Lora Lubbecke’s junior year started the same way all the other years have.

As a home-schooled student, she’ll start most of her days with music lessons before moving on to English and math before lunch. The 16-year-old works on science and electives in the afternoon with her mother as her teacher.

“I love it,” Lubbecke said. “I get to explore stuff I enjoy.”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic and ever-changing federal and state guidelines on reopening schools, there has been an increased interest into alternatives to the brick-and-mortar public schools.

The News-Review talked to local experts to look at the different options available for families in Douglas County:

HOME SCHOOLINGHome schooling in Oregon means that children are educated at home at the expense of private individuals. It also means that students in a virtual charter school or participating in distance learning are not considered home-schooled.

Parents who plan to home-school their children will need to notify the Douglas Education Service District within 10 days of withdrawing from another institution. DESD has forms that can be filled out online to fulfill that requirement.

Home-schooled students need to participate in assessment testing in third, fifth, eighth and 10th grade and submit those results to the ESD upon request.

Julieanne Miller home-schooled both of her daughters and has been providing information and advice to parents who are new to home schooling. Miller used to be a public school teacher but decide to home-school her own children.

“Parents decide to home-school their children for a variety of reasons, but it all boils down to the parent deciding that what they can provide their children at home, independently from public school funding and control, will be a much better educational opportunity for their children,” Miller said.

Miller said parents who are considering home schooling should look into the curriculum, their child’s study habits and start planning for the year. For parents who are not confident in their own ability to teach certain skills, she said much of the curriculum is designed for parents who don’t know a subject well.

“Much of it guides the child and teen to become an independent learner,” Miller said. “When children and teens struggle with a subject, there are numerous options to help, such as online videos, hiring a tutor for a subject, joining a co-op where parents teach their strong skills to the group, etc.”

Joining a co-op or other home schooling groups and activities is also a way for children to get social interactions. But there are also clubs, sports, orchestra, church and many other opportunities for home-schoolers to stay social.

“I don’t think I’m missing out,” Lubbecke said. “I get a lot of interactions.”

Lubbecke participates in the Junior Zookeeper program at Wildlife Safari each year. She also helps out at her local church, plays cello in the youth orchestra and likes to go square dancing at the Buckeroo Barn.

Douglas ESD Regional Educator Network Coordinator Debbie Price said there are students from families in every school district in Douglas County who are registered as home-schooled.

Students who are home-schooled in Oregon can not get a state-certified high school diploma, but they can opt to get a GED or participate in SAT or ACT and get a college degree.

Both of Miller’s daughters attend college: her oldest daughter is working toward a master’s degree in linguistics at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and her youngest daughter will be a senior at Pacific University this fall, majoring in political science and behavioral psychology.

Lubbecke said she hopes to go to college and study either mechanical engineering or zoology.

While home schooling offers flexibility, Miller said there is an importance in creating a routine. But that routine can differ by family, or even by a student.

When asked what the benefits of homeschooling were, Miller listed several: academic flexibility, accommodating to special situations, parent choice of pace and approach, meeting current needs now, community involvement, meaningful learning, time for activities, more time to pursue other interests, natural social interactions, strong family bonds, family values, sheltering children from school violence, drugs and other negative behaviors, a great transcripts, efficient learning, and less frequent standardized testing.

But with less involvement and less oversight, there are also students who do not get the education they deserve.

“It seems like everyone has met that one home-school family whose children are not being educated in any way,” Miller said. “I saw this a few times when I was a public school teacher. These children are actually not home-schoolers; they are truant. In a few cases, I have seen home-school children in the same family who all struggle with strong learning challenges and disabilities, and this can cause them to seem like they are not educating their children, especially if the children are placed into the public school system.”

Some other drawbacks of home schooling are that it can be difficult to be around your own children all day if they are misbehaving or disrespectful, and relatives and friends can be unsupportive. It also takes patience to help a child grasp a new concept, and there is the cost of curriculum and supplies and possibly lost income. There’s also a time commitment, and if there are problems at home with the parents, those can negatively impact the child.

Home schooling for a year is an option, but Miller said most home-schooled children will never be enrolled in public schools.

“If they were, they would be too academically advanced and more well-rounded in their education than their peers,” Miller said.

VIRTUAL SCHOOLVirtual charter schools specialized in providing tuition-free online education to students before the pandemic.

Allison Thomas, Willamette Connections Academy advisory teacher and communications specialist, said virtual school goes above and beyond the state’s definition of Comprehensive Distance Learning.

“Connections Academy has been doing online learning for 20 years. We offer a true online school, which means everything from the digital curriculum to the virtual classroom was carefully designed for the online environment,” Thomas said. “Due to the virtual nature of our school, we are fortunate to offer families continuity of learning, regardless of what the public health conditions might be this fall.”

Virtual public charter schools meet state standards for education, including state-certified teachers. But still allow for flexibility and learning from home.

A full list of virtual public charter schools can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y4b79hs4.

