When homeschooling emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s among a largely conservative counterculture, it was actually outlawed in some states. By the early 1990s, however, every state had legalized it and participation now reaches into every sector of the population.
Many Catholics began to take up homeschooling in response to some parochial schools becoming more secular, unaffordable, or unavailable. In turn, options grew with online and correspondence Catholic schools and cooperative classes (co-ops) where groups come together for resources and specialized teaching expertise for a few classes.
The movement continues to grow among Catholics for a number of reasons including: growing disparity with the culture, the influence of Catholics in the public eye who homeschool, and positive reports such as the 2017 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University finding homeschoolers are four times more likely to enter seminaries than those educated in Catholic institutions.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that from 1999 to 2012, the number of homeschooled children more than doubled, from 850,000 to 1.8 million. According to EdChoice’s 2017 Schooling in America survey, about three percent of students are homeschooled, but some seven percent of families say that they would if they could.
As resources multiply it is becoming easier for families to make the commitment. A growing trend that lightens the burden for parents and increases opportunities for students is to take a hybrid approach, mixing homeschool with outside classes. Many public and Catholic schools that once shunned homeschoolers now allow part-time enrollment and participation in extracurricular activities for homeschoolers. It has also become popular for high schoolers to take college classes that also satisfy high school graduation requirements.
Actual hybrid schools — both secular and religious, which alternate school days between home and school — have also come onto the scene. For instance, the Regina Caeli Catholic schools — centered around the great-books and classic-texts approach — operate in 12 cities and 11 states, with an enrollment of about 1,100 children. Children learn at home three days a week and attend class wearing uniforms on the other two.
Adapting to children’s needs
“We homeschool because it’s the opportunity for a daily infusion of our cultural Catholicity that is important to us,” says Carolyn Smith, mother of nine children ages 23 to 5 in her 13th year of homeschooling. Her husband, Michael, is a senior network engineer who works on contracts for the federal government. They live a couple of miles outside of Mason, New Hampshire, a small rural community.
“We keep them home to school them but don’t hide them,” Carolyn said. “They are part of the community.” Their children use correspondence studies before high school and have participated in co-op classes. Thus far, the three older boys have chosen to attend Catholic high school full-time, but the two oldest girls stayed home, taking college classes during their junior and senior year, enabling them to enter Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia as sophomores.
There are four more still at home including one daughter with special needs. “Mary is just doing readiness with her Downs Syndrome,” Carolyn said. “She is non-verbal, but our lifestyle is tailored to help her; that’s why we have a horse and animals. Homeschooling affords us the ability to help her thrive in this environment.”
Daughter Sarah, finished her first year at Christendom and is returning as a junior this fall. Her sister Racheal graduated there last spring and is now enrolled in an accelerated nursing program. “I liked being with friends and socializing at co-op classes like music theory and Gregorian chant choir,” Sarah explained. “I took an algebra co-op class because it was a subject I needed more help in.” She also played softball at a local public school from seventh through eleventh grade.
Shannon Marie Federoff and her husband Matt are in their 22nd year of homeschooling “with 13 more to go,” according to her. They have 11 children ages 26 to 5 and also live on a hobby farm in Vail, Arizona. The family actually built their own 2,100-square-foot “straw bale” house with 14-foot ceilings and lofts for sleeping. Both Shannon and Matt were once public-school teachers and Matt now works as the chief information officer for the school district.
Shannon explained that they wanted a classical Catholic education for their children and to create a strong family culture. In addition to co-op classes, Shannon said that since they live in a conservative area and know who the good teachers are, once the children reach sophomore year, they supplement home education with math, science, and Spanish classes at the public high school. The children have also been involved in a number of outside activities such as ballet, 4-H, sports, drama, Trail Life, youth group, and altar servers.
Shannon’s daughter Isabel, 18, is heading off to Franciscan University as a sophomore this fall after mixing homeschool, public school, and college classes. “I really enjoyed going to school —I’m pretty social — but I was glad I didn’t have to go for the whole day,” she said. “I liked leaving early and the freedom of doing things at my own pace.” Isabel explained that she has dyslexia so that using audio books at home made English literature classes easier for her.
A family tradition
Deacon Mike and Gina McKeown of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota have homeschooled for 23 years. Their six children range in age from 34 to 17, and two married daughters are now homeschooling their own families. Another daughter, Sr. Mary Elia, is a Carmelite cloistered nun, and the fourth is starting her second year in college.
Once their children became juniors in high school, they enrolled with the Minnesota Department of Education Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), a program that allows 11th and 12th graders to earn college credit online or on campus at no cost whatsoever. Three of them took full-time classes at the college while two took classes online.
Cole, who just received his doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, said he took classes online to make time to play sports with the public school. He and his wife Teresa, who homeschooled through eighth grade then attended Catholic school, became new parents last February and plan to continue the family tradition of homeschooling.
Kyle, the youngest McKeown, took religion and music classes at the Catholic high school last year and will do so again this year. He is also enrolled in shop classes with the public school since he plans to go into construction.
“A lot of times parents have apprehensions about being able to handle teaching their children,” Mike said. “There are a lot of resources out there. We did research, talked with people, and took a hodge-podge approach, not using just one particular program.”
Schooling typically evolves within families, tailored to individual needs and interests and changing family life. When James and Noreen Peliska moved from Naples, Florida to Bismarck where James took a job at the University of Mary as professor of biology and director of the pre-med program, four of their six children were already out of the home.
“Every year we set priorities for each child,” Noreen said. “Every kid is different, and dynamics change. I loved it when everyone was home and there were so many options to focus on the things they loved.” For instance, homeschooling enabled one son to dedicate many hours to music and get accepted at a prestigious music school, while another son who excelled at running in high school and college enrolled full-time there.
When they moved to Bismarck, Rose during her senior year chose to take full-time college classes that also satisfied high school requirements. Their youngest son, Edmund, took two classes at the Catholic high school and enjoyed it so much he is enrolled full time as a sophomore this year.
After 17 years, however, Noreen is still not quite done with schooling. She just started her studies in the radiologic technician program at the University of Mary.
PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.