BLUEFIELD — Parents and children across the U.S. celebrated the 10th annual National School Choice Week from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 with more than 50,000 school choice events across all 50 states.
National School Choice Week is a time when schools, organizations and individuals join forces to make information on school choice as accessible as possible for families.
With recent legislation passed in W.Va., a celebration is in order for the National School Choice Week organization. In W.Va. there are a variety of educational options to attend including traditional public schools, charter schools, online academies, private schools and homeschooling.
According to Shelby Doyle, the Director of Communications and External Relations at National School Choice Week, school choice is the process of allowing every family to choose the educational options that best fit their children.
“The real importance for us was realizing how unaware parents were with options provided to them,” Doyle said. “The options have existed for a while and the organization was born out of conversations with parents.”
Doyle said that they hear a variety of reasons that parents have for wanting to explore education options for their children. She said that people are drawn away from a negative, but also drawn to a positive. Sometimes, she said, a student may have an interest or talent that is not available at their school and National School Choice Week can help provide options for them to grow in that.
“National School Choice Week is about celebrating great choices families have made,” Doyle said. “We try to celebrate great schools they are already attending, that is where a lot of traditional schools that celebrate the school, to celebrate what they offer. For example, public charter schools are a lot of different things depending on the school and that is the whole point. They can provide individuality and they are just as free and available as public schools. Some will have a particular focus and framework on what they focus on, a lot of them focus on college preparation.”
With legislation passed to allow three Charter Schools in W.Va. in 2019, Doyle encourages the state to look at how surrounding states have set up their Charter School programs. She used Pa. as an example.
“Our mission is to try to keep things very parent-oriented,” Doyle said. “A lot of the conversation around education policy gets centered on political arguments and we have found that is off-putting for parents. You do not need to have a strong political alignment to explore what other options there may be for your child.”
Savannah Blankenship is a local home-schooling mother of two. Her two children, Emma, 6th grade, and Elijah, 3rd grade, have been home-schooled for their entire education and she said they have flourished because of the one on one education they have received.
“I think my biggest reason I chose homeschooling was that I enjoyed teaching our kids, we started early and we started with basic fun things every day,” Blankenship said. “Eventually, as they grew, I realized how much they had learned at home. I saw that one on one instruction was so beneficial. They were both fluently reading by Kindergarten.”
The family uses the ABEKA curriculum and belongs to a local homeschool group called HEARTH. In addition, Emma plays the piano and Elijah plays the guitar. They practice their instruments throughout the week and perform at church every week. Blankenship said that her children and other students in HEARTH are held to the same academic standards as any other students and when they participate in state testing, they always score above-average.
“Our school days we run around 4 hours a day and that is covering all of our core subjects,” Blankenship said. “If there is something that we need to hone in with a child, we will work on that. We belong to HEARTH, it is a Christian local support group for homeschool families. Right now we have over 130 families that are involved in that group. We participate in activities with their homeschool friends.”
Blankenship said that there were countless benefits of having a choice in her children’s education. She said she has seen that education is not a “one size fits all” situation and should provide an environment for children to flourish in their environment.
“My advice to any parent would be to do what they think is best for their child,” Blankenship said.
That local community, HEARTH will travel to Charleston next week for the fourth annual Homeschool Day at the Capitol building. About 80 families will be attending the event.
“This year our group has been invited to the Resolution Declaring Homeschool Day at the Capitol,” Blankenship said. We will get to go into the house chamber and our kids and families will get to meet the lawmakers who are supporting education choice and legislation that would benefit our families.”
Blankenship said that she feels that home-schooled children are sometimes overlooked and do not get the same opportunities that other children get and that the legislation being passed is a step in the right direction for her family and community.
“They do not always get the same opportunities that other children get, in what they participate in, the recognition they get from our lawmakers is lacking and I know that our children are excited about this and they are looking forward to meeting these people who are working for them. It might encourage them to work to make the state a better place.”
In addition to Homeschool Day at the Capitol, an event was held on Jan. 29 to showcase W.Va.’s increasing education options at the Charleston Civic Center. The event was organized by the W.Va. Voices for Education Choices.
“We are excited to build on 2019’s record-breaking celebration,” Garrett Ballengee, executive director of the Cardinal Institute for W.Va. Policy said in a press release preceding the event. “The West Virginia National School Week event in Charleston is about celebrating all forms of educational choice, showcasing student talent, and demonstrating the power of parental empowerment. The statewide conversation on education has been far too negative recently, and we hope that this celebration will be a healthy dose of positivity and fellowship for West Virginia.”
Blankenship was able to find the curriculum she wanted to use in homeschooling her children online, but for parents that may not know where to start, National School Choice can help.
“We put together what information we can find for parents for their specific state,” Doyle said. “In a lot of states, I usually recommend looking into a magnet school. There are some magnet programs within public school programs. Students can go hone those schools ahead of time but there are a lot of great online learning options. For example, West Virginia virtual school is a wonderful opportunity for them. We have seen an explosion of virtual learning in the last ten years, but especially in the last few years.”
For more information about school choice, parents can visit schoolchoiceweek.com and download a fact sheet about their individual state.
— Contact Emily Rice at email@example.com