Amid a chaotic year for many students with uncertainty and learning model switches, some families have decided to turn to homeschooling to provide more consistency and fewer worries about the spread of COVID-19 at school.
An estimated 2.5 million students homeschooled in 2019, or 3-4% of school-age kids, and the National Home Educators Research Institute expects that number to increase by at least 10% in the 2020-21 school year.
For Faribault resident Kacy Sammon and her husband, consistency was the reason they decided to keep their 8-year-old son Ian home this year from Faribault Lutheran School. Ian is a fourth generation Faribault Lutheran School student.
“It was kind of the unknown of what was going to happen,” Sammon said. “Last year when it changed to distance learning in March or April, the biggest concern for us was that we saw some inconsistency throughout his schedule.”
The Owatonna school district lost 173 students to homeschooling this school year compared to 94 students the previous academic year, Amanda Heilman, the district's director of finance and operations, shared with the school board in November.
The Faribault school district has 179 homeschool students this year, compared to last year's 132 students, according to Andrew Adams, director of finance and operation at the district. The decrease in enrollment could impact school districts' future overall state funding and Owatonna Superintendent Jeff Elstad has said he hopes the Legislature will consider previous years' enrollment numbers with the understanding that this year has been abnormal.
When the 2020-21 school year rolled around, rather than dealing with the learning model switches, daylong mask wearing and general uncertainty, Sammon said they decided it would be easier if they set their own schedule as they waited out the pandemic. As a farming family, the switch to homeschooling worked well and provided for a flexible schedule as they worked around the required farming tasks. The family purchased a set of curriculum, which allowed them to continue to incorporate their religious beliefs into Ian’s learning.
“We didn't opt to do any of the online stuff this year. I think his age was a determining factor for that. He’s in second grade, we kind of figured that just having some guidance through the purchased curriculum was probably enough for us at this point,” Sammon said.
She added that if he had been older with a more detailed curriculum, they may have needed more help from a teacher, and therefore would have gone with an online-based approach.
But, homeschooling comes with its own challenges, Sammon said, including balancing her role as mother and as a teacher. Eight-year-old kids sometimes need motivation to get their work done and there are a few days where Sammon has to remind Ian that although they are at home, school work still needs to get done.
When the pandemic subsides, Sammon said she doesn’t know whether Ian will return to school or stick with homeschooling. She says she would have no problem with Ian returning to school at some point in the future as long as there is more consistency and if Ian decides that he wants to.
“However, things have gone well, he seems to like the structure that we have here other than, you know, a few days a week where he’s like ‘I don't know if I want to do this.’ But he enjoys it for the most part, so I think I'll kind of leave it up to him next year if he wants to go back to school,” Sammon said.