When Carolyn Forte discovered home schooling in the mid-1970s, it was an idea that was just getting started.
Now Carolyn, 56, and her husband Martin Forte, 54, operate Excellence in Education, a book store and an independent study program for parents who teach their children at home. Home schooling has become an increasingly popular alternative to public schools, according to the couple.
"I just saw a need for a book store that catered to home-schoolers,' Forte said. "The closest one I know is in Costa Mesa and it's only open for about five hours.'
The Fortes started the book store in 1991 in their home. About seven years ago, they moved it to a 300-square-foot unit in the Dootson Industrial Center in Monrovia. They soon moved to an 800-square-foot facility and now are in a 2,500- square-foot space that is half book store. The other half is divided into rooms where special classes are held.
Forte was an elementary school teacher in the early 1970s in Paso Robles and Monterey Park. The couple settled in Monrovia in 1976.
"I was totally burned out on teaching,' Forte said. "It's an impossible system; the materials they used were awful.'
Forte described herself as an unconventional teacher. She used to bring food into her classroom and spend the day cooking with the children, incorporating lessons on reading, math or science. She thought two field trips a year were not nearly enough.
"I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if I had six students and a van,' Forte said. "We would drive everywhere. The world is your classroom.'
Forte home-schooled her two daughters, Tenaya, now 25, and Tylene, 23, through high school. Tenaya is a flight instructor and a graduate in aviation from Christian Heritage College in El Cajon. Tylene is working on a degree in theology at Christian Heritage College with an emphasis on youth ministry.
Martin Forte has worked as a traveling salesman and still is employed at American Rotary Tools Co. in Monrovia.
Carolyn Forte said once she learned about home schooling from a neighbor, she took advantage of the freedom and took their girls on the road.
"We could go with (Martin) for weeks at a time,' Forte said. "We could hit every museum, nature trail or historical monument along the route.'
Forte filed an affidavit with the California Department of Education listing her home as a private school. State law has no regulations about how many children must be enrolled in a private school, she said.
Other ways parents may home-school is through an independent study program, such as the one provided by EIE, which keeps records on the students. Parents also may enroll their children in a home-school program through a public school district or through a charter school.
As part of its independent study program for students and parents, EIE organizes a variety of field trips that can range from teen activities, such as playing Lazer Tag or park days, to trips to the Museum of Television and Radio or the Ronald Reagan Library.
"The primary benefit for children is they are exposed to a more tutorial style of teaching,' said Martin Forte, who supported his wife's decision to home school.
Martin Forte and a couple of parents at the EIE Resource Center agreed that youngsters can learn as much schooling in two to three hours individually as a student in a classroom does in a day.
"I love being home-schooled,' said Marissa Gertmenian, 13, of Baldwin Park, "because we can go on long trips and I can bring my books with me. I don't worry about being late to school. I don't worry about being picked on and I get to spend time with my family.'
Marissa, who has two brothers and a sister, was at the EIE recently, participating in a high school science class at the center. About a dozen boys and girls studied and did experiments with levers and fulcrums taught by science teacher Jill Wilcox, whose "Science to You' business caters to home-school programs.
Frances Gertmenian, Marissa's mother, said she liked bringing her daughter to the classes at EIE and teaching her children at home. Originally, she said, she chose home schooling because she wanted them to have a more Christian-oriented education than that offered in public schools. But she also believes her children are getting a better education in general, she said.
"When I look at the big picture, I know I'm doing the right thing,' Gertmenian said. "They are social, friendly. All my kids study language and music. They play sports for our city.'
Information provided by the California Homeschool Network, a statewide home-schooling organization set up by families in 1994, said that "when the modern movement began, most families came through a Christian-fundamentalist philosophy or a far-left, "back-to-nature' perspective.
"While Christians still make up a large percentage of the total number, home-schoolers are a far more diverse group now,' according to the CHN.
It says an estimated nationwide number of 1.23 million children are being home-schooled, with about 15 percent, or 180,000 youngsters, living in California. But CHN also states it is difficult to know how many children are learning at home, because there are no state-maintained records.
More parents nowadays have been choosing to home school for the quality of education and poor conditions on campuses, instead of religious reasons, Martin Forte said, based on his experience at the resource center.
Joann Oxenham of La Verne said she is teaching her son, Andrew, 14, because she wants him to grow to his potential. She did not want him to be held back by being in a classroom where the teacher has to go over and over the lessons, she said.
The EIE Resource Center is a nice place with people who can understand home schooling, Oxenham said.
"Carolyn and Martin are wonderful,' she said. "I love their philosophy of schooling and learning. They are not trying to make us put our child into a mold.'
EIE has about 600 students enrolled in its independent study program. They live all throughout Southern California, but the majority are in the San Gabriel Valley. The program costs $235 per family per year. Special classes and field trips have a separate charge, but the center tries to keep the costs reasonable, Martin Forte said.