As a parent of two school-age children, Kelli Zejdlik was interested in learning about her options at an informational meeting hosted Wednesday, July 29, by the North Dakota Home School Association.

“I’m here to gather information,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly what it would take.”

Zejdlik was among about 60 people who attended the evening meeting at a Lincoln Park shelter where Theresa Deckert, Devils Lake, NDHSA office administrator, outlined home-school law, testing and resources for learning materials. Deckert has 33 years’ experience as a home-schooling parent.

Other similar meetings were held recently in Grafton and Northwood, N.D.

"(Home-schooling) is not so much like teaching in a classroom; you’ve got to get that out of your mind,” Deckert told the crowd. “It’s more like tutoring; you’re working one-on-one with your child. You’re constantly assessing your child.”

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Interest in home-school is “exploding,” said Karol Kapelle, NDHSA board member and convention coordinator, of rural Devils Lake. “Our telephone lines are off the hook. COVID has instigated that.”

While some parents have been considering it for many years, Kapelle said the pandemic has pushed the option to the forefront.

Exploring options

After Grand Forks schools closed in mid-March, Zejdlik said her daughters, ages 8 and 12, “excelled wonderfully with distance learning.” Her younger child, who’s heading into third grade, doesn’t want to go back to in-person learning, while the older one, going into eighth grade, does.

“She wants to see her friends,” Zejdlik said.

Like other parents, Zejdlik is concerned about how the pandemic may disrupt the normal classroom experience -- and the uncertainty that clouds the future of education.

“There are a lot of things going on, and we don’t know how it’s going to play out in the schools,” she said.

She’s also thinking about the health and safety of her family.

“We have close family and friends (with potential health issues) and wanted to limit any upset that could come from large gatherings,” Zejdlik said.

Jennifer Ramirez is considering home-schooling to have more predictability and control over the education of her children, ages 7 and 13.

“I’m trying to finish school, too,” said Ramirez, who is earning a bachelor’s degree in aircraft systems at UND.

She recalled that, this spring, after helping her kids with their homework, she was often up until 3 a.m. completing her own.

“It’s going to be hard," said Ramirez of her concerns over the schools shifting between in-person and distance learning. “It’s about stability at this point .... If they cancel school because of an outbreak, this dominates my life."

Under the schools’ distance learning plan this past spring, Ramirez described the instruction as a "lot of busy work," and, in one class, the textbook as outdated.

“Maybe I can control that better by home-schooling. I can fine-tune their learning. They’re having a hard time, too," she said.

Gifted student

For Zeinael Hamadany, who is going into sixth grade, school “is not that challenging,” she said.

Her mother, Mona Ibrahim, said: “I cannot tell you how many days she came home so frustrated, learned nothing that day, she was so bored.”

Zeinael is concerned that, if home-schooled, she would not be able to socialize.

Mother and daughter are considering home-schooling as an option for the next school year, given the current worries fueled by the pandemic.

Home-schooling will offer her some flexibility and an opportunity “to learn what you want,” said Ibrahim, a pharmacist who has never home-schooled.

“She always wants some challenge, and with home-schooling, her learning will be more interesting. Education is a big thing in our house," Mona Ibrahim said. “With what’s going to happen, it’s not going to be good for students.”

Nicole and Adam Derenne will have a child at each level -- elementary, middle and high school -- this coming school year. They attended the meeting “to make sure we’re knowledgeable about all our options,” Nicole said, noting that home-schooling is not their kids’ preference.

She and her husband, who have never home-schooled, are pleased that the district is offering online learning as an option, she said.

“We are really glad to see that was something that’s on the table," she said.

Last spring, their oldest child “did great” with online learning, said Nicole, adding that it gives children “greater autonomy and greater independence.”

Prompted by pandemic

At Wednesday’s gathering, by a show of hands, about 40% of those in attendance signaled that they may home-school for one year because of COVID.

But parents are looking into home-schooling for various reasons, Deckert said.

“There are those who are concerned about COVID -- maybe a child has an illness or Dad has cancer. Then there are parents who are concerned about all the chemicals will be used for cleaning.”

She sees the pandemic as an opportunity to expose home-schooling as an option for more families and to embolden parents who have toyed with the idea for a long time, but not yet taken the plunge.

“Now they have more confidence," she said.

Deckert said she hopes to nudge that confidence by connecting interested parents with others who are experienced in home-schooling.

“People in this part of the state are hungry for having an actual (support) group,” she said, noting that membership in the Greater Grand Forks Area Homeschoolers’ Facebook page has almost doubled this summer.

But she’s quick to point out that those who are not NDHSA members also can seek help from the association.

And, as a new development, home-schooling parents also may use tutors to help with studies such as biology, labs, nutrition, cooking, piano lessons and taekwondo, she said.

“North Dakotans are stepping up and helping North Dakotans -- I just love how they’re stepping up,” Deckert said. “This is happening in every state, what’s happening here.”

“We fought so hard for home-school freedom here,” she said. “We were considered kind of freaks. Now we’re heroes, we’re superheroes.”