“Education is no longer ‘one-size-fits-all’ as we know no two students learn the same way,” Thomas said. “With that in mind, the goal of online school is: provide a school choice option for families who are looking for an individualized approach to public education to meet their child’s specific learning needs. At Willamette Connections Academy, we help students maximize their potential and meet the highest performance standards through a uniquely individualized learning program, supported by teachers and Learning Coaches in a safe and supportive environment.”

Tricia Powell spoke to The News-Review in April to give parents some tips on how to help their children be successful in online learning. Powell’s daughter, Hannah Powell, had been enrolled at Baker Charter School, a virtual school.

“We’re blessed to have the choice,” Powell said at the time. “It’s nice to have options.”

Thomas went on to say that although virtual schools are a great fit for many students, it doesn’t fit all students either.

“Some students may not adjust to learning from home and still need that in-person classroom experience,” she said. “Other students may not have the self-motivation and discipline needed to succeed in a virtual school setting.”

Another thing Thomas wanted parents to consider was how younger students will need parents, or other adults, to oversee the work.

While the classes are personalized and there’s flexibility, it doesn’t mean that there’s no socializing for students. Willamette Connections Academy holds LiveLesson sessions where students can share ideas and have fun learning together. When there’s not a global pandemic, there are even field trips, in-person gatherings and activities for students to participate in.

“The flexibility of the program allows plenty of opportunities for students to pursue and explore not only school-sponsored activities, but also activities held within their local communities.”

PRIVATE SCHOOLDouglas County is home to a number of Christian private schools, including two boarding schools. There is also the private Maple Corner Montessori school, which has no religious affiliation.

When asked what the benefit of private schools is, George Graham, the superintendent and principal of Umpqua Valley Christian School, said being able to pray with families and sharing similar beliefs is a huge benefit to private schools.

“Our mission is to partner with parents to educate and disciple students from a biblical worldview,” Graham said. “So if parents want to surround their child with Christian teachers, Christian families, have chapel once a week, memorize Bible verses and study Christian curriculum, then UVC might be for them.”

Roseburg Junior Academy Principal Jeff Jackson, who also teaches fourth through eighth grades, said teaching at a small school enables him to spend more time with each student to “work to map out an academic journey for each of them to ensure that they are prepared academically and socially for anything they want to do in life.”

Graham said the UVC has a lot of parental support and a bigger focus on academic achievement from the students.

At RJA, Jackson has introduced a lot of project-based learning, which gives students the opportunity to learn about music, film editing, computer programming, historical re-enactments and science projects.

“Learning should be both fun and educational,” Jackson said. “We strive to make sure that if there is something our students are interested in pursuing academically, we will provide them with the chance to succeed. We also recognize that curriculum can only do so much. We always strive to have excellent teachers.”

Jackson said private schools are there to provide families with options and to provide students with opportunities, while also having the opportunity to pray and read the Bible.

Graham said a drawback of private schools is that they don’t offer as many electives and are limited in the sports offered. Jackson added that the cost and lack of transportation can also be drawbacks.

There is still plenty of socializing even though the schools are smaller.

“As a matter of fact, two of my boys married girls who went to UVC,” Graham said. “Pretty social.”

The schools also organize several social activities, such as a winter banquet at UVC, clubs and sports.

All private schools in Douglas County will continue at least some in-person education this fall. Both boarding schools, Milo Adventist Academy and Canyonville Academy, will offer hybrid education to its students while all other schools will educate children on site.

PUBLIC SCHOOLStill the most popular choice for education in Douglas County, public schools have had to change their approach to education rapidly since March when the COVID-19 pandemic came to Oregon.

“We have designed learning pathways for our students and families that allow them elements of choice in terms of learning structures,” Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon said. “When we do return to in-person learning, parents and students will have the choice to either return to school or continue with online, remote learning.”

Teachers in public schools are state-certified and have to adhere to grade-level standards. Cordon added, “(Teachers) are supported with ongoing, high-quality professional learning opportunities and a proven instructional framework that puts a focus on best practices in terms of student engagement, pedagogy, assessment, planning, and creating a classroom environment (whether online or in-person) and culture that encourages deep thinking and actions.”

When asked what the benefits were for public schools, Cordon listed: academic opportunities, teacher qualifications, academic results, cost/affordability, extracurricular opportunities, accountability, and additional services such as transportation, free and reduced-price meals and special education.

“Larger class sizes in some public schools could be a perceived drawback, but many educators implement small group sessions for students to collaborate and learn from each other, providing diverse, real-world experiences,” Cordon said.

But having more students also means being able to develop and enhance social-emotional skills.

“We know that building social-emotional skills in students as young as kindergarten can have long-term benefits, not just for the students themselves but for society as a whole,” Cordon said. “Research shows that children with a stronger social emotional skill set were less likely to experience health problems, struggle with substance abuse, or engage in criminal activity as they got older.”

Schools will have to follow state guidelines for reopening, which means Roseburg will start its school year with remote learning. Other schools, such as Days Creek and Camas Valley, were able to start in-person instruction.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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