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For more than 1,000 Brunswick County households, back to school means staying at home.

When school opens this fall, many Brunswick County kids won’t be assigned a home room, a locker or a lunch period. They won’t need to wait for a bus in the morning because first period is at their kitchen table. These are Brunswick County’s homeschooled children. Their families do things a bit differently, and that’s okay with them.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Stephanie Savas Photography

Leland resident Aricka Webb was just 9 years old when her mother pulled her from public school. For the rest of the year, Aricka and her siblings traded their morning commute for a walk down the hall.

“I decided, when I had children one day, I would homeschool too,” Webb says. The tradition continues today as she teaches her four children here in Leland. “They’ve never known anything different.”

Webb balances her time between her domestic duties as a mother, her occupational duties as the Leland Produce Box neighborhood coordinator and her educational duties as an instructor of many grades and subjects.

In a homeschool the teacher is usually the mother. And as such, her responsibilities are twofold. She must create a curriculum, manage class time, teach, administrate, parent . . . and yes, even serve as the custodian.

On the plus side, “The homeschool community is very generous and we are often able to share materials” Webb says. Parents are very active on social media, sharing materials, hooking up for field trips and creating resource pages.

While homeschooling used to be rare in America, more and more families are now making the switch. In Brunswick County alone, there are nearly 1,000 home schools. North Carolina has seen an 8.5% increase, with more than 80,973 homeschools (that’s 202,433 students) this year. And that number is growing.

In addition, Brunswick County is home to dozens of cooperative learning and field trip groups designed specifically for homeschool students. Some of the groups include Brunswick County Homeschool Activity Group, Leland Area Homeschoolers (LAH) and the Southeastern Homeschool Sports League for grades 6 through 12.

The host of the LAH Field Day, Randi Jo Rooks met homeschooling neighbors like Aricka Webb back in 2011. Rooks became intrigued with their departure from institutional learning. “I thought the way their family lived and interacted with each other was very beautiful,” she says. At that time, however, she did not believe she could be a mother, wife and teacher. “In fact, I remember very clearly saying multiple times, ‘I could never do that.’”

Now all three of her children — Raymond, 11, Evelyn, 7, and Annabelle, 5 — learn from home. Raymond, who is now in the sixth grade, plays for the Cardinals middle school soccer team. One of his favorite subjects is history “because I love stories and learning about our past. There are also lots of sad and hard things to learn from, but it makes me very thankful that I live now and in America.”

Evelyn, who starts second grade this fall, is glad to spend more time with her brother. And the youngest, Annabelle, is excited about “math because I really love numbers!”

While homeschooling may seem like a dream for some families, there are many challenges. Mandy Swanson, mother of four, runs a parenting and homeschooling blog, and she says one of the biggest challenges is socialization, even though many families don’t want to admit it.

“Honestly, though, the friendship thing is tricky for all of my boys,” she writes in Homeschool Confessions: The Good, the Bad, and the Slightly Awkward. “Not going to school every day, my boys are often just out of the loop, and it does hurt my heart when I know that they are craving more friendships. They see friends at youth group and at the beach but, that isn’t always enough.”

Like Swanson, Rooks strives to make more connections for her family with the community. In fact, she is regularly approached by friends and fellow church members with questions about homeschooling. Many ask her how to get started, so she has become a reliable guide for them.

If they decide it’s what they want, they must provide evidence to the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education that they reside in North Carolina and have a high school diploma or GED. Families must then file a notice of intent to set up the school. When approved, they must administer annual standardized tests that measure spelling, grammar, reading and mathematics and maintain attendance, immunization records and annual testing records for each enrolled student.

“The year that a child turns seven, per N.C. state law, we are required to test them yearly,” Webb says. “It can be as simple as taking a test online for a couple hours with instant feedback to hiring someone else. It’s up to the parent.”

Rooks does not want to give the impression that homeschooling is easy. “The hardest part is also the best part – being together. All. The. Time,” she says. Rooks had to fight through a series of illnesses during the first years of homeschooling, but despite these challenges she considers the entire experience to be worth it.

“When we took our end-of-year annual test that first year, I was in tears when the tester revealed to me how much my son had learned and grown and thrived,” she says. “I’m grateful my kids get a front row seat to my life.”

While Rooks also says that at times homeschooling can be isolating, her family has found ways to become involved with the community. “Whether it is taking classes at Leland Community Arts Center, music classes through a local teacher or volunteering at local nursing homes, our community is full of people willing to share their time and talents with us,” Rooks says.

The family has gone on many field trips, too. Once they took a behind-the-scenes tour of the local grocery store.  They meet other families and visit museums, government buildings and historic sites. They compete in sports, and they brainstorm together to find new ways to approach learning materials.

“Homeschools are just little private schools,” Webb says.

It’s a lot of work, but some say it’s worth the morning commute . . . inside your home.

To learn more about homeschooling and their support groups in Brunswick County, visit the North Carolinians for Homeschool Education website at www.nche.com/regions/9.  

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Allison is a writer and English instructor living in Wilmington, NC. She moved to Nags Head, NC from Delaware in 1996 to attend community college. Then she moved to Wilmington to attend UNCW, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1998, and an MFA in poetry in 2001. While at UNCW, she wrote and edited for the Seahawk and performed at poetry slams. Over the years, she has written for NBM, StarNews Media, Encore, the Pender Post and CitySearch.com. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry East, Cobalt, Fjords, Lilies and Cannonballs, The Oklahoma Review, Scissors and Spackle, and The Lyricist. Her one act play, Heathens, was produced by Big Dawg Theater Company at Thalian Hall, and she wrote and performed with the all female performance art troupe Brawdeville from 1999 to 2003. After spending time on stage, she switched gears and taught English full time at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, NC. She now works at Cape Fear Community College as an adjunct English instructor and a writing facilitator in the Writing Center. In her spare time, she performs with her husband, Carl Kruger, in the sound art troupe 910 Noise. She has a kind, smart and beautiful 14-year-old stepdaughter, and a 14-year-old tortoiseshell cat named Zoe Mushka, aka Mooshy.

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