With school plans up in the air, local parents explore homeschoolingFILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: Lauren Prather, 16, a high school junior in unincorporated DeKalb County took her computer outside to do some work April 23. She said studying at home is not as good as going to school and she misses her friends. Photo by Dean Hesse.
By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor
Decatur, GA — After an exhausting 10 weeks of distance learning, and building anxiety over returning to crowded school busses and classrooms in the midst of a pandemic, parents in Greater Decatur are exploring homeschool for the fall.
According to parents in DeKalb County, distance learning was disorganized and insufficient.
Decatur parents said Renfroe Middle School students were assigned an average of 90 minutes of work per day. There was little to no interaction with teachers or other students. Special education plans were difficult to implement. Working parents were stretched thin.
City Schools of Decatur’s plans for this fall are up in the area. The latest update from CSD was posted on their website on May 5.
It reads, “Scenarios might include running a staggered schedule for students to physically attend while they continue with online learning at the times they are not physically present, or operating fully online (with improvements we have identified during this unexpected online learning experience). Examples of staggered schedules may mean splitting the day between morning and afternoon or coming to school on alternating days.”
DeKalb County Schools currently is formulating its plans and has published a survey for parents that presents different options for reopening this fall.
With group projects falling by the wayside and socialization unsupported by the school, parents gave distance learning a solid C.
Tammie Willis is the mother of a rising eighth-grade student at Renfroe. She said she doesn’t blame the school because teachers, students, and parents alike were fumbling in March.
“Middle school is a social time. Kids needed to interact,” Willis said. “Distance learning from Renfroe offered value in a structured curriculum that met the state’s standards, but I was disappointed with the format.”
Now Willis is creating a small homeschooling group in her city of Decatur neighborhood with a few families who share the same philosophy on social distancing. Her vision: Three to five rising eighth grade students will work in groups while studying writing, history, art, Spanish, and social justice.
“If we are still distance learning in the fall, which seems like [City Schools of Decatur] have to offer, we would take that option and supplement with our homeschool network,” Willis said, noting she plans to keep her son enrolled in CSD.
City of Decatur resident Christine Cox, who has a rising seventh-grade daughter and rising sixth-grade son, said she never considered homeschooling before the pandemic. But with an immunocompromised family member in her home, she is not willing to send her children back to school yet.
“The situation in spring taught me that I need to be a more active and intentional participant to move the ball forward,” Cox said. “Spring was like, ‘Okay, let’s keep the connections going and wrap up school.’ But to go into a brand-new school year? That’s different. I will either supplement where I can [if the school offers distance learning again] or we will go to a homeschool model.”
But what is homeschooling these days? It looks nothing like distance learning, says one local expert.
Tama McGee, president of LEAD Homeschool group in Avondale Estates, said there are still misconceptions about homeschooling.
“Homeschoolers are not stuck at home,” McGee said. “We go to the park, the Atlanta History Center, and have lunch out with friends. I don’t know anyone who sits with their child and does lessons from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. That’s not homeschooling.”
LEAD is a secular homeschool community run by parents offering ala carte classes, field trip opportunities, and social events. Members pay annual fees in addition to a fee per class; classes are meant to supplement homeschool lessons, not replace them.
LEAD membership for the 2019-2020 school year was approximately 160 families from Fulton and DeKalb County. An online information session for fall 2020 classes is planned for June 30.
Amber Jessee, a class coordinator for LEAD, said this fall all classes are being held online. “Holding online classes has opened up the availability and selection of classes for our teachers. A teacher may have only had time to teach twice a week before, and now that they don’t have to sit in traffic, they can teach more classes per week.”
Other homeschool models exist, like a hybrid model where Gabriela Probst of Northlake is sending her youngest of four children.
Her son, 7, was attending Montessori when students started distance learning in March.
“When corona hit, Montessori was terribly equipped. It’s not their model,” said Probst, who prefers Catholic education. “I’m not casting aspersions on the school because no one was ready for it. When I started looking at what was coming home, I thought, ‘I can do better.’ He was thriving at Montessori; he was progressing; he liked school. But we decided it was not worth the money.”
This fall, her 11-year-old son plans to attend St. John Bosco Academy in Cumming. Students go to classes on campus two days per week and study at home the remainder of the week. Her youngest son is being homeschooled with a Catholic curriculum she purchased online.
This August in downtown Decatur, homeschool is converging with educational technology when Moonrise co-learning opens for children age four to 11.
Moonrise CEO Chris Turner, who spent a decade researching education, joined with Usit founder Ifrah Khan to create a more effective homeschool experience by providing socialization, supplemental learning guides, and on-demand childcare.
“Quite a large percentage are planning to homeschool in the fall even as schools go back in session,” he said. “Even if you are enrolled in a public or private school, you can still use Moonrise in a supplementary fashion to see if it’s right for you.”
Board-certified teachers (aka learning guides) create a custom learning plan for each student to work with parents during the week and report back. Membership is $150 per month, which includes an online community and 10 hours of time at Moonrise.
Parents considering homeschool are still holding out hope CSD and other school districts will be an option for them this fall.
Cox said she has, “every intention to send them back when all of this is over. Hope [CSD] will let us know what they plan to do soon, but they’re still figuring it out.”
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