GREENWOOD — As thousands of Hoosier students head back to the classroom this week, many others will continue classwork from home.
Homeschooling continues to increase in popularity across our state and the country.
One Greenwood family made the choice last summer to pursue homeschooling for their oldest daughter, Malia, and that led to a whole new educational opportunity for area families.
Zach and Megan Duke live in Johnson County with their four children and reflect one year later on their decision to homeschool their first grader.
"For us, it was honestly the biggest blessing we could've ever imagined for our entire family, not only for us as parents but also for our daughter, Malia," says Megan Duke.
The Duke's say they wanted to be a part of Malia's education and they wanted family, faith and leadership to be at the forefront of her life. That is why they created the 501C3 private school called Indiana Leadership Academy.
"We are a private school for homeschool-minded families," says Zach who is also the headmaster for ILA.
It's a hybrid model between homeschooling and private school to meet the needs of families like theirs. Last year they had 10 students in their first-grade class and hired a private teacher to educate and assist the families.
"What that really means is if you think about someone climbing a mountain, right, we are not just saying, 'alright, parents you are homeschooling. Go climb this mountain that you have never climbed before.' And we are also not saying, 'just give your kids to us and we will take them up the mountain.' What it really looks like is we are going to climb together," says Zach.
While this dream of a homeschool-minded community stretches back long before any talk of Covid 19, the Dukes say that the school came at the right time for many families worried about kids and their education in this pandemic.
"So it just adds such a great flexibility, and really parents that want a front-row seat in their kids' education," says Zach. "It really was able to serve a really big felt need in the community which is, what do we do with education right now?"
Megan adds, "One thing when you become a parent, is you often hear this common phrase which is it takes a village."
And their village is growing this next school year with two more grades added, Kindergarten and 2nd grade as well as more teachers. Class sizes will stay at 10 per class and they have now moved operations to Bluff Creek Church off 144 in Bargersville. The church is allowing ILA to use its facilities indoors and out. They are still accepting students and families at this time and hope to add a new class each school year until students reach the 8th grade. This is a long-term goal for the Duke family, not just an answer to the pandemic.
They also stress that this is just one option for families that provides great flexibility and involvement in your child's education and they still support their local schools in any way possible.
"I know there are so many amazing options out there for schools and choices. And really the biggest win is for the community to win. Every school to do well. Every school to be flourishing. That is really our hope," says Zach. "What sets us apart is we provide leadership training, habit training, it's faith-based. It's really anchored in a strong worldview of faith. And so that's going to attract a certain group of people and we know that, and we want to really serve them well. While at the same time, ya know, blessing and honoring the other school systems. And the more we do that together, the whole community will win."
Right now, many local schools across the state are working to implement mandates or recommendations for masks and safety when students return to the classroom. For ILA, the Dukes say masks are optional and with only a small number of families and students, they can make necessary changes and keep open lines of communication with changes brought on by the pandemic. Students at ILA also have the option to take the classwork home or travel, so they can do schoolwork remotely if needed.
Concerns about the coronavirus, variants, and restrictions as well as concerns about certain social-emotional topics discussed in some districts continue to fuel the increase in homeschooling across Indiana.
Kylene Varner is on the pulse of the homeschool community in our state as the social media lead of the Indiana Association of Home Educators or IAHE.
"We were adding 200 members a day to our social media sites," says Varner. "Just people wanting to garner information and feeling like they didn't know what to do, what their choices were."
Varner herself is a mother of three and her family is in their ninth season of homeschooling, which is a journey this career woman never saw coming.
But due to the needs of her first daughter who needed more of a challenge, Varner made the switch from working to homeschooling and has not looked back.
She says last year, in the pandemic, interest in the association went "gang-busters" as families searched for other educational options.
According to the IAHE, the Indiana code defines homeschooling as a non-accredited, nonpublic school with less than one employee, meaning the parent is the sole educator.
The definition is very loose around the country and the state of Indiana does not require families to register to the state, so gathering data on the number of homeschooling households can be difficult.
However, according to the census bureau, last fall 11% of households homeschooled across the country. That is more than double the number from six months prior to the start of the pandemic.
Varner says she knows homeschooling can seem like a daunting task to first-time parents, but there are a number of resources online to help families at IAHE.net plus you can connect with your regional liaison to help you stay on top with what is happening in education in your local community.
To learn more about the Duke's homeschool and private school hybrid option, visit their Facebook page.
To get more information on homeschool options and resources in the state of Indiana, visit IAHE.net