School choice is a term that floats around during every legislative session, and most consider it with charter school legislation. But in reality, school choice reaches across the spectrum of education options in Mississippi, including homeschooling.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the only thing a parent must do to start the homeschooling journey is to complete a “certificate of enrollment.”
While any parent in Mississippi could choose homeschooling, the reasoning varies among each family.
The Smith Family
Ashley Smith was once a public school teacher but felt a calling to be home with her children.
“I was a middle school science teacher until I decided to be home with my one-and-a-half year old and my five-month-old,” said Smith.
Her oldest is now of school age, and they’ve been wrapping up their first semester of homeschooling.
“It was a series of events. But ultimately God made it abundantly clear that homeschooling was exactly what our family needed,” said Smith.
Smith said that while she is the primary teacher for her child, all three of her children are already benefiting from homeschooling, and she’s not the only person her children see all day.
“Their father, grandparents and other adult friends also stand in as “teachers.” Homeschooling is a different mindset than traditional education. Children are learning all the time,” said Smith. “They are sponges taking in information from all of their surroundings. So their education is certainly not limited to my teaching.”
Though Smith’s children will not be on the playground at school at recess, they still have plenty of social opportunities.
“Kids need to play. Extracurricular activities take on many forms when they are young. Playing outside, playing with friends, we do free classes frequently, they play recreational sports too. But I am very cautious about maximizing all of their time. They need time to simply be, create, and imagine,” said Smith.
The homeschooling mom added that her kids aren’t isolated and that she supplements their education regularly.
“We are a member of other homeschool groups in the area so we do go on field trips and play together. One of the groups also offered a nature math class every Thursday in November, so my son (was) doing that. He loves it,” said Smith. “ I use the My Father’s World curriculum and supplement with the Math for a Living Education curriculum because my boys love math. But I will only supplement when they show interest for things or it is evident that more is needed. I also have a calendar notebook that we do daily with time, date, seasons, weather, and feelings in it.”
The Holland Family
While Smith is starting her homeschooling journey with her three children, Denise Holland has already homeschooled three children of her own–Connor, Cade, and Cassidy.
Holland said that they learned early on that traditional public school was not the best option for them.
“Connor had attended a private K3 and K4. Even by then, we knew that we weren’t completely satisfied with some of the ideas he was bringing home, nor were we satisfied with how he was already being labeled and put in a box,” said Holland. “ Also, at that time, we lived in a city with terrible public schools. When I got pregnant with my third child, I knew that we would struggle to afford private school for 3 children on a pastor’s salary. We had friends who homeschooled and we loved what we saw in them. But ultimately, we made the decision because we firmly believed that is what God led us to do. Without that conviction, I’m not sure I could have made it!”
Holland said that family time, individualized learning and control over content were some of the perks of homeschooling, but she knew that the kids wouldn’t be under just her instruction forever.
“I researched what colleges required of their students and made sure that we had all of the required courses. We chose college prep curriculum across the board. Then, while the kids were in high school, they attended a local community college in the dual enrollment program in order to be introduced to classroom dynamics while they still had me to help guide them,” said Holland.
She added that her children’s success dispels some of the misconceptions about how homeschooled students often “turn out.”
“My oldest attended USM and graduated from the Recording Industry Management program. He is now on staff at Pinelake Church as the Worship Technology Specialist. My second child was my struggling learner. When she finished high school, she took a gap year and served as a missionary at a children’s ranch in Honduras. After returning, she entered a two-year program at Hinds Community College in Sign Language Interpreting. She is now working at Mississippi School for the Deaf. My youngest son is a sophomore at Mississippi College in the Biology/Pre-med program.”
Her youngest, Cade, received one of only four Trustee scholarships to MC, which covers all room, board, and tuition for all 4 years.
Looking back on homeschooling
Connor Holland, the oldest of the Holland kids, spoke with Y’all Politics about his experiences as a homeschool student. As far as college prep was concerned, Holland said his mother focused on learning and retention but didn’t just give good grades away.
“I would say I was fully prepared for college. If anything, the only thing about homeschooling that made my life more difficult was that I felt like anything less than an A grade was tantamount to failing. Not that I got straight A’s in high school, but if I didn’t do well on a test, many times I had to re-study the material and try again,” said Connor. “However, the lower score was usually the one my mom recorded. So I did not get much GPA benefit from re-taking tests, only the benefit of better understanding the material.”
Connor added that he was also socially prepared for “the real world” in homeschool, despite common misconceptions that homeschoolers are “sheltered.”
“Between being active in large homeschool groups growing up and being active in fairly large churches, I was never really lacking in social experiences. I played baseball at the local ballpark. I took karate lessons in a large class with many different kinds of people. Not to mention just playing with neighborhood kids,” said Connor. “So yeah, I may not have been around my friends nearly as much as people at “normal” school, but I was far from isolated or sheltered.”
Despite his positive homeschooling experience, Connor and his wife Katie haven’t decided if they’ll continue the homeschooling tradition when they have children.
“It’s tough to say whether or not I would homeschool my children when I’m probably still a few years away from even having my first kid. But I certainly won’t rule it out now, either. It may be that my wife and I both just want to be able to keep working, so we’ll find the right school for our kids to attend,” said Holland. “Or maybe things change and we make the decision to homeschool our kids for various reasons. But yeah, I would totally homeschool my kids if that’s what my wife–who was both private and public schooled growing up–and I decided was best for our family.”
For more information about homeschooling requirements in Mississippi, visit the Mississippi Department of Education website.