Apart from the traditional classroom setting, a burgeoning group of homeschooled students has been learning in Marion County.
Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in homeschooling for families that were concerned for safety or disagreed with policies. Local experts say this has been consistent in Marion County and central Ohio, adding to the already growing number of families that have chosen to home educate for various reasons.
Terra Hadden is a Marion County mom who chose to home educate 11 years ago. Although it wasn’t what the family had planned, she said things fell into place and it’s a great fit for how both her kids, a high school graduate and a current elementary-aged student, learned.
“I’m able to give them opportunities and experiences the classroom can’t necessarily handle because we can really tailor their individual interests and needs to how they learn and really make the most of opportunities when they’re at home, so we’ve really enjoyed doing that and being able to have good conversations and spend time together,” Hadden said.
“Parents know their kids really well and spend lots of time with them, so just being able to invest deeply in that has been really meaningful for our family personally.”
Hadden said while homeschooling could feel intimidating, there are many resources such as groups, clubs and meetups – so many that it can be overwhelming and families’ schedules can fill quickly.
“There’s different avenues. There’s different homeschool styles. There’s different homeschool communities, so I just don’t want people to overlook what it can do for the community. I think every learning opportunity brings lots of character to people and to the community, and this is just one piece of that character that builds a community,” Hadden said.
Consistent homeschooling growth with COVID spike
One of the avenues for resources and support is state homeschool association Christian Home Educators of Ohio (CHEO), an organization helping families have access to resources like curriculum and community.
The organization’s Legislative Liaison Melanie Elsey has worked with CHEO helping to serve families all across Ohio since 1994. She explained that across the state over the years, there has been consistent growth in the number of homeschooling families.
“In the more than two decades that we’ve been serving families through CHEO, we have found that the trends over time have been very stable, with constant growth,” Elsey said.
“Sometimes the families make the decision to home educate before their children are even school aged, others choose to home educate because of challenging experiences that they’ve had in-school. This is before COVID, before anything that triggered an escalation in growth.”
Some of the families have described safety issues, bullying and curriculum quality as reasons they’ve chosen to homeschool over the years, Elsey said.
“You know, obviously COVID spiked the trend toward home education than what we saw prior to COVID because families were frustrated with remote learning,” she continued.
In reference to this spike in homeschooling numbers, Elsey said some families stuck with home education after experiencing it whereas others chose to return to a classroom-based setting. She noted she felt this was a good sign parents were able to determine what was best for their children and families.
“I think some families got a taste of home education and what they could accomplish and have committed to stay with it. There were others who got a taste of it for that one year and found that it was too overwhelming of a commitment and decided to re-enroll their child into the public school or into the private school setting,” she said.
“But I think walking though the experience in either situation was a good experience for the families because it gave them a focus of what was best for their family one way or the other.”
CHEO offers support groups for homeschooling families, although Elsey said some families do better “flying solo” and performing education individually. For Marion County, the organization provides a group called Christian Homeschoolers of Marion and North Central Ohio, and while CHEO is a Christian organization, families don’t have to be Christian to participate or use its resources.
Over the years she has worked with CHEO and through the growth in numbers, Elsey said she has seen committed parents from all backgrounds, whether former educators or not, doing a great job educating their children. She also said the statewide requirements and guidelines for homeschooling have stayed equally consistent.
Within these guidelines, for a family to opt out of public schooling, it would need to contact the district where the kids would attend school to notify the administration.
For three of five Marion County schools – Elgin, Pleasant and Ridgedale – this notification process is contracted through the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center and is overseen by Homeschool Coordinator Cathy Shade.
Shade explained that only the district superintendent has the authority to excuse students from public education, and her role is to facilitate the communication of this process for 11 districts through North Central Ohio. A Marion City Schools teacher for many years before she came to work with the educational service center, she is an educator at heart but had to learn everything about the homeschool structure when accepting this position.
“There is a lot that you need to know, because it is done with Ohio Department of Education standards. There is a part on the Ohio Department of Education website about homeschooling,” Shade explained.
In order to home school each year, parents need to submit their proposed curriculum along with their notification of intent to home educate, and if they homeschooled the previous year, some sort of child assessment showing how it went.
Continued growth beyond pandemic
Shade agreed with Elsey that there was an increase in the number of families who homeschooled during the pandemic, and some of these students have since returned to public schooling.
She also noted that her team had not yet compiled the numbers from this year, but among the 11 districts she coordinates, a proportionally high number of families chose to homeschool for the first time this year.
For example, at Ridgedale, the district had 9 students homeschooled through the 2020 – 2021 and 2021 – 2022 academic years. It then saw 15 students homeschooled for the current 2022 – 2023 year.
“I think they were pretty consistent. I do know that COVID increased our numbers, and actually we get the feeling that it’s even increasing for this year even though kids are back in school,” she said.
“There are lots of issues. I had a parent call me to say the kid is having real issues going back to school because they’re used to being at home and they’re not used to the social interaction. It’s almost like PTSD, and there’s a lot that has come out of the COVID situation and kids being at home.”
While Shade does not coordinate home school for River Valley or Marion City Schools, both districts have seen a similar trend, according to data submitted by each district.
Over the past three years, Marion City Schools had 56 students homeschooled in the 2020 – 2021 year. It then had 49 district students homeschooled for the 2021 – 2022 and 2022 – 2023 academic years.
At River Valley, the district also had 56 students homeschooled in the 2020 – 2021 academic year, with 51 homeschooled for the 2021 – 2022 year and 47 homeschooled for the current 2022 – 2023 year.
According to Hadden, it comes down to doing what is best for each individual family.
“There’s so many ways to look at it, and we all just have to do what’s best for our family, you know, public school has its realm of learning and then you have private school – you have all the different versions there – and have homeschool which is really a whole unique experience in itself,” Hadden said.
Story by: Sophia Veneziano (740) 564 – 5243 ∣ [email protected]