As Maine schools prepare for the return of in-person learning, some families in the Midcoast are considering homeschooling.

Five local school districts, RSU1, RSU 5, MSAD-75, Lisbon Public Schools and Brunswick School Department, saw an 85% increase in the number of homeschool students last year compared to the previous school year, from 375 students to 697.

Overall, Maine saw a roughly 76% increase in homeschooled students in September 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the Maine Department of Education, though superintendents said they are expecting these numbers to go down this academic year.

“The rise in the number of families opting to homeschool their children is directly related to COVID,” said Lisbon School Department Superintendent Richard Green. “In the last few weeks, we had many families register their children back into the public schools. However, I anticipate the numbers to either go up or stay the same for the next academic year.”

Brunswick has seen 22 students register for homeschooling for the 2021-22 academic year, as of Aug. 4.

“Last year during this time, we had over 100 students register for homeschooling,” said Phil Potenziano, Brunswick School Department superintendent. “It appears that more students are coming back from home instruction to in-person instruction this year. However, it’s too early to analyze the situation. I have heard that parents wait until the end of August sometimes to register their children for homeschooling.”

However, Scott A. Woodruff, senior counsel at Home School Legal Defense Association, said that going by the trend, homeschooling rates would continue to increase across the country.

“These days, more parents have gained confidence that they can homeschool their children” Woodruff said. “Earlier, people would think that only certified teachers are competent to teach children, but slowly that is changing as more parents are opting to teach their children. Parents believe they can create a healthier social atmosphere for their children if they homeschool. Moreover, various researches have shown that homeschool children scored higher on standardized tests than other children.”

Brittani Adams of Lisbon homeschooled her 11-year-old for two years after leaving Lisbon Public Schools. Adams said that homeschooling allows children more freedom and choice in their curriculum.

“I had no option but to homeschool or suffer. I home schooled my kid from 2018-20. I think homeschooling is far superior to traditional in-person learning. It gives children more of an executive decision role in their education,” Adams said. “However, I believe we would have been more successful at it had we started at a younger age. My kid has a lot of behavioral issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, especially when home, so I felt sending back to school will help.”

Dr. Jeffery Barkin, Treasurer of Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians said that COVID has added additional stress on children.

“The kids’ capacity to socialize has been limited by physical distancing,” Barkin said. “Children need to socialize and be healthy. It’s not surprising that kids are suffering with behavioral problems. There are educational technicians and social workers at school who know how to deal with kids with behavioral issues. At home, it gets difficult for parents to handle.”

Jen Hawkins, a resident of Auburn and a mother of two, has been homeschooling her kids for over 10 years. Hawkins said homeschooling gives her kids the freedom to choose a curriculum that interests them.

“We adopted our first child and had planned, even before we got her, that I would be a stay home mom and homeschool her,” said Hawkins. “My daughter is very self-motivated and on the task where as my son needs more guidance and more activity-based schooling to release pent-up energy. We can adapt to their unique styles by giving our children one-on-one focused attention during their ‘school time’. Our schooling is done by lunchtime, giving them the rest of the day for extra-curricular activities. Both my children love homeschooling, and the plan is to continue it until they graduate.”

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