Pandemic Fuels a Home-Schooling Boom
Educating within the domestic church continues to draw Catholic families seeking faith, flexibility and safety.
Facing the expensive prospect of having all four children in a private Catholic school, while at the same time wanting to grow together in the faith and as a family, Julie and Omar Acosta of Windsor, Connecticut, have decided to take the plunge into home schooling this fall.
“It’s going to be a lot of ups and downs,” Julie said of what she has learned from home-schooling friends. “But I’m just looking forward to getting to spend the time together, and, selfishly, I’m excited to not have to do that first day of school where I say goodbye to my 4-year-old for five hours, being at the window crying. I’ll be in the next room upstairs. … I’m really excited about that.”
The Acosta children, ages 4-9, will be busy with their “hybrid” schedule of two days of instruction at home, two days with tutors at a home-school co-op called Imago Dei Classical Academy in New Britain, Connecticut, and one day participating in extracurricular activities such as drama with another home-school group, called Adoro Te. Acosta is pleased that the monthly education bill will be $200 a month rather than $1,000.
The Acostas are among a growing number of U.S. families choosing to begin or continue home schooling this fall, as many public and private schools are still developing coronavirus protocols to address the Delta variant. While some of the record number of families who home-schooled during the pandemic have returned to traditional public/private schools, many are staying with home schooling, providers say. They are seeking safety, flexibility and resources that provide a more turnkey approach for working parents, as well as opportunities to customize learning.
U.S. Census Bureau surveys during the pandemic show that up until July as many as 18% of an estimated 23 million households with school-age children may have been homeschooling, according to Steven Duvall, homeschool research director for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Purcellville, Virginia-based organization that aids home-schooling families through legal representation. The number of home-schooling households rose from 3.2 million in 2020 before the pandemic to 6.8 million in August 2020, he said.
The Census Bureau has conducted a series of surveys during the pandemic. For each of its samples of roughly 1 million households, it has received 65,000 to 75,000 responses, Duvall said.
Another survey showed that home schooling favorability decreased slightly among school parents this July, but 60% of those surveyed said they had a favorable view of home schooling. The study, done for the Indianapolis-based nonprofit EdChoice, showed that 20% of parents have changed the type of school their child is attending for the 2021-22 school year. Though many have returned to traditional schools, home-school providers say enrollment remains high.
Last year’s increase wasn’t an anomaly, said Draper Warren, admissions director at Seton Home Study School, a Front-Royal, Virginia-based accredited Catholic private pre-K-to-12 distance school and Catholic materials publisher. Seton’s students increased from 12,000 to 20,000 last year, and it expects to have about 17,000 this year, he said. Seton new family tuition ranges from $210 to $925. “All the families we had last year were sort of like floodwaters coming in, and there were just so many people joining at the same time,” Warren said. “When schools go back to normal, a lot of that is going to recede, but I think there’s going to be a lot of benefits from it.”
The pandemic motivated families who had previously considered home schooling, said Christopher Sebastian, advancement director at Mother of Divine Grace School, a classical Catholic home-schooling program in Ojai, California. So far, this year’s 6,200 students surpass last year’s total, with 77% reenrollment. The accredited school offers information, resources and support. Tuition ranges from $400 to $1,250 per family.
Safety and school mask and vaccination requirements are affecting school choice, Sebastian said. “Parents are concerned both about the health and safety of their students and also what they would potentially be required to do that would go against their conscience with regards to medical things or just the environment of the school.”
As brick-and-mortar schools continue to assess their response to the Delta variant, some families are seeking more structure in home schooling, said Dee-dee Mihaliak, one of the founders of the Connecticut-based Adoro Te, which offers extracurricular activities for families home-schooling one or more children. The group served 80 families mostly in the Connecticut area during the 2020-21 school year and expects more to join this year, she said. Yearly fees are $50 to $100.
“The situation in our country has changed so drastically in the last year and a half that there’s no longer that familiarity,” she said. “I think families are very disconcerted with the unknown. There’s just no schedule.”
The introduction of critical race theory and other changes in schools are sometimes cited by parents, providers said. “We don’t draw too much from public schools, but they should be interested in what materials are being used in their schools,” said Chris Rowles, COO of Kolbe Academy, a Napa, California-based Catholic classical education program offering traditional home schooling, through live online and self-paced courses. “They should take a strong look at it,” he said. “We present a history of the world from the viewpoints of the people who were there … the classics, the Great Books.” Parents can teach subjects they’re comfortable with and find help for others, Rowles said. The regionally accredited academy experienced 160% growth last year over 2019, to more than 3,600 students, he said. This year, almost 80% of families are returning. Full-time, online high-school tuition, including books is $5,199.
Young families are choosing hybrid options that combine at-home and classroom learning, said Kari Beckman, founder of Roswell, Georgia-based Regina Caeli Academy.
“Instead of there just being two choices of public school and private school, they’re now saying, ‘Okay, home schooling, private schooling, public schooling or hybrid education.’” Regina Caeli combines at-home study with college preparatory classical classes taught at one of its 25 satellite locations. With 85% growth last year, the accredited academy opened eight new centers in the U.S. and the U.K., she said. Tuition ranges from $2,700 to $4,500.
Learning pods, small groups of students led by a hired teacher, continue to be used, but often in addition to regular schooling rather than as a substitute for regular school, according to the EdChoice survey.
Home schooling was a good option for Phyllis Lobo’s younger son last year while her older son attended a traditional Catholic school. Her younger son, a rising seventh-grader, is studying a classical curriculum at home and at Imago Dei, while her older son starts ninth grade at a private Catholic high school.
The pandemic was the tipping point for Lobo, of Woodbridge, Connecticut, who had considered home schooling but wasn’t sure she could do it. In seeking the best fit for her children, Lobo has put aspects of her own career as an education consultant on hold but is glad her sons are excited for the school year.
“If I were only interested in getting my kids into top-tier colleges, I could have my career and my kids could get into top-tier colleges, but that’s not what it’s all about,” she said. “Getting my kids and my husband and I to heaven — that’s what it’s all about.”
While working from home continues to give parents more flexibility to home school, it can be difficult because of job demands, said Debbie Yonan, director of Reno, Nevada-based St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, which offers a K-12 classical Catholic liberal arts Great Books curriculum. Yearly membership starts at $510 for two students.
Families have strengthened relationships, providers said. “That is my whole [focus]: looking up to God and saying, ‘Yes, it has been a horrific almost two years we’ve all gone through, but it’s a blessing to be restoring the family,’ and let’s do that and move forward,” Beckman said.
Recent success has legitimized home schooling, Sebastian added. “This is one of the benefits that God is able to make out of chaos. It gives us a whole lot of reason to hope.”