This article is the first in a three-part series of homeschooling in Utah County that will run this week.
Mindi Eldredge started off her homeschool journey the same way she’d set up her public school classroom -- by putting items up on the wall.
“And then I realized my kids are getting nothing out of it on the wall,” she said.
She’d pulled her children out of public school in order to give them something different. So she removed the posters and sat down with them, making, building and being hands-on.
The Eldredges are one of thousands of Utah families who have turned to homeschooling over the past several years, joining a community that has more than doubled within the last decade.
The reasons behind why a family homeschools isn’t always a one-factor answer, and is as diverse as the population of homeschooling families and their chosen methods of educating their children.
There were 16,085 homeschooled students in Utah during the 2015-16 school year, according to the most recent data available from the Utah State Board of Education. Of those, 16.8% were from the Alpine School District, 6.5% of the state total were within the Nebo School District’s boundaries and 2.8% were from the Provo School District.
At the time, Davis County had the highest percentage of homeschooled students, with 4,761 homeschooled students making up 29.6% of the state’s total and bringing in a homeschool rate of 68.1 students being homeschooled per 1,000.
In 2003, there were 7,037 homeschooled children in Utah, according to numbers from the Utah State Board of Education.
The number of children homeschooled in the Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts fluctuated from 2000 through 2010, with the districts averaging about 1,000, 450 and 300 homeschoolers, respectively. Numbers began increase rapidly from 2013 to 2014, leading to 2,697 homeschoolers in Alpine School District in 2016, 1,052 in Nebo School District and 456 homeschoolers in the Provo City School District.
Last year alone, the Alpine School District processed 1,064 new homeschool affidavits, increasing from 2,616 the previous year to a total of 3,680 homeschoolers on file as of May 31.
The Nebo School District has about 1,300 homeschool students on file. However, the district does not have records of when the students move and the number could be less, according to Lana Hiskey, spokeswoman for the district.
Families must submit a signed and notarized affidavit to their child’s school district in order to homeschool their child. Local school boards cannot require families to maintain attendance or instruction records in order to homeschool.
Parents can fully homeschool, or have their children attend public school part time. Materials such as textbooks can be available to homeschoolers through school districts. Homeschooled students are also allowed to participate in extracurricular activities through public schools.
While districts can ask why a family is homeschooling on their homeschool forms, an answer is not required.
A combination of factors led Nicole Mayor to begin homeschooling her children when they lived in Virginia six years ago.
Mayor said the state’s public schools delved into topics in sex education she didn’t think schools should teach, and lessons went against her values. She said she had concerns about drugs in schools, teachers who had been arrested for being intoxicated on the job, wasted class time and teachers she believed bullied children who held different political opinions.
“I felt like in some cases they were taught incorrect history,” Mayor said. “I want my kids to learn the real history, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
She said she was frustrated when her son came home with a gift that said “happy winter” after his teacher made him change it from “Merry Christmas.”
“I know that homeschooling them isn’t going to protect them from P.C. culture or from violence or from drugs, but it definitely gives them a healthy environment and a loving environment where they are safe,” Mayor said.
Mayor had looked into homeschooling before her children reached school age and found that the more she read into it, the more she liked it.
“I was really attracted by the freedom of it,” Mayor said. “The freedom to start your own schedule, vacation however you want.”
Her family would finish their homeschool work within a few hours, and then would go to Washington, D.C. to visit historical sites.
When they moved to Eagle Mountain, she continued homeschooling. Mayor said her children have loved it. She has homeschooled two students, with the oldest planning to attend Cedar Valley High School this fall.
But starting out, Mayor wasn’t sure if they would continue homeschooling past the first year.
“It is a lot to keep up with, especially if you are doing it on your own,” she said.
They switch their curriculum every year. The family has used classical online schools and had private classes with former teachers who run biology and chemistry classes from their homes. The family holds devotionals to incorporate religious teaching and has converted a home office room into a classroom.
Mayor said as she got more into homeschooling she realized it isn’t as difficult or intimidating as she thought.
“I feel like if you have good books, they pretty much teach themselves,” Mayor said. “It is all about being organized and starting a schedule.”
For the Eldredges, homeschool came about because Mindi Eldredge didn’t feel public schools were adequately meeting her children’s needs.
“They weren’t enjoying it, they were dreading it,” Eldredge said. “They weren’t being taught in a way that they understand things. They weren’t being taught toward their learning style.”
Eldredge, a former elementary school teacher who missed the classroom, realized she could teach her children at home. She was on board, but her husband was concerned about her becoming too stressed.
“It has actually been the opposite,” Eldredge said. “It has been a relief because we can do everything in our home. We don’t have to be at the bus by a certain minute, we don’t have to worry about big, ongoing projects that really aren’t benefiting my kids.”
The Eagle Mountain family is beginning their fifth year of homeschooling. Since she began, Eldredge has joined homeschool groups on Facebook and found so many curriculum options she didn’t know where to start.
Her children are enrolled in an online school where they submit weekly learning logs, and two are enrolled through Provo eSchool. They are reimbursed for the learning material they buy.
They have arranged field trip groups that go out on Fridays and are part of the homeschool commonwealth Stewards of Liberty.
“There is this huge community and support,” Eldredge said. “I absolutely love it.
Eldredge said the idea that homeschooled children aren’t socialized is a common myth. She said they have many options to choose from, including art classes with other homeschooled children, participating in a folk dance group and field trips and activities with other families.
As she’s met more homeschool families, she said she’s heard comments from many other moms who said they didn’t want anything to do with homeschooling until they felt spiritually prompted to do it.
While she originally began homeschooling as a way to meet her children’s needs, Eldredge said other factors, such as school safety concerns and Common Core, have contributed to the decision.
“I wasn’t a fan of Common Core,” Eldredge said.
She’s knows of other homeschool families who made the decision to teach their children at home because their students have learning disabilities or have been bullied.
She’s considered sending one of her children to public school part-time to a Chinese language immersion program, but is hesitant because he has severe food allergies and would need to have someone with him in the classroom.
She suggests that those considering homeschooling surround themselves with other homeschool families and get connected with a mentor.
“I think people would be so surprised to step into the homeschool world and realize it’s not what they think, at all,” Eldredge said.