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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Homeschool goes mainstream

Parents engaging in their children’s education is a permanent and invaluable consequence of the pandemic school year. For some parents it will mean showing up at public school board meetings with questions, maybe even waving signs and demanding that those elected to represent them are actually listening.

Others will choose private schools, where wise administrators align with parents as paying customers if they want to remain in operation.

And a growing number of families in the Spokane area and across the nation are choosing homeschool, or as it is called by the state of Washington, home-based instruction. Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy director for the Washington Homeschool Organization board, says registration for the WHO’s September 2021 Parent Qualifying Course is overflowing. “Normally we have 200 to 400 in the fall class, this year we have over a thousand with zero advertising.”

A second course is planned in January. The class is not required for parents with at least one year of full-time college credits but highly recommended for a successful experience.

Garrison Stuber lives in the Newman Lake area and has been a homeschool school parent since 2003. She’s been surprised by the number of families jumping ship from the public schools. “Nothing has created such a giant leap in homeschoolers, not mass shooting events or comprehensive sex education or CRT concerns.”

The reasons families choose to homeschool are as diverse as the community. Pre-pandemic, the fastest-growing groups nationally didn’t match the shallow stereotypes spewed out recently in the progressive press. Garrison Stuber cited African American families escaping what they see as the school to prison pipeline and Muslim families fleeing bullying as two of those groups. The Spokane Area Homeschool Community Facebook page includes subgroups based on age, faith and values (Christian and secular), LGBTQ and other special needs.

Homeschooling is uniquely suited to any child whose abilities don’t match a typical school pace. That’s what led Garrison Stuber to homeschool her daughter, allowing her “to provide an education uniquely suited to our daughter’s mismatched collection of strengths and weaknesses, catering to the former while mitigating the latter,” according to her WHO biography.

Other parents tell similar stories of children who thrived in homeschool where proceeding at a slower pace in one subject didn’t hold them back from zooming ahead in another. Or who just needed more physical freedom or individual attention than any teacher can provide in a typical classroom in order to flourish. Washington law requires annual testing as an external metric to measure progress relative to a child’s age or developmental stage.

Washington law also gives homeschool students the opportunity to attend public school part time and access ancillary services such as speech therapy, sports, music and clubs. Interestingly, the same law does not give public school students the right to homeschool part-time for one or two subjects where they need more help or more challenge, but parents can work out an “equivalency course study” agreement with their home district for a specific class.

Fear and uncertainty in March 2020 pulled the rug out from under traditional schooling. That painful experience was not homeschooling, but it did force parents to rethink their options.

There are two pandemic driven reasons parents may choose homeschool. For parents at odds with state mandates for mask wearing and vaccination or for parents who fear health risks for their families, homeschool provides a rigorous option for meeting the public’s interest in each child having “a sufficient basic educational opportunity” covering the same required 11 areas of study as any public or private school student.

For other parents it’s an issue of predictability. Parents who figured out how to replace the childcare function of public school in 2020-2021 don’t want their stability toppled midyear by school closures or quarantines. Garrison Stuber emphasized these are parents who understand teachers are not babysitters, but seeking predictability is why some families report they are not going back to school. In addition, homeschool can better synchronize for a parent with a nontraditional work schedule.

Garrison Stuber once did the math and figured if you sleep eight hours a night, you have 5,840 waking hours in the year. That leaves time for 1,000 hours of homeschooling, two full-time jobs and “still have time left over to brush your teeth every so often.” You don’t need two full-time jobs; it’s a choice within reach of any family. The WHO website has the steps laid out clearly.

Garrison Stuber said Washington law does not seem to have contemplated the number of students sticking with homeschool through high school graduation. The WHO lays out advice on keeping transcripts and graduation records for a successful launch into adulthood. With her own daughter, the time went by fast. “All of a sudden she’s 16 and out the door to do Running Start full-time.” Parents everywhere can relate to how the years accelerate.

Asked for her best piece of advice to parents, Garrison Stuber said, “The dirty little secret of homeschooling is we are all absolutely terrified going into this thing and that’s okay. There is nobody in this world who loves your kid more than you do, and the terror is what keeps you on the right track to help them being the unique and wonderful person they can become.”

Resources: Washington Homeschool Organization: www.washhomeschool.org; National Black Home Educators: www.nbhe.net; Curriculum Options: cathyduffyreviews.com.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at rulingpen@gmail.com.

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