SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As many students across the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry head back to the classrooms, a large number of children in the area don’t ever have to worry about missing the bus or forgetting their packed lunches on the first day of school.
That’s because their parents have gone the non-traditional route of teaching their kids at home, rather than sending them to public or private schools.
“It’s the culture of our family now, it’s just what we do,” said Morgan Graham, a mother of six whose family lives in Richmond Hill.
The two oldest kids went to traditional public school, she said.
She and her husband currently homeschool their youngest four, which they first started seriously considering with their 11-year-old daughter Bella Grace after witnessing the horrific Sandy Hook massacre on their TV screens.
Bella Grace, now in 6th grade, was in Pre-K at the time.
“We couldn’t imagine sending them to school now, because it’s just what we’re used to,” Graham told News 3.
Reasons for choosing to homeschool vary, ranging from wanting to keep together military families who often relocate, to wanting their child to have more specialized help while learning with disabilities.
That was the case with Kelly Bouchard, who is entering her second year of homeschooling, in part due to her husband’s enlistment in the Army.
Whatever the case, these parents have decided that forgoing traditional public or private education is the ideal option for their young learners.
“We have three kids, two school-aged, with the oldest having special needs,” Bouchard told News 3 about her 10-, 8-, and 4-year-old children.
She lost faith in the public school system’s ability to work with her daughter’s special needs, so she opted to try teaching the kids at home.
Bouchard is far from alone.
Within the Savannah area is a growing community of families seeking support from one another as they navigate the world of homeschooling, and they all have essentially the same goal as any parent with kids who learn within a typical schoolhouse setting: to teach their kids all they need to know to be successful in the real world as adults.
In fact, there’s a whole community online where parents come together to organize get-togethers, ask questions and openly discuss what they most have in common: their lives as part parent, part instructor.
The Facebook Group, Homeschooling in Savannah, has over 1,600 members that post regularly.
When it comes to teaching your own children, homeschooling parent Maureen Smith told News 3 that it’s not as difficult as it may seem.
“In most circumstances, parents are perfectly capable of educating their child, so long as they are willing to put in the time and effort to learn about their child’s specific learning styles, and then find and implement the right curriculum that meets that child’s needs,” Smith said.
For those that are largely unfamiliar with homeschooling and what it entails, some local parents have answered a few questions on the topic.
What’s a major misconception about homeschooling?
People always say, how are they going to be socialized? But my children are very socialized.
We go to church on Sundays, we’ve been to a nursing home and they’ve interacted with the seniors there. They have playgroups they attend, we go to a co-op on Fridays with other kids.
I love to expose my kids to all ages, as well, because my ultimate goal is to have them go out into the world and work hopefully, or if they choose to stay at home, to be able to raise their kids to do whatever they want.
That’s why we go to the co-ps, or the nursing home or the playgroups, so they’re around a diverse group of people.”Morgan Graham, homeschooling parent
Why did you choose to homeschool for your child?
We’re coming into the fourth year for us.
We started this path because my oldest has childhood apraxia of speech, and with research coming here, it showed that for those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504s (blueprints for how schools will provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability, according to Understood.org), even though they’re legally bound to receive certain assistance, it’s not always followed through.
When he would have started in a public school setting, he was considered nonverbal.
He does speech twice a week with a private therapist, and is now able to communicate with just minor issues of others understanding him.
If he attended school, he would have had to miss time to do his therapy because he would have needed more than most school speech therapists are able to offer.”Malissa Denney, homeschooling parent
Do you think the recent tragic case involving homeschooled children in Effingham County has giving homeschooling a bad rap?
The system failed those children in ways that homeschooling had nothing to do with, but blame needed to be laid somewhere, so homeschooling became the scapegoat.
I do hope that more awareness to homeschooling can change some people’s mindsets, but it can’t be forced.”Malissa Denney
How do you ensure you’re the best teacher for your child’s needs?
I think as parents, we definitely have to be researchers. [You have to be a] researching-type parent that goes out and gets that information, and really studies and learns about the different philosophies out there.Justina Ford, homeschooling parent
What are some of the requirements you have to follow to homeschool your child?
In Georgia, you just have to have a high school diploma or GED. I have my bachelor’s degree, so that wasn’t an issue.
You have to file a Declaration of Intent (DOI) to homeschool your child, and you can just go to the Georgia Department of Education website and fill that out.
It tells you that you have to agree to homeschool for 180 days for 4.5 hours a day, and it tells you the subjects you have to touch base on.”Morgan Graham
What advice would you offer a parent who wants to try homeschooling, or is new to it?
If I’m telling a new mom what homeschooling is like, I would mention the fact that your school day will be shorter, as there’s no need for organizing 20+ kids, and there’s no busy work.
I would emphasize the freedom that comes with throwing out a math curriculum because it doesn’t work for your family.
I would talk about all the great groups of homeschoolers in this area, and I would make sure how important it is not to be isolated.
There’s a community out there for every type of homeschooling family.”Karolyn Johnson, homeschooling parent