LEWISTON – After more than a month of blended learning last fall, Michele Webb has decided to work part time and teach her daughter at home.
While many of her peers struggled to pay attention and learn with the mix of distance and in-person lessons, Webb’s daughter, Samari, excelled in her studies at home.
So, as the new school year approaches, Webb has once again chosen to homeschool his now 10-year-old daughter. They went through a month of home schooling before Webb re-enrolled his daughter at McMahon Elementary School in Lewiston at Samari’s request.
Last year, home schooling surged statewide as many parents, like Webb, chose to take responsibility for their children’s education. But as schools prioritized strictly face-to-face learning and vaccines became widely available for those aged 12 or older, many of those homeschooled children have returned to the classroom.
From October 2019 to 2020, the number of homeschooled students in Maine increased 78% to 12,082. According to the Maine Department of Education, 8,044 homeschooled students in Maine as of October from this year, a decrease of 50% from 2020, but still an overall increase of 16% from the 6,763 in 2019.
Webb wishes he could continue to house school his daughter. Samari, who has been back to school for almost three weeks, comes home every day and tells her how easy her classwork is. Her head teacher is currently on maternity leave and the long-term substitute was ill last week, which left students with different teachers every day.
While Webb has nothing but good things to say about the McMahon staff, she fears Samari will learn less in public school than she did at home. But after returning to full-time work this summer, Webb, a single mother, said it was nearly impossible to start Samari’s schooling before 4:30 p.m. every day, even when working from home.
“I struggled this year because I knew she was missing school. And I gave in to it because after a month I just saw his sanity decline, being in this pandemic for so long and being away from people, ”Webb said. “She was doing fantastically, but… in the end I had to sacrifice the good education to respect the sanity part.”
In Lewiston, 106 children were homeschooled in October 2019, doubling to 214 in 2020. Today, the number has dropped by a quarter to 172. The Auburn School Department has shown a similar trend. With 101 home-schooled students in 2019, the number rose to 171 in 2020, then fell to 146 this year.
Webb isn’t the only parent to reluctantly re-enroll their child this year. Nate Turner from southern Paris let his daughter go back to school in May, but his frustrations with the school district almost convinced him to go back to school at home.
“WE WILL DO IT AGAIN OUR WAY”
Turner was two hours from home when the school nurse called to ask him to pick up his son who started kindergarten this fall.
Kolton, who is 4, was taken out of the classroom after the teacher noticed him coughing several times. Turner quit his job in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and went to elementary school in Paris to bring him home.
After staying home for a few days, Kolton returned to school for two days before Turner was told his son would be quarantined for an additional 10 days.
Several arguments with school staff left Turner unhappy with what he said were the complicated and sometimes inconsistent COVID-19 prevention policies in the Oxford Hills School District. Last year he chose to home teach his now 10-year-old daughter, Kaycie, as he was uncomfortable sending her to school where she would be required to wear a mask all day.
It was her daughter who asked to go back to school last May so that she could see her friends. But Turner said it hadn’t been easy for her.
Over the years, Turner has said Kaycie’s grades are close to the best in her class. Now, the lower grades and reprimands at school sometimes make her come home upset.
“This is where I am at,” he said. “If my daughter comes home and says, ‘Hey, I had another bad day’… Okay, I’ll shoot you, I’m done. We will do it again our way.
In the Oxford Hills School District, 185 students were homeschooled in 2019. That number nearly doubled in 2020 to 359, dropping 41% to 251 this year, according to district data.
Turner, who is self-employed, got creative with raising his daughter last year. When Kaycie struggled to write a report on a topic she had little interest in, he asked her to write about motocross, a type of off-road motorcycle racing. He and his children travel the United States to compete in and watch motocross races.
“She took him out of the park,” he said. “You would have thought I wrote it.”
Still, home schooling was difficult, he said. There were times when neither he nor his daughter was in the mood to concentrate on their homework.
“A lot of it was trying (our) relationship,” he said. “When you spend 24 hours a day with someone, seven days a week, you’re going to have problems. They are never rainbows and unicorns.
Even so, he would be more than happy to return to school at home, he said.
“I probably learned as much as she did last year, between seeing how hard the kids have it,” he said. “You know, we don’t always see that in schools. “
WILL NOT RETURN
Unlike Webb and Turner, Andrea Holmes did not re-enroll her children in the public school system this year. She started schooling her daughters, Bailey and Alyssa, in October 2020 after missing three weeks of distance school for a family affair and struggling to catch up. Instead, Holmes turned to home schooling.
The pandemic has given Holmes a reason to teach her daughters at home the way she always wanted to, and after a successful year she has no plans to quit.
Bailey, 10, said her favorite part of home schooling is that it takes ‘two seconds’ to go to school in their home in Leeds. 8-year-old Alyssa likes having more time to complete her assignments and projects.
“We love homeschooling,” she said. “We can actually slow down and do what we need to do, not in a rush, so the teachers (don’t say) ‘you have to do it fast.’ “
A few times a week, they replace learning the books with field trips to places like the Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens. Other times, Holmes turns everyday tasks like shopping into teaching experiences.
“It’s actually part of the curriculum, because they apply their math and their reading (and) because they have to read nutrition labels, so it’s all for health and science,” Holmes said.
Her mother, who moved from Arizona to Maine last year, helps her educate Bailey and Alyssa. Holmes works full-time as a freelance contract nurse, squeezing a 40-hour work week between Friday and Sunday each week.
” NOTNot everyone can (homeschool) because of their professional life, ”she said. “II have been blessed to be able to do this.
Bailey and Alyssa also miss seeing friends at school, she said, but her flexible schedule has allowed her to regularly organize outings and activities with other home school students.
In MSAD 52, which serves Turner, Leeds and Greene, 61 students were homeschooled in October 2019, almost doubling to 111 in 2020. Today, 96 students in the district are homeschooled.
Holmes said she was wary of changing political mindsets in schools. When her daughters reach high school age, she said she might reconsider the idea of re-enrolling them in the public school system. But for now, she and her daughters are happy to continue learning at home.
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