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The number of homeschoolers in Florida has spiked in a dramatic way since the start of the pandemic.
The state saw an overall 35.2% increase in the number of homeschoolers between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, according to the Florida Department of Education.
The counties both experienced over 60% increases in the number of children being homeschooled between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years.
Now, some local parents who began homeschooling their children because of the spread of COVID-19 do not intend to send their children back to traditional schools, despite their abating fears over the virus.
In fact, some parents in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties say, in homeschooling, they’ve found a solution to concerns about what and how their children are being taught.
Some believe that homeschooling just might be the permanent way to go.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the pandemic created a lot of uncertainty for parents. So as a result, having the option to legally educate your child at home started to become really attractive,” said Lupita Eyde-Tucker, an administrator for multiple Florida home education help groups including Pensacola Homeschool Families.
“At home, at least, parents knew there weren’t all these question marks about exposure,” Eyde-Tucker continued. “Some parents did it because they didn’t want their children to be exposed. Some parents did it because they didn’t want their children to be masked.”
Homeschooling the way to go?
Statewide, there were 106,115 students enrolled in Florida home education programs for the 2019-2020 school year.
The following year, in 2020-2021, the number of Florida students registered as participating in home education programs jumped to 143,431 — an increase of 37,316, or 35.2%.
Locally, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties both had exactly 1,300 homeschoolers enrolled in home education programs for the academic year 2019-2020.
But during the 2020-2021 school year, the number of homeschoolers in Escambia County jumped to 2,111, equaling an increase of 62.4%.
In Santa Rosa County, the number of enrolled homeschoolers rose to 2,150 during the 2020-2021 school year, equaling a 65.4% increase.
Eyde-Tucker has been homeschooling since 1999. She has five children. Two of them are still high school-aged.
“I’ve graduated three of them, only two more to go,” she said.
But Eyde-Tucker’s relationship to homeschooling in Florida is bigger than just her role as a homeschool mom. As the publisher of HomeschoolingFlorida.com, she has connections to homeschooling families across the state.
She has spoken with many brand-new homeschool parents in recent years who took on the personal responsibility of teaching their children due to concerns about COVID-19 safety and the restrictions placed on educational institutions at the outbreak of the pandemic.
But now, two years removed from the pandemic’s start, Eyde-Tucker said many of those same parents are choosing to continue with homeschooling and not to reenroll their children in traditional schools.
“I would say that it’s probably 50-50. Half of them are like, ‘I can’t wait until this is over,’ and half of them are like, ‘You know this actually went pretty well — maybe, you know, maybe we can keep going,'” Eyde-Tucker said. “For those that tend to keep going, I find that the reason why is because they realize that they own their own time now.
“For them, it’s like, ‘Wow! We can do so much with our children’s education. We don’t even need to look back,'” she continued. “For others, it’s like, ‘This opens up a lot for my child, now, he can learn whatever he wants to and actually accelerates his education.'”
Whitney Martin, of Milton, understands the sentiment. Martin began homeschooling her kindergarten-age son last year.
“We think that individualized education is important,” Martin said. “Like, why waste your kid’s time — if they have talents or things that they find interesting — why would you waste their time in school where they are waiting on 20 other kids in a class getting what they need to get done, done, when they could be spending their time on things that actually matter to them?”
Homeschool stigmas lessen
Martin herself was homeschooled through elementary school and said that she is glad that some of the stigmas associated with homeschooled children have lessened.
“When people ask what was the best memory of your childhood,” Martin said, “I will always tell them, it is the fact that my parents homeschooled and that being homeschooled is the best gift that I could have ever been given as a human — just the time I spent with my parents and that I was given the time to become my own person.”
Eyde-Tucker said that she, like Martin, is glad the stereotype of homeschoolers, as socially less skilled people than students who attend traditional schools, is finally being realized as false.
“Socialization happens everywhere. You socialize with people at Boy Scouts, at the library, at church, at the grocery store. We talk to people all the time,” Eyde-Tucker. “It’s just that the idea that your child has to socialize with their specific age group is actually what people think socialization is, but in reality, it is interacting with all different age groups — that’s true socialization.”
Many homeschoolers across the state join homeschooling groups or “co-ops” designed to bring homeschooling families together for lessons or group field trips, and multiple such groups exist in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
“When homeschoolers go places and do stuff, the recurring comment is, ‘Wow, you guys are homeschoolers. We always love when homeschoolers come because they are so polite, and they always like to talk to us and answer questions in full sentences,'” Eyde-Tucker said.
Martin co-founded her own local homeschooling co-op called the Northwest Florida Sunshine Leaners around the start of the pandemic. At the time of its founding, the majority of Northwest Florida Sunshine Leaners’ membership were parents brand-new to the world of homeschooling.
“I would say that 60% were first timers,” Martin said. “Then, I would say the others had already been dabbling in part-time homeschool stuff.”
Like many homeschool parents in the area, Stephanie Miskowski, of Pensacola, began homeschooling her 14-year-old son out of frustration with the public school’s response to the pandemic.
“He did the remote learning and the remote learning was awful,” Miskowski recalled.
Miskowski has been homeschooling her son for about a year and explained she started teaching her son at home after experiencing a myriad problems connecting to remote learning websites over her home computer.
“One day, he was trying to take a test, and it just wouldn’t work. He was trying so hard and was so frustrated that I was like, ‘I am done,'” Miskowski remembered.
“Now schools are back, but schools are still bad,” she added. “They are constantly late. The buses are awful. People I know keep saying that kids aren’t coming home on time, and when they’re already coming home in the dark, it’s already scary enough.”
Similarly, Gale Han, of Pace, who also began homeschooling her children last year, has continued to do homeschool in part out of concerns related to her daughters’ safety.
“At home, we know that they will not be involved in the fighting or the bullying or won’t have to worry about them being mistreated,” Han said.
Her daughters are both around the age to start first grade. As an alternative to remote learning, Han began homeschooling her daughters in the fall of 2020. When remote learning ended, she and her husband then grew concerned about their daughters’ possible exposures to COVID-19 if they were re-enrolled to in-person classes at their former private school.
“So we homeschooled them and learned that homeschool is actually pretty good,” Han said. “Even though there is no COVID right now, we are not sure if we are going to put them back in private or public school.”
With she and her husband both working from home and their daughters now learning at home, the family has grown to love the time they spend together.
“Another thing, we want to put our kids back in school, but we don’t know what teachers are teaching,” Han said. “Right now, we fully control the material: all the knowledge, all the conversation, all language, all the things they can learn.”
Han, like many new homeschool parents in the local area, said she could see herself continuing to teach her children, herself, at home, for the foreseeable future.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8680.