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In the past year, Mississippi families have been through a lot. The world of education in particular has thrown some curveballs. Many of us with school-age children have learned to do things we never thought we would, including juggling jobs, safety measures, and at-home learning.
My family has been homeschooling since our three children were little, so we were able to adapt quickly. Homeschooling has weathered lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing nicely.
But for many, the experience of schools closing and transitioning physical classrooms online was fraught with difficulty. School leaders, teachers, students, and parents found themselves in a world they had not chosen and for which they did not have the necessary resources. Yet, frustrating as it was, many families began thinking about education options they had never considered or thought possible. Across the nation, interest in at-home and virtual learning options has risen. Not only are families attracted to the safety and reliability of such options, but they are beginning to see a non-traditional education can be high quality too.
We chose homeschooling years ago for many reasons, including getting to have a hand in what our children are learning and the opportunities for field trips and community involvement that there would be no time for otherwise. For us, the benefits of homeschooling are innumerable, and we are not the only ones who see advantages. Mississippi homeschooling numbers grew by more than 30 percent this year with thousands of new students transitioning to home instruction.
Of course, the pandemic has played a big part in this shift in thinking, not just practically but philosophically.
Some families feel safer with their children spending more time at home or in other small, contained environments such as learning pods with a few other children.
Others have found virtual schools to be the answer. Even if you experienced emergency remote learning through your school this year and found it wanting, you might still see the benefits of learning online. Virtual schools are different in that they offer a full academic program through a dedicated online platform with teacher-led courses and individualized support. Unlike brick-and-mortar schools, they are set up to serve students inside and outside of emergency situations.
Most states have a statewide, tuition-free virtual school option, which greatly benefitted students in those states this past year. Unfortunately, Mississippi has no such option, leaving some families without much of a choice.
A statewide virtual school is not a temporary need. I was a victim of bullying when I was in school, and the ability to transition quickly to a safe environment, conducive to learning, is so important. Students with health conditions, students who move often, and students with packed schedules need to be able to access a quality virtual option. I also think of how students in rural areas or in low-performing schools without other options around them could benefit. The main attraction of a virtual school is that boundaries are a thing of the past.
My own daughter enjoyed taking an advanced class in a virtual classroom as part of our homeschool program – students who want to take classes their school doesn’t offer or who need to learn at a faster (or slower) pace need a virtual school option, too.
As a taxpayer, I’m always interested in the cost-effectiveness of different education options. It’s not surprising that both homeschooling and virtual schools are often cheaper than attending classes in a physical building and taking a bus.
It’s time for Mississippi to make sure every student has access to a great education, no matter where they live. Expanding virtual education options for students is something we can and should do today.
This week, celebrate National School Choice Week with me and the different benefits of different types of schools for different families and students in our great state.
Find the week-long online celebration and Tuesday’s live event at Empower Mississippi’s Facebook page.
Barbie Bassett is a meteorologist with WLBT in Jackson and a homeschool mom to her three children.
MageeNews.com is an online news source serving Simpson and surrounding counties as well as the State of Mississippi.