Utahns embrace alternatives to traditional schooling

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Thousands of Utah students are homeschooled, and parents are deciding to have their children learn at home for many different reasons.

Karen Latham said she often hears the same misconceptions from people when she tells them that she homeschools her kids.

The first is, “You’re a saint; you’re so patient. I could never do that.”

That’s not true Latham says. “I’m not a saint and I’m not patient. …It’s just being a mom; it’s no different than having your kids at school except you have them with you all the time. I like my kids; I like having them with me,” she said.

Another common misconception that Latham hears is that homeschooling doesn’t work for kids who enjoy social interaction. However, she said public school was difficult for her children due to their social nature.

“They would get in trouble for being too social at school, where they would be talking when they’re not supposed to and told to keep quiet,” she said. “That was actually really hard for them.”

In fact, Latham said that there are so many classes, activities, and events available to her kids through the homeschooling community, that too much socialization is usually the problem they run into.

For example, Latham’s 16-year-old son, Dylan, attends several events and activities a week.

Dylan said he attends a debate class on Monday, choir and mock trial on Friday, and even American ninja warrior training every Wednesday. He gets to interact with peers his age through each of these classes.

“There are a lot of activities I’ve been able to do because I am homeschooled,” Dylan said.

Dylan said he also likes the independence that homeschooling offers him.

“I get to set my own pace; I get to decide what classes I am going to take based off of what I’m interested in,” he said.

Latham did not always homeschool her kids. The turning point was when she realized that her children’s hectic schedules with school, homework, sports, chores, and various other obligations, were taking a toll on their family relationships. She recalled that the busy mornings, in particular, caused a lot of stress and fighting.

“That was our relationship with our children…We have to meet all these requirements, and they didn’t really know me and I didn’t really know them,” she said.

Latham says her family has a different dynamic now that they’re not stressed all the time.

“The only requirements we’re meeting are our own requirements,” she said.

Latham readily admitted that she is not an expert on anyone else’s family, but said homeschooling can work for everyone if they find the method that is right for them.

“You could interview 50 different homeschool families, and they will all do it differently,” she said.

According to an academic article, common criticisms of homeschooling are that immunizations requirements at public schools don’t always apply to homeschoolers.

However, the article also addresses debunked myths, such as the commonly held belief that homeschooled students have trouble getting accepted to colleges.

However, homeschooling is not the only alternative for students who require an individualized learning environment to succeed.

Public School at home

Another option for homeschooling is completing public school from home. Kiawna Sorenson began learning through Utah Virtual Academy when she was in fourth grade. The program provides online classes that follow an individualized curriculum.

As it’s part of the public school system, Utah Virtual Academy is free. At the high school level, Utah Virtual Academy provides students with support from educational personnel and hosts teacher-led events where students can meet with their peers.

Heather Sorenson, Kiawna’s mom, said that Kiawna struggled in public school.

It was like night and day Sorenson says. “When she went to the brick and mortar schools, it was harder for her. She struggled, and now she’s making straight As. She’s an Honors student. The teachers work really well with her. As a learning coach, I’m able to really sit down with her and look at the lessons and really work with her one-on-one, where she’s learning a lot,” she said.

Like Dylan, Kiawna says she likes that her school schedule gives her time to do things she enjoys.

“The schedule’s really flexible,” Kiawna said. “I can do other stuff like karate, and I can play with my animals and friends.”

Homeschooling Statistics

According to the Utah Board of Education, during the 2015-2016 school year, Alpine and Davis were the counties with the highest number of homeschooled students in Utah, with 2,697 and 4,761 homeschooled students respectively.

Also during this school year, there were 16,085 students homeschooled in Utah.

According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 3 percent of students ages 5 through 17 in the United States were homeschooled (about 1.7 million students) in 2016.

The report defines homeschooled students as school-age children (ages 5–17) who receive educational instruction at home instead of at a public or private school either all or most of the time.

The report also stated that students living in rural areas are slightly more likely to be homeschooled than students in cities or suburban areas. White and Hispanic students are more likely to be homeschooled than students of other ethnicities.

The NCES report also addresses the main reasons why parents choose to homeschool. It states that in 2016, the highest percentage of children were homeschooled based on the following three reasons, which were cited by parents as “most important” factors in their decision to homeschool: “a concern about the environment of other schools (34 percent), a dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools (17 percent), and a desire to provide religious instruction (16 percent).

“It really is a fun way to learn; a fun way to grow up where these kids can just follow their own passions,” Latham said.

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