By David Wiseman, homeschooling dad of 6 and Teaching and Marketing Specialist at Merit Preparatory Academy
Guest writers are invited for their insights into different aspects of the Homeschool Hub Utah's four pillars, which are to connect, empower, educate, and serve homeschooling families in Utah. While we feel each guest blogger's message will be helpful to homeschooling families, not all ideas presented by every guest blogger are officially endorsed by Homeschool Hub Utah.
When my wife and I started homeschooling, we didn’t quite know what to expect or what the future would hold. At the time, we couldn’t have imagined how the beautiful struggles of that journey would draw us closer together as a family and instill in our children an enduring love of learning. As important as any curriculum were the relationships we formed with others along the way. Through the years, and with a lot of help from wonderful families who provided encouragement, guidance, and resources, we learned that homeschooling wasn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Every child is delightfully unique, and as ours grew older, their needs required adaptations for their education. Early on, they learned mostly at home, at parks, and in co-ops. Later, we incorporated some online games, a variety of specialty classes, and other group experiences that helped them have new adventures with the world around them.
Currently, in addition to homeschooling, four of our six children are also enrolled in classes at Merit Preparatory Academy, a public charter school (grades 7–12) that serves families throughout Utah County. The combination of public education and homeschooling has blessed our children in exciting new ways. The increasingly wide range of homeschooling options means that most families will likely “go hybrid” outside of the home in some way, and new legislation in Utah is making it easier to include public school courses as part of your family education plan. Below are five tips that helped us as we transitioned into select public school classes as part of our family learning.
REMEMBER YOUR WHY
Why did you decide to homeschool? Based upon your answer, you might determine that a hybrid education isn’t the right choice for your family, but opting to take classes from a public school of your choice also might help support your goals. First, make a list of your educational priorities. You might consider questions such as following: What are my core values? What truly matters to our family for the education of our children? What are our specific needs? Next comes the fun part. Go school mission shopping! Search school websites to learn what they value. Do they match your list? You are likely to find more defined missions among charter schools, as they are “chartered” to provide educational choices for families by focusing on specific aims that distinguish them from traditional district schools. Merit Academy, for example, focuses on quality education and character development through principled leadership, engaged learning, and active service. The values at the school complemented what we were trying to achieve at home, so it has been amazing for our children. Not just any school, however, is going to be an ideal choice for a hybrid approach to your family’s education, so find your why and then get shopping!
FIND A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT
Even if a school strives to achieve a mission that matches your values, this doesn’t necessarily make it a good fit for your family. Personally, I’ve found that few schools truly understand the needs of homeschool families. As you ask school leaders about part-time options for homeschool families, notice their initial reaction. Are they excited to work with you? Do they regularly work with part-time students, or are they simply required to “make an exception” for you? Public schools primarily serve the needs of full-time students in traditional academic tracks, so it is understandable that any variation from that norm would be met with hesitancy. If a school is not accustomed to working with homeschool families, it can quickly lead to frustration on both sides. Here are additional questions you might ask: How many homeschool families take classes at the school? What role does the leadership play in supporting homeschool students? Do the school policies make it easy to have a part-time schedule? At Merit, our school board is comprised of mostly homeschool parents, and the homeschool students who enroll in our classes are among our most active leaders. I’m proud to work at a school that enthusiastically welcomes homeschool families and genuinely values the unique gifts they bring to our programs. Many schools don’t have this focus, and that’s ok! They meet other important needs. Finding a school that not only understands homeschooling, but also actively fosters a supportive environment for part-time students, will greatly increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.
SEARCH FOR FLEXIBILITY
One of the main challenges of setting up a hybrid schooling plan is coordinating schedules among different programs. This is not new to homeschooling, as many families participate in a wide range of activities, co-ops, and classes in addition to the learning that happens at home. The problem is that some schools either do not offer part-time options or the way their schedule is designed is not conducive to the needs of homeschool families. For example, a daily class schedule can make it challenging to select other learning activities that happen in longer blocks. Traditional AB block schedules can also present conflicts when you need to schedule other activities on specific days and there isn’t consistency in the rotation of classes. Merit has set classes on M/W and T/Th with alternating Fridays. This way, you can decide to just come on one of those tracks, choose only morning or afternoon classes for a week-long schedule, or opt for a mix of both. You can also enroll in a single class if desired. In other words, try to find schools with multiple part-time options. This flexibility is invaluable, especially for larger families trying to coordinate the scheduling needs of multiple children. You might also ask if you can change your schedule if your needs change. Smaller charter schools, like Merit, are more likely to provide that level of support, but it’s important to ask up front what the scheduling options are and what the school is willing to do to support the type of learning schedule that would be best for your family.
