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  • Joseph Burke, California University at Penn.

Using GIS to help a the Shiremanstown Home-school Group

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

Approximately 1.7 percent of school age students in Pennsylvania are home-schooled. In a recent hearing about the Pennsylvania home-school law, the superintendent of Northern York School District, Dr. Eric Eshbach, stated that as many as 4% of school age students in Central Pennsylvania may be home-schooled. Co-ops, which offer classes to home-schooled students, vary in their services. Most are parent led. In contrast, Shiremanstown Home-school Group provides paid instructors to teach academic and elective classes to home-school families in Central Pennsylvania. In order to improve their service to the home-school community, last month I proposed that I would construct three maps for the Shiremanstown Home-school Group. By analyzing their data with ArcGIS, I was able to help them analyze the reasons that families choose Shiremanstown Home-school Group, determine an appropriate school district for making inclement weather decisions, and target their advertising.

The spatial data for this project was obtained from Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access, the U. S. Census Bureau, and the registrar’s office of Shiremanstown Home-school Group. The registrar at the Shiremanstown Home-school Group provided an MS Excel file, which contained street addresses, municipalities, and zip codes of home-schooled children who were registered for classes from January 2011 through May 2014. The data included addresses for fifty-three families. The registrar also provided addresses for area home-school associations and competing co-ops. The spatial data used in this project included school districts, counties, zip codes, roads, cities, and addresses. A geocoding service, 2012_addrfeat_address_locator_42, was downloaded from the U. S. Census Bureau. The addresses were geocoded for use in ArcGIS 10.1. The data was projected on the maps using nad_stateplane_pennsylvania_south. Beside each map is a legend and a description of the displayed data.

Shiremanstown Home-school Group hoped to determine if a family’s participation in the group is affected by proximity to the meeting site. To meet this goal, the addresses of the students were geocoded for use in ArcGIS 10.1. Three of the fifty-three families’ addresses could not be geocoded. Map #1 displays the location of Shiremanstown Home-school Group and the addresses of all the families that have attended classes in the past five semesters. I used the buffer tool to show proximity of registered families to the Shiremanstown Home-school Group education center. To make the map easier to interpret, I applied a spatial query to show only cities and towns in Central Pennsylvania and then further simplified it by applying an attribute query showing only cities with a population of 5000 or more. A red dot represents each physical address. A green star represents the location of Shiremanstown Home-school Group. Roads were added to the map using an attribute query and exported as a new layer.

Map 1

ArcGIS analysis of the physical addresses shows that there are eighteen families within a five-mile radius, seventeen families residing five to ten miles away, nine families living ten to fifteen miles away, three families residing fifteen to twenty miles from the site, and three families who travel more than twenty miles to attend classes. Seventy percent of participating families live within ten miles of the group’s site. However, of the fifty addresses mapped, fifteen live outside the ten-mile buffer (30%). It is evident that most families attend Shiremanstown Home-school Group classes due to their close proximity to their meeting place. However, each family has different needs; and other considerations, such as parent teaching requirement, variety of classes, and benefit to the parents, may drive them to the services of Shiremanstown Home-school Group across longer distances.

Another goal of compiling address information is to discover in which school district most Shiremanstown Home-school Group families reside. Representatives can use this school district information in-house to make inclement weather decisions and to advise families who reside within districts with known issues. For example, if a school district begins to reject end-of-year portfolios for any reason, Shiremanstown Home-school Group can advise families from that district on submitting appropriate portfolios.

Map #2 displays the location of Shiremanstown Home-school Group families with regard to local school districts. Each labeled county is outlined with black. I acquired the school district shapefile from Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access and used the clip tool to include only the districts in the study area. Adjacent school districts are colored differently.

Map 2

Analysis of the addresses shows that Shiremanstown Home-school Group students come from sixteen school districts in Central Pennsylvania. More than half of the students come from only four school districts. Twelve families reside within the West Shore School District, six in Cumberland Valley, and five each in the Northern York and Mechanicsburg School Districts. After analyzing the map, Shiremanstown Home-school Group can identify the West Shore School District as the best choice for making inclement weather decisions.

According to the representatives at Shiremanstown Home-school Group, home-school associations, usually one per county, offer support to area homeschoolers in the form of social and educational opportunities and providing information about local home-school resources. Home-school co-ops are groups that provide classes to homeschoolers. Home-school co-ops vary in their structure and services provided. Most are parent-led and require membership in the group. That means a parent must teach at least one class at the group and pay a membership fee in exchange for classes that the children take. Some co-ops are hybrids. These hybrids are mostly parent led, requiring a membership fee and a teaching commitment from a parent, but alternatively give the option for families to pay a tuition for each class a student takes without joining the group as a member or requiring the parent to teach. Usually these hybrid groups limit the number of non-member participants they accept each year. Shiremanstown Home-school Group is the only local organization that offers classes solely on a tuition basis. Families pay for each class and are not required to teach or pay additional membership fees. Paid instructors teach their classes.

The ultimate goal of compiling this information is to detect local areas and home-school associations where Shiremanstown Home-school Group could better advertise their educational services and classes. The information on Map # 3 reflects the proximity of Shiremanstown Home-school Group families to area home-school associations and other local co-ops. Yellow pentagons represent area home-school associations. Blue circles represent parent-run co-ops. Green triangles represent tuition-only groups. Hybrid co-ops, which are partially parent-led and partially tuition-based, are represented by a green triangle on top of a blue circle. Each group is labeled by name. County, association, and co-op labels have a halo and are printed in all capital letters.

Map 3

Using this information, Shiremanstown Homes-chool Group can establish that the best associations to advertise through are Carlisle Home Educators Association (CHEA), Harrisburg Area Home-schoolers Association (HAHA), and York Home School Association (YHSA). In addition, Shiremanstown Home-school Group may conclude that, even though a co-op may be near their home, a family may be willing to travel to avoid a parent obligation. The information, as presented, seems to conclude that some families attend classes at Shiremanstown Home-school Group for reasons other than proximity to the meeting site.

The three easy-to-read maps display and allow interpretation about the home-school families registered with the program. The first map shows the proximity of the registered families to Shiremanstown Home-school Group’s education center. The second map shows the data points in relationship to the school districts, allowing the Shiremanstown Home-school Group to make good decisions about closures and delays, and possibly identify families that come from troubled school districts in order to provide home-school support. The third map identifies the locations of competing co-ops and area support associations therefore helping to determine appropriate advertising venues. By analyzing the address data with ArcGIS, I answer the primary concerns put forth by the representatives of the Shiremanstown Home-school Group and provide the group with a valuable resource.

Joseph Burke is a GIS and Emergency Management major at California University of Pennsylvania. This blog post is about a project he did for a homeschool group he was part of. The project took him about a semester of work to compile. It helped the home-schooling group plan their future actions for advertising and making their presence known within the home-school community.

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