules," said Simpson-Siegel.

Homeschooling is also for students for whom public school didn't work out, whether that's because of social issues, because the student needs specialized instruction or because the curriculum wasn't challenging enough.

She was quick to point out that while students in grades 9 to 12 can engage with other students and teachers online, it is not an "on-line school."

The teachers are also available to parents.

"In the high school program, the materials become more complex," said Simpson-Siegel. "Parents need a teacher who has a certain level of expertise to be a mentor."

Oak Meadow also provides support right out of its office in the Cotton Mill.

"We have educational consultants on staff and we have families using the curriculum who are available for advice and support," she said.

College admission offices are also beginning to notice homeschoolers, said Simpson-Siegel. "Individualized learners know how to work on their own, they are intrinsically motivated and they have management and executive skills. They become successful students and graduates because they are interested in learning for its own sake."

The cost for the kindergarten through eighth grade program is about $1,200 and $875 for each high school course.

That price includes materials and teacher and administrative support. Payment plans are available. Oak Meadow does not offer scholarships at this time.