When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Phoenix resident Sarah Thomas was OK with keeping her kids enrolled in Great Hearts Academies amid a shift to virtual learning last spring, but then she saw the plans for the fall semester.
The pandemic shuttered schools across the state and forced students to assume online learning, but Ms. Thomas said there were options for her to minimize screen time. That no longer was readily available she said for the fall semester.
“It would be this huge investment of frustration for me to get less of an education for them than what I could facilitate myself,” she said.
It was then Ms. Thomas turned her attention to homeschooling, where she found a group of like-minded parents based out of the Town of Paradise Valley.
Ms. Thomas isn’t the only parent considering alternative options. Records show homeschooling affidavits filed in Maricopa County tripled from July 2019 to July 2020.
Pauline Abello founded the Highlands Latin Cottage School, which brings together children participating in homeschooling for a structured approach to the curriculum. This is the school’s second year of existence.
The group, which includes 12 families with children between prekindergarten and 12th grade, meets together each Monday at a Paradise Valley church for a collaborative approach to the Memoria Press curriculum, a Christian-based learning module.
The rest of the week, students learn in their homes in a traditional homeschool setting. The group also hosts PE classes on alternating Fridays with nature or cultural trips filling the other Fridays. None of this is required but is an available option for those in the group that many use, Ms. Abello said.
Outside of learning, Ms. Abello said the parents developed a strong bond to the point of many getting together for mom’s nights or book clubs.
Phoenix resident Leeann Dearing and her husband run the Dearing Studio, teaching acting classes. Each week is different for the Dearings, so homeschooling seemed to better fit the family’s schedule, leading them to make the leap about four years ago.
She said she loves the group because she can draw from the strength of other homeschooling parents who can help to teach what they are best at while she can contribute her skills to others in the group.
“It’s a very encouraging atmosphere where families can come alongside each other and encourage each other and moms can build those really critical relationships as well,” she said.
While much of the country’s education sector has seen upheaval because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Abello said there hasn’t been much for her group. Specifically, she said she’s seen the rent rate go up for the church and families are to bring their own supplies rather than sharing along with enhanced cleaning and social distancing adherence.
Ms. Abello, who is in her 10th year of homeschooling, said she prefers the homeschooling method because it allows her to focus more on the child’s needs and challenges.
“It really creates a very individualized curtailed instruction that allows the child to just thrive given who they are as an individual person,” she said.
Many parents in Maricopa County are starting to come around to homeschooling. This past July, the county saw the number of homeschooling affidavits filed triple from the previous year, jumping from 319 in July 2019 to 1,049 this July.
These numbers do not include students enrolled in public, charter or private schools but rather those being homeschooled outside of those bounds.
Through May, the county reported Mesa Public Schools as having the largest amount of homeschooled students within its boundaries with Deer Valley Unified School District and Peoria Unified School District following.
Locally, 21 students within Scottsdale Unified School District were being homeschooled as of May with 24 being homeschooled in Paradise Valley Unified School District.
Tim Sifert, chief communication officer for the Office of Maricopa County Superintendent, said the office is in the process of adding in June’s and July’s numbers.
Ms. Abello said families and students within the cottage school have doubled this year and she is receiving numerous requests for more information.
This isn’t unique to the Paradise Valley group. Ms. Abello said she is part of numerous private Facebook homeschooling groups and other members have all acknowledged high growth this year.
Within her cottage school, Ms. Abello saw three move-ins from other states, while others who joined came because, like Ms. Thomas, they didn’t like the direction the schools were going this fall.
“What made them feel really comfortable was knowing that they were going to be part of a community where they would have support from other mothers, teachers and that everyone was doing the same sort of thing,” she said.
Ms. Dearing has a third-grader and a kindergartner she is homeschooling this year. She says her kids have had a lot of time to socialize through the cottage school, giving her a better understanding of their personalities.
“The benefits have been different for every kid, which is one of the coolest part,” she said. “My daughter is learning to be more cooperative and not have to call [my] shop all the time. My son is learning to build confidence in public speaking skills and some really significant critical pieces there.”
Furthermore, Ms. Dearing said the structure of the cottage school has allowed her to be better organized thus enhancing her ability to teach her children.
For Ms. Abello, the benefits of homeschooling have centered on stronger family relationships between her kids and the ability to take teaching at her child’s pace. She also said because of looser time constraints, her children could better pursue their passions and hobbies.
Ms. Abello shared a story of her son who had an interest in blacksmithing so she catered his homeschooling schedule to better allow him to take night classes.
“Homeschooling has been a huge blessing to us,” she said. “Like anything worth it, it takes work. It can be difficult at times, of course, but if you stick with it and it becomes this beautiful, enriching thing for your family and your children that you can take so much pride in because you did it and it just creates a wonderful experience for all of us.”
Ms. Thomas is still only three weeks into her homeschooling experience but so far, she’s liked what she’s seen. She said she’s been gauging her children’s thoughts to the new format and the response has been a positive one.
“So much of that is removed and we’re focusing on the actual learning and they’re comfortable, they’re at home and they’ve all been really positive about it,” she said.
“They always still have Mondays to look forward to where they’re with friends.”