RAYMOND — Kristine Bedford of Raymond was concerned her two children would fall behind academically under their schools’ hybrid learning model this fall, so she decided to keep them home full time and teach them herself.

“I had to homeschool my kids or forgo (their) education,” said Bedford.  “(It was) really and truly the only option I had with the current state of events.”

Her children are among the 40 students or so who have withdrawn from Windham-Raymond School District so far this year in favor of homeschooling. Superintendent Chris Howell said that’s about double the homeschool withdrawals from the 3,200-student district in typical years.

With schools instituting hybrid learning models to meet state guidelines for pandemic safety, a growing number of families nationwide are opting instead to teach their children themselves rather than have their kids split their time between in-person and remote instruction. Other parents are opting to provide their students with private, small-group instruction. Both scenarios have raised concerns among education experts about education equity.

But Bedford, whose second grader, Isaiah, struggles with behavior issues as well as hearing loss from a childhood illness, didn’t engage well with remote learning, she said. And when she gave her daughter, Isabelle, the choice to go back to school, the seventh grader said she didn’t want to wear a mask every day and stay 6 feet apart from her classmates.

Alexandria Goodwin of Raymond also has decided to homeschool her two third graders, Mckenna and Jemma, 8, this fall. She said she is worried that even with hybrid learning, her daughters wouldn’t get the instruction they need to succeed.

“With only two days in school and everything being distant, the kids can’t play, (make) art, make music like they should. The kids need more life in their lives than what traditional school will be able to offer nowadays,” she said.

“We all absolutely adore the school and the staff there … but (are) choosing to fully homeschool,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin has been reaching out to families who may be interested in setting up a homeschooling group, or “pod,” with her children.

Other families are teaming up on pods that would be taught by a private tutor either full-time or to supplement their hybrid model or remote learning.

Flynn Ross, an associate professor at the University of Southern Maine’s School of Education and Human Development and chair of the Teacher Education Department, said that there is valuable core curricula and socialization inherent in public schooling that is lost when students are homeschooled full time.

Supplemental instruction also complicates teachers’ ability to assess their students’ progress, Ross said.

“What are they actually assessing? The ability of the tutor to support or the ability of the child to persevere independently?” she asked.

Andrea Stairs-Davenport, an associate dean at the School of Education, said that while she understands parents’ desire to find alternative ways to meet their children’s educational needs, “we do run a risk of those with resources creating pods that exclude and marginalize other learners.”

Special education teacher Kasey Suitor and a co-worker at Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences in Gray will run two pods of about five students each this fall. After feeling like she wouldn’t be able to provide her students the support they needed under a hybrid instruction model, Suitor said she decided about a month and half ago to take a leave of absence to pursue teaching another way.

“I know some parents are freaking out … The biggest thing was the hybrid model and parents thinking that they were not equipped to support students for whatever reason at home,” Suitor said.

For about $500 a month, students will receive two days of instruction a week, which includes academic support for their regular school assignments and additional “project-based, hands-on, collaborative” learning.


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