By Meghan Wotring
There comes a point in every parent’s life when they begin considering schooling choices for their children.
Do you enroll the child in the neighborhood public school, or is there a better fit elsewhere? Alaskans are blessed to have many strong options, allowing each parent to find the right fit for their unique child and family as a whole.
Homeschooling is an amazing option that the Alaska school system offers. But, if you’re like me (and pretty much every parent who has contemplated homeschooling), you may be wondering, “can I actually homeschool?” The short answer is: yes. Yes, you can. Homeschooling in Alaska is a unique and rewarding experience, due in large part to the homeschool-friendly community that our state helps foster through financial support and a host of options for homeschooled children.
My homeschool story begins not with my children, but with my own homeschool education. It started when I was four years old. From four through age ten I was homeschooled in Oklahoma. My family moved and I finished out grade school as an independent homeschool student right here in Alaska.
Even with my personal, hands-on experience homeschooling, when it came time for my children to enter the world of formal education, I was terrified to homeschool. But, homeschooling really did feel like the right fit for our family. Rather than embarking independently under the state homeschool statute, we chose to homeschool through Raven Homeschool, a local homeschooling charter.
There are basic nuts and bolts to understand about homeschooling in Alaska.
In short, Alaska law requires children who are 7-16 years of age to attend a school or comply with the homeschool law. State law designates four options under which you can legally homeschool. For more information, check out the Home School Legal Defense Association website at hslda.org.
- Option 1: Homeschooling under the homeschool statute.
- Option 2: Homeschooling with a private tutor.
- Option 3: Homeschooling with school board approval.
- Option 4: Homeschooling as a religious private school.
Due to the rural nature of much of the state, many different correspondence schools have emerged whose goal is to support homeschooling parents and children by providing resources such as advisory teachers, accreditation, annual financial allotments from the state, group classes, and activities. These charter schools fall under Option 3: homeschooling with school board approval. This charter/correspondence school option is the route our family ultimately chose when we decided to homeschool.
People choose to homeschool for many different reasons: flexibility of schedule (we school year-round so that time off comes when we need it), learning style (we incorporate a mix of homeschooling styles that go beyond bookwork), a child with special needs (many people have students who spend a great deal of time in a specific sport or studying music and need the extra support and flexibility to facilitate this), living in a remote area, or perhaps religious reasons. If you want to homeschool your children for religious reasons, homeschooling under the state statute or via a private religious school are great options to consider. However, you can still incorporate religion while homeschooling through a charter school, it would just be at your own expense- separate from the charter school and the funding allocated from the state. For example, my family has chosen to incorporate the Bible into our school curriculum. I purchase all associated materials for it with our own money rather than with the allotted state funds, and I don’t need to report to our advisory teacher about my children’s progress in this subject. It’s purely independent.
We enrolled in Raven Homeschool, an accredited, state-wide correspondence school operated by the Yukon-Koyukuk School District (YKSD), with offices located in Anchorage, Delta Junction, Eagle River, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Wasilla. We enrolled with Raven in Eagle River.
Each different charter/correspondence school offers different benefits to the homeschooling family, depending on what the individual families and students need. Some charters offer larger monetary allotments. That may be found helpful for children who are 5in an expensive sport or activity, such as ballet or a traveling team. Some charters offer more personalized support for families. One of the reasons we chose Raven Homeschool was its wealth of enrichment opportunities and activities for our children. Each month our family participates in events and classes hosted by Raven, such as:
- Geography Club
- Science Class
- Art Class
- Cross Country Ski Club
- Field Trips
- Holiday Parties
- And more…(there are many more options for different ages and interests).
Each charter has a unique set of advantages and offerings worth exploring.
Frontier Charter, Iditarod Distance Learning Center, and Raven are three homeschool/charter schools that have local offices in Eagle River. Many of the others have offices elsewhere but still work with families from all over. For a full list of charter/correspondence school options check out: https://education.alaska.gov/alaskan_schools/corres
When we first enrolled with Raven, our advisory teacher assessed me and my child to help determine which curriculum she would suggest for us. This was so helpful! While you are completely free to choose the curriculum yourself, having access to a certified teacher to recommend the best curriculum for our family was very reassuring. We tried the curriculum she suggested, and it was an amazing fit. This was a huge help during our first year of homeschooling. Also, our advisory teacher is available for phone calls, emails, and in-person appointments as-needed to help with concerns and provide any additional support we seek. We maintain monthly contact and turn in quarterly progress reports and work samples. Although it may seem daunting at first, I have come to love quarterly progress reports because it helps me stay organized and look back at the progress we’ve made throughout the year.
My oldest is now in third grade and my youngest is in first. Since we began homeschooling, I feel like we’ve found the jackpot in education- the best of both worlds, so to speak. My children get to develop relationships with peers and other teachers through the activities and advisors we engage with, they receive the financial resources an individual family might not be able to afford when homeschooling independently, and we still have the freedom and flexibility to build our daily schedule for what fits our personal needs.
There are many great ways to homeschool, and no matter which path you choose there are amazing resources. Here in Eagle River, various Facebook groups support the individual homeschooler. For example, there’s Wild and Free, Eagle River’s local chapter of the nationwide Wild and Free group, (www.bewildandfree.org). This is a Christian group that supports students and families in getting outdoors and thinking outside the box in educating their kids.
There are also Eagle River Homeschool Classes offered at the MAC Center, (www.eagleriverhomeschoolclasses.com). These organized classes are accessible to homeschooled kids and most correspondence school allotments cover the tuition. Classes include PE, art, STEM, music and more.
There are also resources and information available at Alaska Private Homeschool Education Association (APHEA), with a Facebook group and website (aphea.org). APHEA is Alaska’s Statewide Christian Homeschool Organization.
So as you are considering homeschooling, be encouraged. My personal experience has been that it is challenging. It takes a lot of time. It requires sacrifice. But it is more than worth it. It has been amazing and rewarding for my family, and surprisingly, I fell in love with it. Most importantly, my children are thriving. It is better than I could have imagined. You, too, can do this! Every parent has doubts and concerns, but you can certainly successfully homeschool and see your children thrive! Take advantage of Alaska’s many great resources and opportunities for support as you embark.
Meghan Wotring is a 26 year resident of Alaska living in Eagle River for the last seven. She worked as a Technical Writer, then started her own business, Turning Leaf Wellness. She now homeschools her daughters, currently in first and third grade. Her interests are spending time with God, studying natural wellness, writing, and enjoying the outdoors.