By Will Thomas
VCU Capital News Service
Alycia Wright, a Short Pump resident, used to have her own classroom where each day she taught dozens of middle-school students. That all changed after Wright had her fourth child and decided to begin home-schooling her children.
“We tried it for a year, loved the freedom and we have not stopped,” she said.
A licensed middle school teacher for 12 years with a master’s degree, Wright initially made the switch to home schooling as a financial decision: It meant saving on private-school tuition for her two daughters. After experiencing a year in the home-schooling community, Wright was more than happy to continue home-schooling her children.
Wright’s children are among more than 1,000 home-schoolers in Henrico County, where the number of students being taught at home has risen 130 percent since 2006.
Home schooling involves more than just parents teaching students. Wright praises professionals from the community who are willing to teach her children and other home-schoolers.
“Our science teacher is a veterinarian,” Wright said. “The history teacher is actually the curator of the Virginia Historical Society.”
Last year, the number of home-schoolers in Virginia eclipsed 40,000 students for the first time – an increase of 50 percent in the past decade, according to newly released statistics from the Virginia Department of Education. The agency has been collecting and reporting data on the home education population since 1994.
If home-schoolers constituted a school division, it would be the seventh-largest district in the state.
“It’s become more commonplace, it used to be regarded as somewhat fringe,” said Karen Skelton, president of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. The nonprofit group, which began in 1993, provides advice and other assistance to home-schooling families.
Skelton lives in Annandale in Northern Virginia. Both of her children are home-schooled graduates.
Skelton said that every month, she hears from families frustrated with their local schools. She believes this is a major reason why more Virginians are turning to home education.
“Customizing one’s education to fit the learning style – to me, that has been the biggest (reason for the) increase,” Skelton said.
She said home schooling has grown in popularity nationwide with parents becoming more involved in their children’s education. “You learn together as a family, and you do more hands on things. People come to it with an idea of, ‘This could be a real positive experience and a new lifestyle.”
Another reason for the increase in home schooling is that parents want to provide hands-on help to their children who may have learning disabilities, said Yvonne Bunn, director of legislative affairs for the Home Educators Association of Virginia. That group was formed in 1983 – the first home education organization in Virginia.
Bunn said parents often approach her with questions about home schooling. “They ask me, ‘All right – give me the facts. Tell me what the outcomes are, and I want to make a choice that’s the best thing for my family.’”
Parents are especially concerned about their children’s academic success. Bunn tells them that home schooling produces excellent results.
“We have some of the highest levels of standardized achievement tests scores. Our kids are going to college; they are getting into universities with scholarships,” Bunn said.