Like many parents in the summer of 2020, Donna Skelton was curious about how her local school district, Ball-Chatham, would weather the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall.
She and her husband Terry are the working parents of two children, Adrianne, 10, and Addison, 8. After spending the spring of 2020 working on the district’s e-learning, she waited for the plan to return the children full-time to the classroom.
âChatham was looking at several different things,â Skelton said. “They weren’t determined on something, it was constantly changing (and) everyone was trying to find something that worked.”
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Ultimately, the Ball-Chatham School Board decided to start the 2020-2021 school year with a hybrid model where students would attend in person for a half day on certain days. However, Skelton’s children still should have done virtual learning, an option that was not the best for the family.
âIt just wouldn’t work for us,â Skelton said. “None of us could lose our jobs to stay home with them, so the alternative was to try and find something full time.”
The Skeltons chose St. Aloysius School at the north end of Springfield after a tour before the start of the school year. Donna Skelton said the staff made the experience enjoyable for her children enough to make her feel comfortable sending them there.
âThey were really excited about it,â Skelton said. “The next day, I ended up registering them.”
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The Skeltons are now among a growing number of families in Springfield to transition from public education to private schools or homeschooling in the wake of COVID-19.
Schools such as the Lutheran School of Our Savior, Calvary Academy, Springfield Christian School and four of Springfield’s Catholic institutions – Christ the King, Little Flower, St. Aloysius and St. Patrick’s, all report an increase enrollments of new students since the pandemic. Christ the King has added a new kindergarten class for the 2021-2022 school year due to the growth.
Andrew Hansen, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Springfield, said many parents like the Skeltons have chosen their schools for full in-person learning, rare in many public schools in the area.
âThis year they sent them to Catholic schools because we’ve been in session since August, and they want their kids to be in class,â Hansen said. “We have done it in a safe and responsible manner, and I think in the future we are very optimistic that parents will continue to see this value and we will do everything possible to remain open.”
Distance learning issues also motivated parents to consider Calvary Academy, where education administrator Donna Squires said 11 new students transferred at the start of second semester in January.
âIn some cases, parents were working from home, also trying to manage their children’s education and finding it very difficult,â Squires said. âIn other cases, families were able to go to their workplace, but their children were (still) receiving distance education. (It was) quite unusual, but it all came down to parents concerned about the success – or lack of success – as their students. “
While some families have opted for private schools, others have chosen homeschooling. Data from the US Census Bureau shows that in the United States, the percentage of people who reported teaching their children at home fell from 5.4% in March 2020, when the pandemic first ruled out children. school children in person, at 11.1% in October.
In Illinois, a smaller number of people – 2.1 percent – were attending homeschooling in March. This number reached 5.4% in October.
Gretchen Harrison runs a homeschooling cooperative through Cherry Hills Baptist Church in Springfield. As the 2020-2021 school year arrived and face-to-face learning was a major question mark, she spoke to families interested in leaving traditional public schools and moving into co-ops. home schooling like hers.
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âWhen the summer started and they were talking about fall this far away, we started seeing a lot more inquiries about our home school co-op (and) in different organizations that are doing outreach. homeschooling, âsaid Harrison. “That’s when we started to see this increase.”
Homeschooling comes with controlling the planning and parts of the program. Harrison also noted that some parents who have free time to help their children wanted to go to homeschooling and considered it better than keeping their children in mostly virtual learning at a public school.
âParents are at home (and) they can help their kids, or it’s something they’ve always wanted to do,â Harrison said. “Now … they can actually do that.”
This opportunity can sometimes mean a new, more flexible schedule. Tammy Fitch, director of the Springfield-based Christian Homeschooling Association, said parents have realized students can get through their day quickly and then move on.
âI think people saw freedom there,â Fitch said. “It was a little upsetting because there were so many new people (that) I’m constantly trying to answer questions, but I think a lot of people realized that was something they could do. . “
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The unique nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many families towards alternative forms of education, perhaps to stay for good. Skelton said the smaller classes and new friends at St. Aloysius had been good for his children. They even had the chance to have new experiences, with Adrianne and Addison baptized and beginning to work on their fellowship and confirmation.
They don’t regret switching to private school, and as the 2021-2022 school year approaches, Skelton said families considering a similar change should take a look and see for themselves- same.
âIt was the best decision for us,â said Skelton. âI’m glad we made the gesture of faith that we did because they (St. Aloysius) did a great jobâ¦ a phenomenal job to make it work and to keep everyone safe. during one week. This is definitely a place to consider for families who believe their child might need this structure. I would definitely encourage anyone to come because it was awesome. It was wonderful. “