Plymouth families look to homeschooling as alternative to hybrid learning plan

PLYMOUTH – With six children under the age of 13, Kathy Bom Conselho faced a difficult decision as the town contemplated a return to classes last summer.

Bom Conselho already had issues with the multiple platforms and programs her four school-age children had been learning under last spring. The Manomet woman learned the hard way that the Chromebook the district sent home with her oldest child last spring didn’t have parental controls.

Bom Conselho didn’t relish the thought of having her children spending so much time on computer screens anyway, but the prospect of keeping her incoming first-grader connected with her teacher and classmates from home finally forced her hand.

Before the start of the district’s return to school under a hybrid model in September, Bom Conselho and her husband decided their family would be better off if she homeschooled their children this year.

They were not alone.

About 100 Plymouth children are homeschooled during a normal school year. The district saw a low of 77 homeschool plans in 2005 and a high of 127 in 2008. Over the last six years, the average has been 106 children.

Homeschooling students from the Plymouth area participate in a class at the Edgerton Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But with schools operating on hybrid programs and the potential for a return to full remote learning always a possibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, many families embraced homeschooling as a reasonable alternative.

As schools reopened on the alternating schedule last fall, more than 200 children had been signed up for homeschooling plans. And the numbers only increased into winter, with 221 homeschooling plans now approved by the Plymouth School Committee.

“We’ve doubled the number in this one year basically,” said Sean Halpin, the district’s director of student support services, who has overseen homeschooling in Plymouth since 2011.

Sean Halpin, director of student support services for Plymouth Public Schools, has overseen the district's homeschooling plans since 2011.

Halpin said the state gives school districts great leeway in how they will handle homeschooling plans. In Plymouth, the plans must be approved by the School Committee as well as the administration for students ages 6 to 16. Families are required to provide progress reports quarterly.

Halpin said 10 of the 221 approved plans for this year have either returned to classes or moved out of the district.

Years ago, many families homeschooled for religious reason. Before COVID-19, more and more families simply took its as an obligation to educate their own. Now at least half are in it because of the pandemic.

It can seem daunting at first, but veteran homeschoolers as well as newcomers say it is also intuitive and rewarding. A key ingredient appears to be curiosity.

Homeschoolers Lucas and AnnaLise Floyd attend a program at the Edgerton Center at MIT.

Jennifer McDonough-Floyd started homeschooling eight years ago when her son, now a sophomore in high school, was starting third grade.

McDonough-Floyd said her boy was very inquisitive and enjoyed exploring subjects in depth, so she decided to try offering him a project-based earning program that would individualize learning. That first year, she said, was like being thrown into the middle of an ocean during a storm as she tried to navigate through the sea of potential education plans available.

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