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Friday, June 23, 2023

Homeschooling Remains A Popular Option, While Defying Stereotypes

“A lot of families started realizing things weren’t working in the conventional system,” said Syreeta Farria, a homeschooling mother of two children in Detroit.

Syreeta Farria and Victoria Washington. Photo: Kerry McDonald

More families turned to homeschooling during the Covid response, but many are continuing to choose this option today, even as schools have returned to normal.

Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey reveal that homeschooling rates remain well above pre-pandemic levels, with more than five percent of students now being homeschooled, loosely compared to pre-pandemic Census data suggesting around three percent of students were homeschooled.

“A lot of families started realizing things weren’t working in the conventional system,” said Syreeta Farria, a homeschooling mother of two children in Detroit who, along with another homeschooling mother, Victoria Washington, runs a weekly homeschooling program for local families. Farria has seen the growth in homeschooling over the past three years, particularly among families of color. “There are a lot of stereotypes about what homeschoolers look like and, quite often, most people do not see moms like myself and Victoria. They do not see that there are Black and brown families in urban areas that are moving away from traditional learning and deciding to do homeschooling or non-traditional methods when it comes to educating their children,” Farria told me in a recent podcast interview.

Census data from the height of the pandemic response in 2020 suggested a five-fold increase in the number of Black homeschoolers in the U.S. at that time.

Programs like Farria’s Detroit Discoverers and Washington’s Young Scientists in Action help to support homeschooling families with engaging programming and a sense of community. Their weekly activities currently target lower-elementary aged children and revolve around a particular theme that incorporates lessons and activities at a local community center, as well as related field trips across the city.

For example, a recent theme about birds involved reading stories about birds, singing songs, and making a bird feeder out of pine cones. The homeschoolers then visited a local nature center to spot birds and learn more about their habitats. Washington’s program weaves STEM subjects and science experiments into Farria’s Detroit Discoverers, providing a balanced set of educational experiences. The pair launched their programs in the fall of 2021 and are already at capacity. They are looking at ways to expand their offerings to serve more families, while retaining the nurturing, family-centered approach that enables children to flourish.

“I think what allows our children to thrive is creating a very clear and inviting environment for them to feel safe, to grow,” said Washington during the same interview. “Safety, freedom, pleasure—those are not words that come to mind when I think of a traditional school system. It’s very oppressive and rigid and, I would say, not individualized. It’s just very cookie cutter.”

Danna Guzman is also seeing more parents turn to homeschooling in search of a more individualized, less standardized learning environment for their children. Guzman created a “pandemic pod” during the school closures of 2020 with her children and several others in her Detroit neighborhood. More parents heard about her pod and it grew from seven kids to 15.

When schools reopened, the pod families wanted Guzman to continue, so she moved to a bigger residential space in Detroit and evolved her pod into a formal microschool, or an intentionally-small, mixed age learning community with a highly personalized curriculum approach. The children who attend her program, which they cleverly named Big Bad Wolf House, are recognized homeschoolers whose families can choose either part-time or full-time drop-off options.

“All of the families that are in our group right now at Big Bad Wolf House came from conventional schooling. Very few of them had ever thought about homeschooling,” said Guzman, adding that school closures and remote learning during the pandemic led parents to consider new educational possibilities. It also helped parents to see that homeschooling can look many different ways.

Danna Guzman runs a microschool for homeschoolers in Detroit. KERRY MCDONALD

Guzman continues to field calls from new families who are eager to enroll their children in her child-centered microschool. “Some of the folks that have reached out to us are parents who are wanting to learn how to be in community with their own children and not follow the traditional way of education, which is based on coercion or things that aren’t really important to that child at that current moment,” she said.

The Big Bad Wolf House incorporates elements of Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and unschooling educational philosophies. Guzman also invites other educators from across the city to offer classes to her students, including a local forest school instructor who comes once a week. On the day I visited, the microschoolers, who range in age from five-year-olds to teens, were planting seeds in the garden that surrounds the home and learning about ecology.

“Education doesn’t have to be a constant challenge,” said Guzman, who hears from parents how much happier their children are at Big Bad Wolf House, and how much more eager they are to learn. Guzman feels the same way. “In over 20 years of working in education, this has felt the most joyful.”

Guzman joins Farria and Washington in claiming that current interest in homeschooling and similar unconventional learning models is here to stay, both in Detroit and beyond. “I think that this isn’t going to slow down,” said Guzman. “I think that as more and more people become comfortable with homeschooling, become comfortable with children being able to direct their own paths in education, a lot more people are going to gravitate towards this. A lot of folks are starting to realize that there are other ways.”

This article was republished with permission from Forbes.com.