This article is the second in a three-part series of homeschooling in Utah County that will run this week.
When two of Debbi Edmonds’ children approached her and asked if they could be homeschooled, she thought it was cute, but would never happen.
Then her daughter looked up at her with big, brown eyes, and begged Edmonds to pray about it.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I remember kneeling there beside my bed and shaking and crying and saying, ‘Heavenly Father, I have no idea how to do this,’” Edmonds said.
It was 1998, and there weren’t many resources available for homeschool families. But then, Edmonds said she felt a feeling of calm come over her, and knew she’d find help.
Now, she’s the one directing others to resources. Edmonds is the Utah County representative of the Utah Home Education Association, a group that hosts an annual convention, and organizes a graduation ceremony, proms and soccer leagues for homeschool families.
It’s one of multiple organizations, co-ops, supplemental programs and support groups in Utah County dedicated to homeschooling families.
Utah’s homeschool population has boomed in the last decade, with more than 4,000 children homeschooled in Utah County alone. As that number has increased, so has the number of resources available, with the internet and Facebook playing a large part.
Edmonds homeschooled five children and is homeschooling grandchildren. She receives at least one email each week from parents who are new to homeschooling.
“They are afraid because they don’t know how to get started; they don’t know what to do,” Edmonds said.
There are homeschooling Facebook support groups for most cities in Utah County, and additional groups for different interests.
Anna Mock, the administrator of the Hit the Trail, Homeschoolers group on Facebook, has watched her group grow to about 500 people within three years. Formerly known as Hike It, Homeschoolers, the group goes on at least one hike a week during the summer.
Mock started the group in 2016 because she didn’t want to go hiking by herself. Knowing how social the homeschool community is, she thought she’d ask them.
The page has continued to grow. A handful of families go on the hikes each week, and anyone can plan a hike. Each event will include a post with information on where the hike is, how long and difficult it is and if Mock will be leaving her younger children at home.
“I feel like they have a good idea of what they are getting into,” Mock said.
Mock, who lives in Spanish Fork, said most of the group’s members are from south Utah County.
The group doesn’t have lesson plans. Mock said learning is spontaneous, like during a recent hike up Buffalo Peak where families spotted caterpillars and bird nests.
“We are hiking and everyone is interested,” Mock said. “We take a minute to look at things.”
For the parents, the hikes are an opportunity to connect with other homeschool families.
“The moms can talk and share information, and I think that is part of the point,” Mock said. “Part of it is for the kids to have social interaction with each other. Some of my kids have made really good friends doing this.”
Social interaction is also the reason behind the founding of Rise Up Academy, which is currently based out of a farm building with classrooms in Eagle Mountain.
Dina Wells, one of the school’s founders and its vice president of administration, said the school started in 2010 as a way to create a support system for older children.
It began when she would meet with a group of homeschool moms once a week at a park. Wells remembers looking around and realizing the women around her have different skills and passions.
“I thought we need to organize this and make it accessible so that we can capitalize on other people’s gifts and blessings and be able to share,” she said.
Wells describes Rise Up Academy as a leadership factory that helps give students social interaction and positive peer pressure to create learning. Students participate in different projects — like studying the works of William Shakespeare — and parents are involved in teaching.
“When I started it, I thought it is something that my kids could raise their kids in,” Wells said. “I really thought of it as more generational.”
The academy has about 100 students, stays at about 30 families and is currently accepting applications. Wells said the academy stays small in order to encourage others to start a similar program in their own communities. Beyond the Eagle Mountain school, the academy has three sister schools in Utah County, one Utah County program that is considered a co-op and a school in Arizona.