Interest in home schooling in the Yakima Valley has increased amid the pandemic as families explore their options for learning.
Local home schooling networks report an influx of inquiries from new families interested in their programs, following a national trend. They also are fielding more calls from parents seeking guidance on how to best approach homeschooling.
One home school co-op, Classical Conversations, which has several sites throughout the Valley where students meet once a week for in-person instruction during the school year, is launching a new site this fall in response to the demand.
“Through the pandemic, we had to add more communities to meet the needs that we’re finding,” said Tyffany Fries, the southeast Yakima support representative for the organization, adding that the new launch this fall comes a year after another site was launched and filled.
HomeLink in Yakima similarly saw new families joining their programs last year. Jim Paine, the program’s administrator, said some families felt their students weren’t progressing with online learning, so decided to shift to the once- or twice-per week co-op setting.
But they also saw some families moving away from their program to home school entirely, with no co-op support. Paine says the reason is that HomeLink was abiding closely by recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health.
“The COVID pandemic is an interesting phenomenon, because some families that we have had have really not wanted their kids to wear a mask, so sought some other options. And there were families that were in public school and weren’t doing well online, and so took the option to home school them and use HomeLink,” he said.
The local reports come amid a surge in home schooling nationwide. The rate of households across the U.S. home schooling their children increased to 11% in September, up from 5.4% six months prior, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The sharp rise is dramatic, but interest in home schooling has been steadily growing even prior to the pandemic. In Washington, for example, there were 13,645 families home schooling their children in the 2018-19 school year compared to 11,393 two decades prior. That amounted to nearly 22,000 children across the state.
The two fastest growing populations of home school students prior to the pandemic were Muslim students and students with special needs. Amid the pandemic, reports indicate that the population of Black home-schoolers is increasing dramatically.
Some families transitioned to home schooling out of frustration with public school districts’ response to the pandemic. Others switched after seeing gains during remote learning and realizing they had other options.
Even as traditional home schooling independent of public schools has increased, some local districts have seen an increase in enrollment in their fully online programs, including the Toppenish and Yakima school districts.
Whether the increased demand for alternative schooling will continue into the new school year is yet to be seen. But last August, the Classical Conversations program in Yakima saw a surge in interest as families received more information from local public schools on what the academic year might look like. With another school year approaching, Fries said she expects a similar trend.
Not all of the inquiries lead to families joining Classical Conversations – in part because the number of students in each are capped at up to 64 students across K-6 and 12 students in each grade seven to 12. Fries said some families were interested in a roadmap on how to homeschool on their own, wanting guidance from families with experience.
HomeLink and the Christian Association of Parent Educators in Yakima, or CAPE, also received more inquiries from families exploring their options.
Paine of HomeLink said not all families who look into the option end up following through, in large part because it often requires a stable income from one parent while the other stays home to teach the children, something not all families can do.
“It’s economically difficult for some families where they need the double income just to survive,” he said.
The age of the kids is also a significant factor, he said.
“Many families feel very competent to home school their grade school-aged kids, but then as they move up and math becomes more complicated, science is using more labs and some of those things, the parents are not familiar enough with it to feel comfortable totally home schooling their students with those,” Paine said.
That’s often when families turn to programs like HomeLink, he said, which has advisers who can provide extra support and help for families.
Local home school program directors said regardless of the outcome, they are happy to talk families through their options.
“We’re there to encourage people and just help them with whatever is best for their family,” said Fries. “There are so many options in Yakima for home schooling. There’s just something for everybody that needs it.”
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