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More parents opt for home schooling in NM

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Megan Allard doesn’t normally fight with her 8-year-old son Jack, who she describes as a tender-hearted rule follower.

But when schools shut down in the spring and learning was done remotely, there were battles nearly every day and it became clear pretty quickly that elementary school online wasn’t a good fit, despite a gracious teacher.

Megan Allard does a worksheet with 8-year-old Jack as part of his home-school curriculum. Allard said that Jack does slightly more daily academics than at traditional school but socializing has been harder to achieve. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Looking to avoid that stress while still maintaining routine this school year, Allard decided to home-school Jack for third grade, as well as his 5-year-old sister Finley for preschool.

“This is our first year ever home schooling, never planned on it,” Allard said.

The unpredictability of school reopening was a major factor, she said.

“Our family doesn’t do inconsistency well,” Allard said.

“We kind of did it because there was such a huge lack of consistency coming from (Albuquerque Public Schools) so we just kind of made our own,” she added.

While schools that meet health and planning criteria can bring elementary students back on campus for a hybrid of in-person and online learning, APS extended remote learning through the first semester. Other districts across the state have also made similar calls.

The Allards said they have found comfort in “basement school” since starting in August – something stable while the coronavirus continues to aggressively disrupt the equilibrium of schooling and other day-to-day parts of life.

Megan Allard is home-schooling 8-year-old Jack for third grade simultaneously while teaching 5-year-old Finley for preschool. She says she is able to overlap lessons when appropriate or assign independent tasks to one child to work one-on-one with the other. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“When I start to think about what’s going on everywhere else, it’s really easy to kind of spin out. But right now if I think about what’s happening in my home – it’s awesome.” She said. “We’re all getting along so well. We are learning together and growing together. And we’re happy.”

It’s not just the Allards turning to home schooling this school year.

For students who live in APS boundaries, home school enrollment jumped from 2,393 students last year to 3,818 this school year. That’s according to state Public Education Department counts before disenrollments from home school.

As of late September, there were 13,242 students registered for home schooling statewide, according to Karen Woerner, deputy director of the Options for Parents and Families division at the PED. Elementary grades saw the highest enrollment numbers.

That’s a more than 50% increase from last school year’s 8,686 students and an even greater increase from 2018-19 when 7,549 students were registered for home schooling.

“I’m sure it seems a little high, but if you consider that the number of students across the state is almost 330,000 … the increase is relatively small,” Woerner said.

She added that more than 250 students – who were not included in the 13,242 count – were originally registered for home schooling this year and later withdrew to go to public schools.

“I think some of the parents didn’t understand that they didn’t have to register for home school if they were going to stay enrolled in their public school and just wanted to do the schoolwork from home,” she said.

For the most part, any family can home-school if they choose.

“State law does not have any criteria other than that the instructor have at least a high school diploma or a GED or better and that the parent is the operator of the home school providing a home study program covering all the basic subjects,” she said.

And a family can opt into home schooling throughout the year, she said.

Woerner said parents are required to notify the PED if they pursue home schooling, but they aren’t required to say why.

Cathy Heckendorn, board member of home-schooling support organization Christian Association of Parent Educators New Mexico, said she’s mainly hearing that parents, like Allard, are choosing to home-school because the pandemic resulted in school closures and reopening restrictions.

Since April, Heckendorn said inquiries into home schooling have skyrocketed at the statewide organization, increasing upward of 400%.

Heckendorn, who home-schooled her own children, noted that home schooling is a big task to embark on.

“There is a lot to it and (you) really just take it one step at time,” she said.

She also said it’s not unheard of for families to home-school for a year or two – such as to boost one-on-one instruction – and put their kids back into the public school system afterward.

Allard’s ultimate goal is to get Jack and Finley back into public schools. But she doesn’t know when that will happen.

Megan Allard said one of the best parts of home schooling so far has been the family support. Even the family cat Macaroni supervises 5-year-old Finley during an activity. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Until their physical health isn’t immediately at risk, we can’t go back,” she said.

It’s a major commitment both in time and money, Allard said. She has stepped down from her job doing online tutoring and took on home-schooling full time, which she recognizes not all parents can do.

And there’s also guilt from leaving the Bandelier Elementary School community that she has cherished being a part of for years.

But it was the right call for the Allards.

“I am certain that this is a period that I will treasure forever,” she said.

From the mummified apples and trips to the BioPark to the opportunity to teach her kids about mental health, Allard said she has fully embraced this time watching her kids learning and growing – even if it’s temporary.

“I just kind of had to make it up and say, ‘Here’s what school is going to be’ since nobody else knows,” she said.

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