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Iowa families turn to first-time homeschooling amid pandemic

Local 5 spoke with three Iowa families who have made the decision to take on the role of parent and teacher.

IOWA, USA — Gov. Reynolds issued a proclamation on Friday requiring schools to conduct at least half of all learning done to be in-person.

Parents across the state are getting worried.  As a result, some are turning to homeschooling. Many, for the first time.

If you asked, Britni Graham, of Center Point, would have told you she'd never homeschool her kids. 

"I was always the first to say I could never be a homeschooling parent," said Graham.

But now, along with two other moms-turned-teachers we talked with, she has more than enough reason to take on the role of teacher come Fall.

Credit: Portraits by Jeanna
Stephanie Fisher plans to homeschool her son Will this Fall.

Stephanie Fisher, of Oxford, Iowa, has a 4-year-old son, Will. Will has both autism and asthma--things she says makes it very difficult for him to wear a mask or understand social distancing.

"He does not understand that he can't go hug his friends, hug his teachers, that kind of thing," Fisher said.

Because of that, Fisher does not feel safe sending him back to school, saying there wouldn't be enough protection from COVID-19.  This also means she won't be starting her regular job back up come the fall, but she knows the scope of that sacrifice.

"I worked for the school district last year, and I loved my job," Fisher said. "But I love my kids more."

RELATED: Gov. Reynolds orders schools to prioritize in-person learning this fall

Credit: Britni Graham
Britni Graham, of Center Point, began homeschooling her children last Spring. She'll start again in the Fall.

Graham, meanwhile, was laid off back in April because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the extended time at home, she was able to start diving into helping her kids learn.  She was hooked.

"When I was kind of forced to be in charge of my children's learning, I was able to see them thrive and be more interested," Graham said.

She said COVID-19 concerns really weren't that much of a factor--it was more of a way for her to personalize the learning for her children.

RELATED: Iowa Department of Public Health reports backlog of COVID-19 test results over the weekend

Credit: Jacqueline Ellson
Jacqueline Ellson plans to homeschool her Kindergarten- and 5th grade-aged children in the Fall.

Jacqueline Ellson is a nurse at a hospital in Cedar Rapids, and her husband is a UPS driver, making both of them essential workers. Because of the constant potential exposure her line of work gives her, Ellson says safety played a big part in her decision to homeschool.

She also said she wants to be ahead of the curve in case schools have to close down again.

"I'm already in my homeschooling-mode," Ellson said.  "I don't have to worry about scrambling for a curriculum three months from now, when and if they were to shut down again."

According to the Iowa Department of Education, these families have two options:

  1. Competent Private Instruction; this would include partnering with a school for dual-enrollment.
  2. Independent Private Instruction; this wouldn't involve any parent qualification or assessment requirements.

Buffy Campbell, the School Improvement Consultant and Home School Contact with the Iowa Department of Education, suggests families considering homeschooling should take a look at the complete Iowa private instruction handbook that you can download online.

"Take a good look at that handbook and think about what’s the best fit for them and for their situation and what kinds of supports they’re going to need or want,' said Campbell. "Make that laundry list. Make sure that you’re absolutely clear on all the rules - the ins and outs. Take the time."

Diana Sankey, of Marion, Iowa, has been homeschooling her children with her husband Josh for nearly a decade. When it comes to giving advice to first-time homeschooling parents, she says don't be hard on yourself.

"Take it easy, don't have too high of expectations," said Sankey, who has eight children under age 12 at home.

Credit: Diana Sankey
Josh and Diana Sankey have eight children under the age of 12 in their household.

"Sometimes when I would jump in and try to do everything, I would actually feel a sense of failure faster than if I just dropped the bar down below a little bit."

She also said homeschooling is a "battle of the brain" and to not get too discouraged if you don't find a rhythm right away.

"The kids don't mind," she said. "Homeschooling is awesome because it gives you freedom. Education looks all different ways."

To learn more about the options, visit the DOE Website at this link.

You can also download the complete handbook here that breaks down your options.

RELATED: Iowa Department of Education releases document addressing FAQs about Return to Learn proclamation

RELATED: Des Moines Public Schools superintendent responds to state guidance in fall reopening