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Parents consider learning-from-home options

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Citing concerns about their children’s health and the uncertainty of when in-person classes can be conducted, parents are examining at-home alternatives for education. But they also have concerns online instruction will be beneficial for their children.

Roswell Independent School District will offer a 100% online option for the 2020-21 school year, and the principal of Pecos Connections Academy, an online public school chartered through the Carlsbad school district in 2015, said the virtual school has an enrollment waiting list.

“I want to say there might be 150 on the wait list, maybe more than that,” principal Kim Hite-Pope said. The pandemic has driven the school’s enrollment to its cap of 2,000 students for the first time, she said.

“I think parents are realizing they want their children to have a different type of curriculum,” Hite-Pope said.

Pecos offers education for kindergarten through 12th grade through Connections Academy, a for-profit provider of online products and virtual school services based in Columbia, Maryland. It is owned by education publisher Pearson, with headquarters in London, England.

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New Mexico Connections Academy, chartered by the Public Education Commission, offers education for fourth through 12th grades. Both New Mexico and Pecos Connections Academies are open to students anywhere in New Mexico and teachers are all certified to teach in New Mexico.

Hite-Pope points out the Connections Academy schools are public schools and not actually “homeschooling.”

Homeschools, as defined in New Mexico, are non-accredited, non-public school programs in which the parent or a legal guardian provides instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science. Parents or guardians must notify the state of the establishment of a homeschool through an online form or in writing, and must re-notify the state by Aug. 1 each year if continuing to homeschool their children.

True homeschooling is not necessarily for everyone, said Heather Stewart, who has homeschooled her two daughters, now 10 and 12, since 2017. Stewart said she was homeschooled and began teaching her own daughters when she was able to quit a job outside the home.

“Some parents are simply unable to teach their children, whether that’s due to educational deficits, or perhaps their personalities clash with their kids, or maybe they just don’t like the idea,” she said.

In order to homeschool, the parent or guardian must have a high school diploma or a GED. Stewart said she has taken college courses in education and taught in public and private schools.

She advises parents thinking about homeschooling to know not only the laws, but how they want to teach their kids.

“Recreating school at home just isn’t sustainable. Studies show that kids actually learn better and retain more information if you only have them do schoolwork for a few hours a day,” she said.

Roswell parent Vicki McClintock thinks her son, who will be an eighth-grader, will do better with at-home learning than in the classroom. She plans on enrolling him and her sixth-grade daughter in RISD’s Online Academy. She will also not be enrolling her 4-year-old in pre-kindergarten this year, she said.

She and her fiancé also have a child in elementary school and an infant.

The middle school students both have individual learning plans, and McClintock said she is concerned they might fall even farther behind in their education with the hybrid model, especially if schools have to revert to all-online instruction later in the year because of increasing COVID-19 cases.

RISD was scheduled to start school Aug. 19 under a hybrid model, with students in the classrooms two days a week and learning at home the rest of the week. Students would be divided into two groups, with one group in school Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group in school Thursdays and Fridays.

But late last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered schools not to start classroom instruction until after Labor Day due to the continued spread of the coronavirus.

McClintock worries it might not be the only time schools step back from any in-person instruction.

“I can’t do that if we get a phone call from school that school is closed down because somebody tests positive or whatever the circumstances are,” she said. “I can’t have the unknown be that unknown.”

McClintock and her fiancé moved to Roswell five years ago, and don’t have any family in town to help out with their children, she said. McClintock was promoted to an assistant manager position at Golden Corral just before the state closed down many businesses in March. The buffet restaurant remains closed.

McClintock said she had already been considering having her son learn at home where he could progress at his own pace and have fewer social distractions.

Her daughter asked not to go back to the classrooms this year.

“As soon as I told her that they would have to wear a mask the whole time at school, she immediately said ‘Mom I don’t want to go to school and have a mask on,’” McClintock said.

Brandi Gonzales is another parent considering keeping her kids at home rather than allowing them back in the classrooms at RISD.

Her 8-year-old daughter got sick in February, followed by her 3-year-old and her then-18-month-old children.

Both girls have asthma, and her family’s doctor will not release the older girl to go back to school.

Her 17-year-old son, who has attended Roswell High School, will be learning from home as well to keep him from carrying the virus home, she said. She and her husband also have a 21-year-old at home, as well as a 19-year-old and 3-year-old and 3-month-old children.

She’s not real confident her daughter will do well with online schooling. With no internet access at home when schools closed in the spring, her daughter had to complete her work through packets from East Grand Plains Elementary.

“It was a nightmare,” Gonzales said.

“I guess now because she thinks she’s home, that she doesn’t have to work that hard, which I try to explain to her you have to otherwise you’re going to fail,” she said.

Pecos Academy’s Hite-Pope said students do have to have certain skills for success at online learning.

“Naturally, some students excel at it, others not. They think they want to be online, but then they realize it’s not for them,” she said.

Students who have good time management skills and can work independently tend to do well, she said.

Parent involvement is also important, Hite-Pope said, but Pecos does have students in households where the parents both work. The school gives parents an online portal to check their children’s assignments and grades.

RISD will have similar access for parents, officials have said.

Stewart said whether their children are homeschooled or are learning remotely through public school, the most important thing for parents to remember is they are doing enough.

“Don’t worry about falling behind, don’t worry about completing assignments. If everyone is all stressed out and anxious, no one is learning anyway,” she said.

“Take your time, pace yourself and give yourself plenty of wiggle room in terms of time and patience,” she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.