ROCKINGHAM — Homeschooling is on the rise in Richmond County and throughout North Carolina.
Home-school enrollment numbers recently surpassed those of the state’s private schools, according to a report from the N.C. Department of Administration’s non-public education division.
Statewide numbers show a total of 98,172 students enrolled in home schools in the 2013-14 school year compared to 95,768 enrolled in private schools.
Richmond County had 213 homeschooled students this past year, while 253 were getting their education from one of the area’s six private schools.
The report shows the county had 174 home schools that year. However, the state’s home school directory — which is updated every Monday — show’s five more have been added since the report was compiled in June, for a current total of 179.
That number is up from 110 schools just four years ago.
Wake County leads with state with nearly 10,000 home schools. Most neighboring counties average around 200 home schools. Moore County, however, has 1,039.
The Buckner family in Rockingham has one of Richmond County’s home schools.
Merrielle Buckner said she and her husband Jason started homeschooling when their daughter started school and they are now in their fourth year.
“We really wanted to meet our kids’ developmental needs and chronological needs,” she said, listing the four reasons they decided to teach their children at home.
For the second reason, Buckner said, “We totally value experiential learning,” which she said could be called “hands-on learning.”
During a lesson on Native Americans, the Buckners built a teepee, which now sits in their backyard.
Buckner said the family tries visit historical sites like Town Creek Indian Mound each month to study state history.
Eight-year-old Katya said her favorite place they’ve visited so far was Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County. Her younger brother, 5-year-old Pete, said he enjoyed the Veterans Memorial in Rockingham.
“We value spending time together as a family,” Buckner said, listing her third reason for homeschooling.
For the fourth, she simply said, “It’s fun.”
“We just felt so privileged to be able to personalize our kids’ education,” she said.
Buckner said there are many different approaches families can take while teaching their own children, from a more structured system to unschooling.
Unschooling is a method of learning that allows children to “pursue, or self-direct, the myriad of things that are of interest to them, eat foods they enjoy and in quantities that are satisfying, sleep and rest according to their individual needs, choose friends of all ages or none at all (and) engage in the world in unique and powerful and self-directed ways,” according to Unschooling.com.
Buckner said she takes an eclectic approach with her family, which involves multiple styles of teaching and learning.
Every week, the family does a “check-in” to make sure that the children’s goals are being met.
Buckner sets the overall curriculum, but also lets her children practice setting goals.
“It’s a neat way to find out what they’re into,” she said.
When they set down Monday, she asked Pete what he wanted to do at an upcoming homeschooling function. He said he wanted to play the game Duck, Duck, Goose.
She asked him what he had to do to make that happen. He answered with “make a lunch” and “invite friends.”
Katya — who doesn’t like spelling because “it’s boring” — planned to make a present for a friend’s upcoming birthday. During her brainstorming, she listed the materials she would need for the type of gift she was going to make.
“We definitely encourage our children to explore the world,” she said.
Buckner praised the state’s homeschooling system.
“You just let the state know that you’re going to home-school, fill out a form and choose a name,” she said.
She added that the state asks home-school parents to administer a standardized test each year.
There are several resources and support groups available to local homeschooling families, including Richmond County Home Educators and Carolinas Home Educators Family Support, which also serves Anson County as well as Chesterfield and Marlboro counties in South Carolina.
Buckner said the Richmond County group comprises about 10 families, who get together twice a month “so families can work on stuff together.”
She said she likes when other people can contribute to the learning process by explain things in different ways.
The rise in homeschooling combined with the number of students in private schools has an effect on the funding for public schools.
Dr. Cindy Goodman, superintendent for Richmond County Schools, said schools are funded based on average daily membership, or how many students are enrolled.
She said Richmond County Schools receives about $7,760 per student in local, state and federal funding.
However, Goodman said the schools feel a more significant, more direct impact when parents decide to quit homeschooling and send their kids to public schools.
“Our experiences have been that most of these students are behind and have gaps in their learning,” she said. “While some parents have the ability and dedication to provide a quality experience, others do not and the child suffers as a result.”
“We’re concerned any time a child is not enrolled in public school, but at the same time, we understand that parents know what’s best for their children,” Goodman said.
“The increase in homeschooling in Richmond County is slightly less than the North Carolina average,” she said. “Perhaps we need to do a better job of marketing the good things happening here in Richmond County Schools.”
Buckner was surprised to learn that homeschooling had surpassed private schooling, saying families looking for alternatives generally gravitate toward private schools.
“That shocks me,” she said. “To jump on board and do it yourself is something else.”
She said she thinks the reason for the uptick in homeschooling is because parents want to take a more direct hand in their children’s education.
“Because society has taken one direction doesn’t mean it’s the only direction,” she said.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.