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While it’s been a nationwide trend for families to turn to homeschooling after the classroom moved to families’ living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has not been a sharp increase of homeschool students in the Bryan and College Station districts.

Both districts require families to submit a letter declaring their intent to withdraw their child from the public school district to homeschool their student.

Representatives from both districts said the same requirement is not in place for students who re-enroll from homeschool, and there is also missing data from students who have never enrolled in public school and instead have been homeschooled since kindergarten.

Chuck Glenewinkel, communications director for the College Station school district, said the district sees an average of about 100 students withdraw to homeschool each year. The 2021-2022 school year saw a little higher number with 145 students.

There was a larger increase during the 2020-2021 school year, which he referred to as “the COVID year,” with 301 withdrawing from the district for homeschool. However, as of late April, they knew of 261 students who chose to re-enroll this year from homeschool.

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Barbara Ybarra, associate superintendent of teaching and learning for the Bryan school district, said there was a small rise during the pandemic and into the 2021-2022 school year. However, that increase was about 20 more students, accounting for about “half a percent” of the entire district.

She said it is the parents’ discretion for their child’s education, and state law protects that choice, whether it is in a public, private or homeschool setting.

She said it ultimately comes down to what is best for the family and the student.

“That is, honestly, all we ever want,” Ybarra said. “We want the best instructional setting for every kid that we serve and that is in the Brazos Valley, quite honestly, so what does that look like for them.”

College Station students Ariel and Peyton Little, 14 and 12 years old, respectively, began attending One Day Academy in 2020.

Ariel, who attended Greens Prairie Elementary School, wanted to change her educational setting before starting at Pecan Trail Intermediate School. In fall 2019, she and her younger sister, who had been at Greens Prairie also, enrolled at the International Leadership of Texas charter school. It was not a good fit for either student. Ariel enrolled in One Day Academy homeschool in January 2020, while Peyton returned to Greens Prairie.

Their father, Allen Little, said he felt there was a marked difference in the virtual learning Peyton received at Greens Prairie and the remote learning Ariel had at One Day Academy, preferring One Day. Peyton joined her older sister at the homeschool site in time for the 2020-21 school year.

At One Day Academy, students go onto a campus one or two days a week to receive education from certified teachers. The remainder of their learning is done at home.

Allen compared it to college where they meet once or twice a week and then must complete the other course work on their own.

Their mother, Terri Little, said she likes having access to teachers to get answers for her daughters as they work at home or get support for a lesson.

Allen said homeschool can look different for different families. For some, it means “unschooling” in which the students do not learn the traditional math and science curriculum. For others it means creating a curriculum that fits within a certain set of values. For his family, Allen said, it was important to structure their homeschool curriculum around preparing them for college.

The state requires homeschool students to receive education in language arts, math and good citizenship, but other subjects are left up to the parent.

The Littles receive core subject instruction both on the One Day Academy campus and at home, but also learn through American Heritage Girls — a Christian alternative to Girl Scouts — and groups, such as Recess and Road Trips.

Allen said homeschool does not have to look and feel academic, and he enjoys the freedom it gives his daughters to learn the way that works best for them.

It also adds time back as a family and for academics, saying they can work during lunch if they choose and do not have to spend time changing rooms between classes.

Peyton, whose favorite subject is English, said she enjoys being around her family more.

“Sometimes I do need breaks to myself to just go over to friends,” she said. “I really enjoy having fun times sometimes, but when I need to, I can just go away, and I still see friends, but I still see my family more.”

Ariel, whose easiest subject currently is algebra, said she enjoys having the freedom to go to the pool or do fun things with her other homeschooled friends in the middle of the day and also prefers being in class with students who want to learn.

Terri said her daughters are less anxious and happier in the homeschool setting.

Suzanne Gose, communications chair for Community Homeschool Center in Bryan, was previously a middle school Spanish teacher and chose to homeschool her children after deciding she did not enjoy the stress that came with traditional schooling.

“I don’t think it’s evil. I don’t think anything’s bad,” she said. “I just think, why would I let somebody else have all the fun?”

She said parents sometimes feel intimidated by the thought of becoming a teacher if they do not feel equipped to teach, but parents are resourceful. She says parents teach their children language and to tie their shoelaces before beginning school.

“That is homeschooling,” she said. “So when the public school teachers say ‘Discipline and education starts at home,’ it does. Homeschooling is just a natural extension of parenting. It’s just do you want to? If you don’t want to, don’t do it. But if you want to, that’s it. That’s the criteria. You have a child, and you want to homeschool.”

She said while public school is seen as the “norm,” homeschooling is millennia old compared to public school systems, so she encouraged parents who are interested in trying it to give it a chance.

“If you don’t like it, you can always put them back in, so maybe try it during the summer,” said Gose, whose oldest son graduated in 2020. “It is harder with kids that have been in the system because they’ve been trained this is how you learn. They think you have to sit at a desk. They think you have to read from a textbook. We have textbooks, but my kids learn mostly from all the living books, you know, the autobiographies and all that stuff we read as adults or children’s stories.”

She said there are some homeschooled students who she knows should not be in that setting, but she also knows of some in a traditional educational setting who would benefit from homeschool.

One of the intangible benefits, Gose and the Littles observed with homeschool, is the time they have with their families.

“Looking back at the 20 years of homeschooling, I know I’ve messed up a lot, but I can’t say, ‘Oh, I wish I had had more time with my kids,’ and that’s awesome,” Gose said.

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