COVID-19’s Impact on Local Homeschoolers in Washtenaw County

Although most would think COVID-19 didn't affect homeschooling, it actually did. Here's what happened to homeschooling when COVID hit.

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It’s clear how the pandemic has affected schools: everyone was shoved online, and although there are hybrid options available, many families are still — by choice or not — doing virtual education. Homeschooling families seem like the ones most likely to be least affected by the pandemic. After all, they’re already doing school from home, right?

We spoke with two homeschooling groups in the area, Homeschoolers of Ann Arbor (HAA) and Lives Inspired by Godly Home Teaching (LIGHT), to see what challenges and changes they’ve faced. 

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Who Are HAA and LIGHT?

Many homeschoolers choose to supplement their education with classes at co-ops and extracurricular activities with homeschool groups.

HAA is a secular 4-H homeschooling group. Their website states they offer: “unique classes, parties, field trips, and an open gym facility as part of our regular weekly meetings.” I spoke with Chava Baum Ferrise, the youth member of the HAA board, who said, “There’s a lot of Christian homeschool groups, but not a lot of secular groups. We’re open to everyone.” Their website can be found here.

LIGHT is a Christian-based homeschool support group and serves the Washtenaw, Oakland, and Livingston County area. Their website states they are: “a volunteer homeschool support group in the Livingston County area made up of many families who meet regularly to provide opportunities for fellowship, encouragement, and/or activities for ourselves and our children.” I spoke with Joy Convis (yes, my mother!), who is the LIGHT coordinator. Their website is here.

In pre-pandemic times, what did your group look like?

HAA hosted weekly classes for homeschool students ages 5-18. LIGHT hosted regular activities, such as pizza and book reports, roller skating, sports (soccer, baseball, basketball), field trips, and volunteer opportunities. They also provide services such as a homeschool library and Meals for Moms, a food train for when families have a new baby. 

What do they look like now?

Both have seen a drastic shift. HAA expanded its offerings to daily classes focused on finances, constitutional law, theater, and socializing. Ferrise says: “We’ve shifted to older students since younger students were having more difficulty with Zoom.”

Convis says, “LIGHT is an incredibly active homeschool group: lots of field trips and in-person activities. That’s shut down for us like it’s done for everybody. We’ve had to tell new homeschoolers: ‘Don’t judge homeschooling by this year — it’s weird for everyone.”’

Has there been an increase in membership since COVID?

It seems intuitive in a year where schools are unilaterally forced online, some families might turn to homeschooling as an alternative for their family. Both HAA and LIGHT have seen an exponential membership increase.

Previously, HAA’s membership was exclusively in Washtenaw county. Now, people have joined around the country, and HAA is partnering with other groups to create an interstate support network. 

LIGHT’s membership grew by 30%. As students struggled with virtual learning and zoom classes, families sought an alternative to their children being on screens all day.

homeschooling
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Do you think these new homeschoolers will continue?

Even though there’s been a lot of growth, it’s a different type of homeschooler that’s coming into these groups. Convis says, “Previously if someone joined, it was for homeschooling’s sake. But now people are joining because they just don’t like what the school districts are doing. So unless they fall in love with homeschooling, when schools return to normal, they’ll return too.”

But some families have been wanting to homeschool, and this was the push they needed; some intended for the homeschooling to be temporary, but now see the benefits of it. Convis says: “I’ve had parents tell me, ‘I can’t believe how much less time this all takes. We’re done after a couple of hours, and then we get to just spend time together. Instead of coming home tired from school, we get the best hours for their family.’’’

So even though these families haven’t had the classic homeschool experience with the extracurricular activities, they’ve seen the benefits just in better family time and school efficiency.

What do you personally like about homeschooling?

Ferrise, still being homeschooled herself, notes: “I really love the flexibility and spontaneity — if I want to do my schoolwork at midnight, I can, and I can see my friends at noon. But I also get to be around my family a lot more. I can pick subjects I’m interested in, I learn more life skills, and I can still participate in extracurricular classes at schools.”

What are some resources you’d recommend for Homeschooling?

There are many organizations and different approaches, from unschooling to online schools to following a curriculum. Reach out to local homeschool groups, such as HAA and LIGHT, and start doing your own research to learn more!