Increasingly Diverse Families Embrace Home Schooling Amid Pandemic| National Catholic Register9 min read
WASHINGTON — Many families have found renewed faith and togetherness after deciding to home school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Census Bureau noted earlier this year that 11.1% of families with school-age children were home schooling in the 2020-2021 school year, double the amount from the year before. That number is increasing as schools continue pandemic restrictions like mask wearing and virtual learning. Michael Donnelly, senior counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), told the Register that the number of families home schooling continues to grow this school year. Census Bureau data has shown “that home schooling has grown fastest in Hispanic and Black communities,” Donnelly said. “We were starting to see home schooling pick up in those communities before the pandemic, but it seems like the pandemic just lit a fuse to the rocket in those communities.” The Census Bureau estimated last year that 16% of all Black families were home schooling and about 12% of Hispanic families were home schooling.
Gisela Quiñones, founder of the Latinos Homeschooling group and a Catholic Indiana mom, told the Register about how her group got started and grew in numbers in a virtual format over the pandemic. She chose to home school her children five years ago due to her concerns over the quality of private schools. She also discovered that one of her daughters was struggling in the classroom setting due to dyslexia. She said her daughter “thrives on more hands-on learning,” and “we didn’t want her self-esteem to be affected by the school and testing.”
Expansion of Online Resources
Quiñones, who is originally from Mexico, began home education in a Catholic home-schooling co-op and decided to start a group for Latinos in 2019.
“We organized a few events around Hispanic Heritage Month two years ago from our classes and crafts and little lessons,” she said. “Those did pretty well, but then the pandemic happened, and our group pretty much exploded. We got people from all over the country, and they were asking us questions.”
She said a lot of people have started home schooling because of the pandemic. Her group did a webinar where “we went through all of the different teaching styles,” and “soon after that, we started doing a lot of things online. We’ve done story time, where we try to find Latino authors and books that are bilingual or in Spanish, and then we’ve done some STEM challenges online. I have done some Latino history classes online.”
Quiñones and a team of six other home-schooling moms organized a conference in July that covered a range of topics, including “helping parents teach math confidently,” along with panel discussions about the struggles of parents who work remotely and home school. She and her husband are among those parents who work remotely, and she said it helps that they “share the same vision of home schooling,” so he is able to take over and teach when her work gets busy.
Nadia Flores Wedderburn, a Chicago mom who is a member of Latinos Homeschooling, told the Register about how she chose to home school in the fall of 2020 due to concerns over the pandemic and wants to continue home schooling. She said she and her husband saw “too many cons for our children to go back to school” in person.
“In 2020, my husband and I were just inquiring about what home schooling was about; and so far, we liked it, especially because we were hearing so many positive things from families who were already home schooling,” she said. “We’re both full-time employees; we’re very lucky to have the opportunity to work from home.” Wedderburn said working while home schooling has been difficult, but she and her husband want to continue to home school because they have seen the benefits.
She said she got to know her daughter “so well, this last year and a half,” and they were able to identify that her daughter had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety while her school had just said “she’s misbehaving; she’s not following instructions — because that’s what was happening years prior to the pandemic.”
A ‘Golden Age of Home Schooling’
Kendra Price, a former public-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-Texas-home-school mom, is in her eighth year of home schooling her four children and is a speaker for Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars, a group formed in April 2020.
Price blogs about her experience home schooling and told the Register that between the “Clubhouse app and my interactions within the Facebook groups, I’ve seen a ton of increase regarding new home-schooling families and people considering home schooling.”
“A lot of parents have been dissatisfied with the virtual public schooling,” she said,” where the child is plugged into a computer screen for a number of hours a day.” Price said home schooling is “about relationship,” and “one of the things that I discovered as one of the great gifts of home schooling when I first began — and I think one of the things that a lot of the parents during the pandemic discovered — was that home schooling has a lot to do with the relationship with your child. You get to learn about your child as an individual; you get to spend quality time.”
Price said that during her time as a public-school teacher, she observed “some of the low expectations and the labels that they placed on children, I felt unduly, and I did not want that for my children because I’m an African American female, I’m an African American mom, my children are African American.” She said that as a Christian she also “wanted to be able to impart my values and my faith in my children. I wanted Jesus to be able to be spoken of freely.”
