Homeschooling is booming across Virginia
Since 2019, homeschooling in Virginia has increased by 40 percent. The spike can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic that pushed many parents to realize that homeschooling is a possible lifestyle.
Homeschooling experts say they have seen growth in metropolitan areas like Richmond, Northern Virginia, and the Tidewater region, but also in rural parts of the state.
Support groups like Co-Ops that have been around for decades are also seeing a surge as they continue to support the growing number of homeschooling families.
Keyris Manzanares: The popularity of homeschooling increased rapidly in Virginia after COVID-19 forced classrooms to shut down in March 2020. Data from the Department of Education shows that nearly 62,000 Virginia students are being homeschooled this school year. That's a 40% increase since 2019 when COVID hit.
Shanell Anderson: Once everything started getting crazy, I just decided to keep them home and try to see where everything would go from there, and here we are, still homeschooling to this day.
Manzanares: That's Shanell Anderson, one of many parents left scrambling to find an education alternative for her two children when the pandemic hit. A big factor for her, she and her son are considered high risk. Anderson says she's always wanted to homeschool, and the pandemic gave her that extra push she needed.
Anderson: Honestly, homeschooling is really what I wanted to do from the beginning, since they were really small, you know? I wanted to have them home with me all the time. So, it's kind of a blessing in disguise, I say.
Manzanares: At first, Anderson says they were learning as they went, but then she switched to a homeschooling program from K12.com. A big benefit of homeschooling Anderson says is that she can spend more quality time with her children.
Anderson: With homeschooling, I'm with them a lot. I didn't really like the idea of us waking up in the morning, having to rush out to get to school, get to work, they're at school all day, I'm at work all day.
Manzanares: She's also learning who they are.
Anderson: As a parent, homeschooling my children has taught me so much about my kids. I mean, taught me how different they are, how different they learn, how different they perceive everything.
Manzanares: On top of being ahead of their schoolwork, Anderson's children are also very active.
Anderson: But I keep them in activities, a lot of afterschool activities, to try to keep them social. They're in the YMCA, boxing, gymnastics.
Manzanares: Anderson isn't alone in her homeschooling journey. Yvonne Bunn, Director of Government Affairs for the Home Educators Association of Virginia, says they've had to hire more staff to support more homeschooling families.
Yvonne Bunn: As soon as the pandemic began to affect school children, we began seeing parents who were not being successful with what was being offered with online education or their children sitting in front of a computer.
Manzanares: Bunn says homeschooling is booming across the state.
Bunn: Our largest homeschool population is in Northern Virginia, and then the Tidewater area, and then Richmond. But we are definitely seeing a lot of growth in the more rural areas also.
Manzanares: Bunn says the homeschool population is very connected to support groups like co-ops, that have been around for decades.
Bunn: The idea that homeschool families are home all alone by themselves, that is not the way it is.
Manzanares: Cultural Roots Co-Op is one of over 100 homeschooling co-ops in the state. Alycia Wright, Director of Cultural Roots, is a former public school teacher.
Alycia Wright: This co-op is really special to me because I built it originally as I homeschooled my oldest daughter. Here in the co-op, we offer all sorts of activities, not just academics, but also cultural arts.
Manzanares: Cultural Roots mom, Nikiya Ellis, says her son is thriving.
Nikiya Ellis: There are so many different opportunities for him to learn in different ways. So, he's dancing with his friends, they're doing Capoeira, they're doing yo-yo, he's playing chess.
Manzanares: As Virginia's education landscape evolves, homeschooling is the right fit for some families.
Wright: The biggest impact, I think, COVID has had was helping parents realize that this is a possible pathway, this is a possible lifestyle.