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Jodean Brannan is regularly reminded of how much the homeschooling community in Northwest Arkansas is growing.

Brannan, a Rogers resident, said when she tells someone she teaches her two sons, that person often will mention a close friend or relative in the area who also is a homeschooler.

Homeschooling

Homeschooled children by Northwest Arkansas school district.

District2016-17 school year2017-18 school year*Percent change

Bentonville1,0101,021*1.1

Decatur3332*-3.0

Elkins3946*17.9

Farmington114108*-5.3

Fayetteville398381*-4.3

Gentry111100*-9.9

Gravette196192*-2.0

Greenland5967*13.5

Lincoln6777*14.9

Pea Ridge110134*21.8

Prairie Grove9298*6.5

Rogers720798*10.8

Siloam Springs292335*14.7

Springdale520546*5.0

West Fork8174*-8.6

Benton County2,4602,612*6.2

Washington County1,3681,397*2.1

NWA Total3,8424,009*4.3

State Total19,52020,331*4.1

Source: Staff report

"We'll run into other homeschoolers when we're out and about doing field trips and stuff, too. It's definitely become more popular," she said.

State statistics support that perception. The Arkansas Department of Education last month released its most recent annual homeschooling report, with statistics from the 2017-18 year.

The report shows 4,009 children in Benton and Washington counties received their education at home during the 2017-18 school year, a 4.3 percent from the previous year -- far outpacing the 1.9 percent growth rate of enrollment in the area's public schools.

The report showed a record 20,331 students in grades kindergarten through 12 across the state were homeschooled, up 4.1 percent from the previous year and up 30 percent from a decade earlier. It was equal to 4.2 percent of all students enrolled in Arkansas public schools.

Benton County led the state with 2,612 homeschooled students, nearly double that of Washington County. Bentonville led all school districts with 1,021, a 1.1 percent increase from the prior year. Pulaski County Special School District was second with 892.

"While we're proud to offer rigorous academics and endless opportunity to help a student in every facet of life, we realize a parent must identify the best fit for his or her child and we respect the decision to home school," said Leslee Wright, director of communications for the Bentonville district.

State law requires every child ages 5 through 17 be enrolled in a public or private school unless a child is homeschooled. Parents who choose to homeschool are required to notify the superintendent of the school district in which they live. Meeting this annual requirement maintains legal homeschool status for the parents or guardians. Districts must submit a copy of each form to the Arkansas Department of Education.

Arkansas has no educational requirements for parents who provide a homeschool for their children. The students do not need to pass the GED or have a diploma to apply to college or qualify for financial aid.

School districts are not required to accept part-time students from homeschools or private schools, although the state does have a funding mechanism for districts that allow homeschooled students to enroll part-time.

State data show homeschooled students are spread fairly evenly across the grade levels, ranging from a low of 1,373 in first grade to a high of 2,017 in the 11th grade in 2017-18.

The number of homeschooled students in Rogers jumped to 798, a 10.8 percent increase over the prior year and a 32 percent increase from five years ago.

The Rogers Public Library offers a weekly class for homeschooling families geared toward kids ages 5-12. Dara Stine, assistant children's director, said she launched the program in fall 2017.

Attendance last school year ranged between 10 and 20 per week. This year it's averaged between 50 and 100, she said.

"They have a lot of fun. They seem to be learning a lot," Stine said.

The Bentonville Public Library started a monthly program for homeschoolers in 2008, which has evolved into a September-through-May program with weekly lessons. Content includes library orientation, research and hands-on activities, according to Sue Ann Pekel, children's librarian.

Classes are literature-based and address state Department of Education library media frameworks. Program attendance for the past 10 years has totaled more than 12,000 participants, Pekel said.

The Fayetteville Public Library does not host programming exclusively for homeschooled children, though it offers several programs that are open to all kids, said Sarah McClure, the library's manager of youth and teen services. Students may obtain "i-cards" which enable them to use all library databases from home.

Brannan attended last week's homeschool class at the Rogers library with her boys, ages 7 and 10, who were busy working on a 3D White House made of paper, part of a lesson on the District of Columbia.

Brannan, a former art teacher in the Rogers School District, said she's stayed home with her boys since before they were school age, and it seemed natural to continue doing so and take full responsibility for their education.

"We really like the freedom we have to work at their own pace and explore the things they're really interested in," Brannan said.

Laura Snyder, also of Rogers, has homeschooled her four children -- ranging in age from 7 to 13 -- their entire lives. A desire to have more control over what they learn, as well as to better instill the family's religious values, led her and her husband to choose to homeschool. It means a lot of family togetherness, but Snyder said her kids get along great.

Snyder called Northwest Arkansas a "wonderful" place for homeschooling, noting the opportunities for kids to come together for various activities like the library's class.

The challenges of homeschooling, as frequently cited in online blogs, include the amount of time it takes parents to prepare and administer lessons and the stress that comes with taking on the teaching role. That investment of time also may mean reduced income for a family because a parent isn't able to work.

The Rogers district recently announced plans to set up an online program for grades six through 12 in collaboration with Red Comet, an organization that offers courses for credit and is authorized to do so by the state Department of Education.

District officials hope the online program will be an attractive option to families who otherwise would homeschool their children because it offers students a chance to take courses at home and at their own pace.

Rogers will receive the same amount of money from the state for each child enrolled in the online program as it would for any other student enrolled in the schools. That figure this school year is $6,781 per student. Some percentage of that will go to Red Comet, though that figure has yet to be negotiated.

Similarly, the Bentonville School District rolled out eight online high school courses this school year with plans to increase that number to 11 next school year.

The number of homeschooled students in the United States more than doubled from 850,000 in 1999 to about 1.8 million in 2012, according to a 2016 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Most homeschooled students were white (83 percent) and not poor (89 percent) as of 2012. Students were considered poor if they were living in households with incomes below the poverty threshold.

General News on 02/06/2019

Print Headline: Homeschooled numbers up 4.3 percent in Northwest Arkansas

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