When the pandemic hit and students were forced to transition to virtual learning, one group saw little impact: those already accustomed to schooling at home.
“The pandemic didn’t affect us in the home-school community nearly as much as it did public and private schoolers, although it did make us even more aware of how blessed we are to be doing what we do,” said Farmington resident Tami Morigi, coordinator of Liberty Home Educators in Fayette County.
Morigi said their group – currently at 400 members – gained more than 100 more during the 2020-21 school year. Jen Baily of Waynesburg, coordinator for the Greene County Homeschool Group, said 12 of its 30 families joined in the past year.
Both groups saw a higher increase than numbers across the country, according to the U.S Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Between April 23 and May 4, 2020, about 5.4% of U.S. households were home schooling.
By this fall, according to the survey, about 11.1% were.
Clover Wright, a professor of early childhood education at California University of Pennsylvania, was among the parents who decided to make the switch. The Morgantown, West Virginia, mom home-schooled her three children in first, third and fifth grades this year because of the pandemic.
Wright said she found it offered the ability to teach her children in more personalized ways.
“Those kinds of opportunities don’t happen in the public school setting that often, or in any setting, public or private,” she said.
In a brick-and-mortar setting, there can be between 20 and 30 students in a class, she noted.
“(A)nd you would never be able to have the time to work with each of them to find an area of interest and make sure the sources of information they are researching are good ones and teach them about information literacy,” Wright said.
The eldest of her home-schooled children, Arden, agreed. And while her middle son, Logan, missed seeing his friends, he said he appreciated the opportunity to put more time into school projects that excited him.
“They both have their ups and downs, but I think I like home school better,” Logan Wright said. “I can spend my time more wisely.”
Many don’t understand the rigors and requirements of home schooling children, said Baily. Parents or guardians have to act as educators, follow curriculums and assess progress in the same way brick-and-mortar teachers would.
Going into this school year, Baily’s group held webinars to help demystify the process, addressing what is required by law for home schoolers, how to handle testing, curriculum options and evaluations at the end of each year. They plan to do it again this year.
The Greene County group holds monthly meetings, covering topics like portfolios, testing and practical advice for parents. They also arrange field trips for families to go to educational places and have events like science fairs and presentations.
The pandemic caused them to cancel some of their planned trips and activities last year, but, like many, they were able to do some things outdoors or virtually.
It was the one way in which COVID-19 really impacted home-school teaching, Baily said.
“Home-schoolers are often very involved in extracurricular activities,” she said. “That is where I would say the change was for homeschool families.”
Morigi said she is interested to see if the numbers of those who have opted to home-school during the past year will continue to do so.
Amber Boyd of Belle Vernon, a member of the Liberty group, is considering it.
She’d already been teaching one of her four children at home when the pandemic hit. When her other two school-aged children started learning virtually last year, Boyd said, adapting to the different styles of educating them was difficult.
“Their schedules are different, their skills are different, and the children themselves are different,” Boyd said.
For Sara Brandstetter of Clarksville, a member of the Greene County group, the answer to continued home schooling is no. She transitioned her two children to home-school instruction this year because of the pandemic, and as COVID-19 concerns wane, both will return to traditional school settings.
Still, she appreciated being able to cater to the needs and interests of her children during the experience.
“As a parent, you know what’s best for your child and your family,” she said.