“This is a golden age of home schooling, especially for Black home-schoolers, because there are a lot more resources available, and there’s a lot more support. No matter where we are in the nation,” Price emphasized, “we’re able to connect with other people that look like us and have some of those needs that we have addressed specifically through organizations like Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars.”
West Virginia state Sen. Patricia Puertas Rucker, R-Jefferson, the first Hispanic woman elected to the state’s senate, is a mom of five who began home schooling 15 years ago. She chairs the Senate Education Committee and told the Register that she knows many families who started home schooling due to the pandemic.
She said in her own family, “we see benefits from it that I never planned on, like the fact that my children love each other and actually hang out well together. The closeness that my family has is something very precious to me, not to mention the fact that they’re all very strong Catholics.”
“When I first started home schooling, there were limited options of Catholic home-school curricula, and now it’s just wonderful,” she said. “You have so many choices, so many flexible things you could do, and now we have Catholic virtual school, too, which is awesome. There are really some very exciting things that can really help a parent to home school. It makes it a lot easier than it was 15 years ago.”
She said that when parents approach her nervous about home schooling, she tries to “reassure them that no amount of extracurricular things can substitute for someone who truly cares for your child; and because you, the parent, truly care for your child, you’re going to find ways to help your child, whether they’re delayed in a certain subject, whether there’s a particular weakness — because it’s your child, you’re just going to care more.”
Colleen Spotts, a West Virginia Catholic who began home schooling her two children just this fall, told the Register that “the major factor” for her decision was “that they were going to make the children wear masks at school and “knowing that they would probably be closing the school down again, and then they’d be stuck on a not-so-great online option.”
A widow, she said the decision-making “weighed very heavily on me throughout the summer, especially trying to make that decision of what to do, whether to just send them back.”
She described an online program her seventh-grade son had used in the public-school system as “a disaster.” Spotts said with the virtual format that her children’s school work “had diminished so much that it was almost nonexistent,” and there were problems with the virtual platforms the teachers used, where “work was being handed in, and then we would get calls and emails that he has not been turning his work in. It was really stressful.”
Jamie Smith, another West Virginia mom, told the Register that her family began home schooling last fall because “we didn’t like the options that were given during the pandemic, the back and forth, the kids not knowing whether or not they were going to be in school, whether it was going to be virtual.”
Jessica Verret, a Texas mom who began home schooling in the fall of 2020, told the Register that her family made the decision to home school after the parish school, where three of her children attended, said “the kids were going to have to wear masks all school day.” She then was informed by the public school that her oldest son would have attended that “they were going to go virtual for the first two or three weeks of the school year” and then alternate between virtual and in-person learning the rest of the year. Verret said she and her husband were concerned about all the restrictions and didn’t “want to have to force our kids into that environment.”
A Tailored Experience With Resources
More than a year into home schooling, Smith said that her children are “much more excited about the schoolwork because we can tailor it to what they like.” Her daughter loves making bracelets, so she has made math “interesting to her” by having her count with different color beads. She has seen “the older siblings help the younger siblings with their school work, and it’s a whole different relationship.”
Smith and her husband both work but receive help from her husband’s mother and then schedule the schooling around the hours they are free.
“There are so many companies that create the whole curriculum for you; they help you keep track of grades, which is great,” she said. “We actually used Mother of Divine Grace our first year, and then this year we’ve developed our own curriculum.”
Spotts’ daughter is now part of an online high-school program that she said was more “self-paced and self-guided,” and her son is in a K-12 home-school program that is “much more tailored for him and his needs.” She said that, at this point, “we’re so used to them being home so much anyway that that part of that transition was not as difficult as I had perceived it to be years ago watching other people home school.”
Verret said using the Seton Home Study School program helped her ease into home schooling, as “they give you all the lesson plans and all the books, and you just read through it and say ‘this is what works for my kid.’”
She said that home schooling has also helped her faith life. When her children went to Catholic school she knew they had religion classes and exposure to the sacraments and “didn’t feel the pressure to be their first teacher when it came to catechizing them.” She said that since home schooling, she has realized her responsibility in that regard and has “wanted to go to confession more. I wanted to go to daily Mass. I wanted to be reading the word of God every day. I wanted to make sure I was praying every day, because I was in charge of making sure they learned how to do that.”