Interest in homeschooling grows in distance-learning era

Families across the region are a few weeks into virtual learning, but a growing number of local parents are deciding to take matters into their own hands by switching to homeschooling.

Some reasons parents have decided to part ways with school systems stem from an apprehension about the quality of distance learning, or concerns for their family’s health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced all local school districts to have a remote reopening.

Classical Conversations is an international, faith-based homeschooling organization, and Mio Cabeza of Edinburg is the representative of the Rio Grande Valley’s chapter. Homeschooling families who join Classical Conversations, also known as CC, have access to education materials and programs, and are plugged into local groups that meet weekly for collective lessons.

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The number of parents who have shown interest in joining the local chapter of Classical Conversations this year is already 90% more than the interest shown in 2019, Cabeza said.

The Valley’s Classical Conversation group was founded in the late 1990s with six students. Now, there are 103 students, from ages between 4 and 18. The chapter’s weekly collective lessons are held at local churches, but because of the pandemic, some students have been joining virtually.

Cabeza said she expected the rise of parents opting to homeschool their children during the pandemic.

“We knew that not alot of parents were going to feel comfortable letting their kids return to school, and we knew that learning from screens wasn’t going to work for all families,” said Cabeza, who was born and raised in the Bronx in New York City.

Cabeza has been using the organization’s curriculum to homeschool her four children, two of which will be graduating this school year.

Lessons provided by the organization cover all the subjects of a public school’s curriculum, including calculus, world geography and U.S. History. Latin is also included in the program.

Cabeza said she and her husband knew they wanted to homeschool their children before their children were born, before they were even married.

CC’s mantra, which Cabeza said is what initially drew her to the organization, is “the purpose of education is to know God and make him known.”

“I wanted a Christ-centered education for my children,” she said. “And through CC, I knew that if I put the word of God in my children — the math, the history, the English — everything else will be added… When I came across CC, I came across a community, which was support, accountability and fellowship.”

Cabeza said homeschooling her children helped her foster a strong relationship with her children.

“What I am most concerned with is character, and I know for a fact that if I would not have stayed home with my children, I would not have the relationship I have with each of them now,” she said. “… Homeschooling is not only academics, homeschooling is a lot about character training.”

Cabeza emphasized that unlike the system of public schools, children are not held to expectations according to their age. There are no grade levels that distinguish students as behind or ahead in subjects. Instead, the programs offer three stages of learning: the grammar, dialectic and rhetoric levels.

“With homeschooling, the parent is the teacher, they decide what the level of their child is,” she said. “They don’t go by age, they go by the parent and child’s capacity…. We have been trained and doctrinated into believing that if your son or daughter is a fifth grader, they need to learn this and if they aren’t, they’re not doing well — they are getting labeled. The problem with that is that not every child learns at the same pace, and they have different styles.”

Becca Richerson of Mission is a second generation homeschooler, and has been a part of the CC community since her oldest son, Isaac Richerson who is now 8 years old, started school. She also recently started homeschooling her other son, Caleb Richerson who is 4 years old.

Growing up in Austin and being homeschooled, Becca said it was never a question that she wanted her own children to be raised the same way — being taught by her parents at home with her five siblings fostered her love for learning.

“As a homeschool student, I really enjoyed my life,” she said. “I was just so grounded in knowing who I was, and knowing what part I played in my family. I really liked it, I felt like I had freedom to get my education… I was happy with it, I felt excited about it and always felt like there was so much available to me. I had all the potential in the world, and I knew it.”

Becca is also a part-time registered nurse, and is about a fifth of the parents of CC that work.

The flexibility homeschooling her two sons offers is one of the many reasons she chooses to do so. If Isaac is in a productive mood one day, she squeezes in an extra lesson; if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed one morning, they take it slow.

“I can look at them and say ‘these are their strengths, and these are their weaknesses, and this is what they are good at, and this is what they enjoy,’” Becca said. “I get to individualize their education for them and help them discover what they like.”

CC’s programs integrate a lot of music and creativity in lessons. Every week, students learn a history sentence that can be sung. The history sentence last week was about the Boston Tea Party.

“Learning doesn’t have to be fun, but it can be fun,” Becca said. “Learning for us is not just the books and the schoolwork, but it’s life, and we get to learn all the time.”

She also mentioned that parents don’t “have to be an expert at every subject matter, you simply just have to be dedicated to helping your kid and go and find the resources they need.”

“Homeschooling is way more simple than people understand,” she added. “Public schools have their place and for some people that works best, but homeschooling is not a duplicate of the classroom setting simply at home, it is its own breed — it is its own style entirely, and there are lots of ways to do it.”