Parents have been taking their children’s education into their own hands for centuries, but in the past five years more Virginians than ever are choosing to home school their students.
“People will tell me it’s because they get to set their own curriculum,” said Jodi Swan, director of the Historic Triangle Classical Conversations. “Depending on a child’s learning style and the individual attention, parents feel like they have more control over what their kids can learn.”
Historic Triangle Classical Conversations is a homeschooling cooperative that helps parents build relationships and connect through homeschooling and a Christian education.
In Virginia, the state’s home school population saw an increase in the past five years from 29,477 students in the 2013-2014 school year to 36,984 students in 2018-2019.
In Williamsburg-James City County, the numbers have increased in the past decade from 280 in the 2009-2010 school year to 500 in the 2018-2019 school year, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education.
In York County, the number has jumped from 169 students in the 2009-2010 school year to 340 in the 2018-2019 school year.
“School divisions report the number of students who have obtained an excuse from school attendance by reason of bona fide religious training or belief as well as the number of students whose parents have notified the division superintendent – by August 15 – of their intention to provide home instruction,” said Charles Pyle, director of media relations for VDOE, in an email.
Swan has been homeschooling her children for more than two decades, starting out when all of them were just toddlers.
She said her personal reason for homeschooling was for religious purposes but she has seen additional benefits as well.
During the school day, there is a level of flexibility that wouldn’t be available through the public school system. Swan can decide to stay in and teach from a book or to take her children out for hands-on experiences.
Swan said there are aspects about home school for the students that simply outweigh the benefits of public school.
“I think people who don’t home school their kids see [home school] as something where children never get to leave the house and they’re not socialized,” she said. “It’s not like that at all. These kids are constantly mixing with other kids, and not just ones in their peer groups. They’re relating to kids of all ages.”
When she first started homeschooling her children, she said it was difficult at first to understand how to teach children of varying ages at the same time. But she saw that exposing younger students to more complex topics helps them understand and learn later on.
Now, Swan has a fourth grader, a seventh grader, a 10th grader and a 12th grader that all fall under her instruction. But, she has help.
“With us, it’s more like a private school that has a curriculum you can use,” she said. “Some parents go it on their own and work with other parents where one teaches art and the other teaches science.”
At Historic Triangle Classical Conversations, Swan said elementary school is divided into age ranges and taught by the parents. Then for middle and high school, one person teaches all of the subjects. In addition, she said many of the parents also provide tutors outside of scheduled education and the students meet outside of Friday class time for study groups.
That’s not the same at all cooperative home school programs. She said at others, parents might teach individual classes based on their own personal knowledge.
Swan said that also helps parents who want to home school their children but might not have flexibility in their own schedules to do so. It also helps provide materials and support from other parents. Swan said with Classical Conversations, parents sign an agreement sheet so that if conflicts occur throughout the year, there is a guide and expectations for how to handle them.
Overall, she said the smaller setup and more intimate education is something she’s been pleased with because she gets to decide what they’re learning and still be a part of a community.
“It’s easier to do it because you know the families and the kids,” she said. “It makes it easier to teach, you’re not just teaching a whole classroom, you have more flexibility.”