Friday, June 25, 2021

School Closures Bring New Attention to Local Homeschoolers

By Austin Parker
Journalism Student

As schools across the country have closed, parents have been turning to homeschoolers and teachers for advice on how to teach their children.

Over 124,000 U.S. public and private schools have closed, keeping at least 55.1 million students home, according to a tally by Education Week. Mississippi has ordered schools closed through the rest of the academic school year, closing 1,066 public schools and affecting 483,150 students. As a result, parents have had to teach their children remotely, having them turn to homeschooling parents for guidance.

“People have been thrust into a territory that they have no real frame of reference for,” said Adrienne Brown, 41, who has homeschooled her children in Water Valley, Mississippi for 15 years. “People want all of the resources, advice and support that they can get.”

Brown says that she has had many people come to her for advice on how to teach their children. While the fact that people are seeking homeschoolers for advice is not surprising, homeschoolers have had to explain the difference between homeschooling and what parents are doing now.

“The homeschooling that a lot of families are doing right now seems to be delivering a school curriculum at home,” said Sarah Ligon, 38, who has homeschooled three children in Oxford for five years, “which is very different from what a homeschooler does because most homeschoolers create their own curriculum.”

In the U.S. there were about 2.5 million homeschool students K-12 in the spring of 2019, and the number of students homeschooled has been growing at a rate of 2-8 percent, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. In Mississippi almost 16,000 are homeschool students, according to A2Z Homeschooling.

Caleb Castillo, 25, is a fourth-grade teacher at Sheffield Elementary School in Memphis. He said that out of the 40 children in his classroom, only 11 have their own computer. As a result, he has had to rely on parents to give their children the resources and accountability they need to teach them the material.

“It’s been extremely difficult,” said Castillo. “Sometimes I feel like teaching and learning isn’t happening.”

Ligon believes that teaching a child one-on-one in homeschool is more intensive and takes less time, and as a result, there is more time in the day for children to explore their own interests.

“They might leave their children occupied all day, but that doesn’t actually have to be sitting down doing book learning all day,” said Ligon. “That opens up so many hours in the day to child-directed learning, where kids can just follow their own interests.”

Brown has used this opportunity to show parents that homeschooling is not sitting children down all day making them do coursework. Rather, a big part of homeschooling for her is hands-on interaction and socialization with others.

“People may assume that being locked in the house and not interacting with other people is what homeschool looks like for most families,” said Brown. “This may solidify that opinion that homeschoolers don’t socialize, which, for us, just isn’t true.”

As many parents have had to learn how to homeschool their children, Ligon believes that this will help to break some of the misconceptions about homeschooling.

“I always had the sense that most people thought that homeschooling our children was really weird,” said Ligon. “Now I have the sense that people don’t find it that odd and that they think this could be a fun thing to do.”

While it is not the most optimal way to bring awareness to the work teachers and homeschoolers do, many believe this will help people begin to see teachers and homeschoolers as valuable parts of society. Castillo hopes that more funding from cities will be directed toward schools.

“Hopefully, there will be a deeper appreciation for what schools do and people won’t take it for granted,” said Castillo.

While the process of homeschooling has not changed much for many homeschoolers, the way that they’ve had to teach has been altered due to the pandemic. Now, children homeschooled have to learn everything from home without outings and social interaction.

“My kids and I are struggling with missing our regular life just like everyone else,” said Brown.

While school closures may help parents to consider the possibility of homeschooling, homeschoolers believe that families should adapt homeschooling to meet their needs and goals.

“It’s not that hard, and what works for my family is probably not going to work for other families,” said Ligon. “I think that people are finding that their solutions very much have to come from themselves.”