More Hampton Roads parents are homeschooling their children

Experts say pandemic pushed parents to try out homeschooling.

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The number of Hampton Roads parents choosing to homeschool their kids has skyrocketed since 2019 — and experts say there are a few reasons why.

Virginia Beach parent Elizabeth Heely homeschools her two children Miles, 11, and Blythe, 7. She says it was the pandemic that pushed her to pull them from public school. She was hesitant about virtual learning.

“I was really, really worried that reading over Zoom or Google classroom – or inconsistency between the two – was just gonna hinder [my daughter’s] learning, and we were going to have learning loss because of a lack of literacy skills,” Heely said.

“When it was time to make a decision in August about what to do for the 2020-21 school year, we made a decision to homeschool because so much was just unknown,” she said.

Two years into the homeschooling routine, Heely says it works well for her family. Her kids agree.

“I think it’s really fun,” said her son Miles, 11.

“You get to sit on the couch and just read. During science and history, the dogs just hop on the couch and we pet them the whole time,” he said.

But the benefits go beyond the comfortable setting.

“Flexibility. We are able to make our own schedule, we are about to start school when we wanted. You know, the school down the street, I think they start at 7:40 in the morning. We wake up at a decent hour, ya know, we start school at 8:30, but it gives us flexibility,” she said.

The Homeschool Educators of Virginia (HEAV) tell 10 On Your Side the number of inquiries they got about homeschooling skyrocketed in 2020.

“That year, our office dealt with over 90,000 calls,” said Anne Miller, HEAV’s president and executive director.

Miller says many parents opted to give homeschooling a try as an alternative to virtual learning, much like the Heelys did — and then chose to stick with it.

“All of the sudden, when [parents] were instructing their children themselves, they say where their children were missing it, this one-on-one, individualized instruction, which every teacher will tell you is the dream,” Miller said.

The upward trend exists in several districts in Hampton Roads, according to data provided by the Virginia Department of Education. In Virginia Beach, there were 1532 students who were homeschooling during the 2019-20 school year. That number nearly doubled to 3005 students during the 2020-21 school year, and dipped to 2614 students in 2021-22. That’s an increase of 70% between 2019 and 2022. In the Norfolk school district, the number of homeschooling families went up 69% from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2021-22 school year. In Portsmouth, it went up 77%. In Suffolk, 40%, and in Newport News, 60%.

Miller can point to a couple of reasons for the increase in homeschooled students, with the pandemic being the driving factor. Parents tried it as an alternative to virtual learning, much like Elizabeth Heely did, and then discovered they could do it.

“That’s exactly it,” Miller said.

Additionally, highly publicized school shootings in recent years have encouraged other parents to keep their kids home.

“When those kinds of things happen, we get a lot of calls. There are also all the issues of bullying. I know the schools are doing everything they can. But it’s hard,” Miller said.

For the Heelys, security was not a motivating factor – nor was the quality of the school district.

“It was just the limbo we were in because of Covid,” Heely said.

But homeschooling, she said, is not without its drawbacks.

“The cons are — it’s on you. I feel like that can be a heavy burden. You want to give your children everything, right? But can you? So you struggle with that.”

Heely said her family will consider a move back to the traditional classroom in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about making the switch to homeschooling, click here to visit the HEAV website.

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