NORTH STAR in Sunderland offers classes, social opportunities, help designing study plans, and other opportunities for homeschooled teenagers. It started this year with 45 members and got 15 new teens mid-year. The program is now being deluged with inquiries about the fall.
“A lot of teens were looking forward to going back to school in person, having not loved school at home,” said program director Loran Saito. “They made a good faith effort to make the most of it and just found that school was really restrictive or unmanageable or unpleasant in a variety of ways.” Facing academic pressures or social pressures or a loss of control over their time, teens sought alternatives.
“It seems like for a lot of youth, having more voice in their own education matters more than before,” Saito said.
Many students left school districts when the pandemic hit in March 2020, forcing schools to shut down. Most public schools stayed at least partly remote the following September as well.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported there were 37,000 fewer students in public schools in October 2021. Many were pre-kindergarten or kindergarten students who stayed home, but older children tended to leave for homeschooling or private options. CommonWealth reported in November 2021 that students did not return this past year, with public school enrollment remaining flat. Only this month did DESE release updated data on the numbers of homeschoolers and students in private and parochial schools.
That data showed that private and parochial school attendance, which had been declining for years pre-pandemic, increased slightly this year to 69,300 students in 2021-2022, compared to 67,900 last year, and 70,100 at the start of the last normal pre-pandemic year.
Homeschooling, where the numbers were consistently around 7,500 pre-pandemic, continues to boom. There were 13,090 students listed as homeschooling in 2021-2022, down from the more than 17,000 who homeschooled in 2020-2021 but still significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Bill Heuer, executive director of the Massachusetts Home Learning Association, said he suspects the numbers are actually higher, since he has heard anecdotally of issues like people homeschooling in a community listed as having zero homeschoolers.
Betty Urzua is a homeschool consultant and the director of Pilgrims Progress Home School Association, a Christian cooperative that offers field trips, classes, and other resources for homeschooled children. She personally homeschooled her six children, three of whom are national champions in competitive roller skating. Homeschooling has long been an attractive option for competitive athletes, but she said interest in homeschooling is far broader today.
Urzua has heard from families who realized for the first time during the pandemic that they could homeschool, and therefore have more control over what children are learning. Often among the primarily Christian families she works with, Urzua said, “They don’t see the public school providing the values they want them to learn.” Some families seek her out because their child is getting bullied in school and they want a safer environment.
“I really do think [the pandemic] is changing the way education is provided,” Urzua said. “People’s eyes have been opened that there are more opportunities, so they’re investigating those opportunities.”