As you know, quality education isn’t free of cost, so it’s important to consider the financial implications of hybrid models. Many homeschool families enroll in distance learning programs (Harmony Ed., My Tech High, or Canyon Grove, among others) that provide reimbursements for learning expenses. Once you enroll in a public school, even if part-time, you can lose that funding. Public school classes are tuition-free (including in charters), but there are still fees involved, unless you qualify for a waiver. Our children have enjoyed a range of specialty classes throughout their homeschooling, and we have relied on funding through one of these distance learning programs to pay for them. We were also very grateful to have received funds to purchase tech programs, instruments, and other learning resources. Over time, however, we acquired most of what we needed, and we decided that the experiences they received at Merit—through music, theater, sports, science labs, dance, choir, woodshop, clubs, and student government—outweighed the minimal costs. Starting in 2024, a new Utah voucher system will help make these choices even easier. The Utah Fits All Scholarship Program is “an education savings account (ESA) available to all K–12 students in the State of Utah to pay for educational expenses, private school tuition, approved education goods and services” (click to learn more). This ESA will expand hybrid options by allowing homeschool students to enroll in public schools part-time, while retaining funding for other learning opportunities, including the purchase of homeschool curriculum. As with all funding options, it’s important to review the details carefully, and then assess what is best for your family. Though some of the most inspiring learning can happen without price tags, it’s definitely still important to crunch the numbers to see if transitioning to a hybrid model is the right move for you.
CONNECT AND SERVE
My last tip has been a game-changer for our family: gather others and get involved! Once you find a school that welcomes homeschool students and meets the learning needs of your family, find your tribe and get to work. Serving together with homeschool families, alongside others at Merit who share our values, has been such a blessing. It has also helped make the transition from full-time homeschooling to a hybrid approach easier due to the support system it created. Obviously, there are differences between homeschooling and public education, but for our family, Merit has often felt like a co-op experience, but with the benefits of full-time staff support and more funding for its programs. When I asked my son about his transition to hybrid learning, he said: “So many of my friends at Merit are also homeschooled, so it was easy. It’s basically like ‘Homeschool Premium.’” I laughed when he spontaneously coined that term, but I totally agree. As we have connected with other families—from a variety of backgrounds—in support of our goals, it really has added a “premium” feel to our homeschool experience. Merit’s motto is “Lead, Learn, Serve,” and as we have actively done that with other families, it has not only strengthened the school, but also created a mentoring circle around our children. As a staff member, I’m so grateful for everything homeschool families contribute to Merit, and as a homeschool dad, I couldn’t imagine educating our children without the inspiring influence of so many other families who have taught our children with such care.
And so our journey continues… We never thought to “go hybrid” in our early years of homeschooling, and honestly that wouldn’t have been the best choice for our children during that time. Every year, our family reevaluates its goals and strives to find the best educational options. As we have opened our minds and hearts to new paths, we have benefited from opportunities that we might not have initially considered when we started homeschooling. Specifically, I am grateful that we discovered how a hybrid model could enhance the learning we were doing and continue to do at home. If you ever have questions about hybrid options, don’t hesitate to reach out, and I’d be happy to share more. You can learn about Merit Preparatory Academy at www.meritprepacademy.org or schedule a family tour with me at www.calendly.com/meritacademy.
Finally, I would like to invite your family to a Homeschool Fair at Merit (1440 W. Center St., Springville, UT) that will take place on Saturday, April 15, from 10am to noon, where you can learn about our program options and connect with other homeschool families at our school. Come and see how a hybrid education might be able to bless your family in exciting new ways!
Below are additional comments from other homeschool parents who also enroll their children in classes at Merit Preparatory Academy.
“Homeschooling has always been our first choice for educating our children. This being said, our family is so grateful for Merit Academy! The administration and teachers at Merit have worked with us to provide classes and service opportunities for our children to enrich their educational experience. The hybrid model has allowed them to take the classes they want to take (mostly fine arts and student government) while they work on home-based classes outside of Merit. For us, it’s really been the best of both worlds!” —Kathy S.
Merit’s Roots Band (Irish Folk Band) currently has ten members and seven are from homeschool families.
Seven of the Merit student council members in this photo are from homeschool families.
“Theater at Merit has been a godsend for my daughter. Five years ago, she was a shy and reticent 7th grader who, with a little encouragement, decided to audition for her first musical. She has since been a part of several musicals and straight plays which have helped her gain self-confidence and develop a skill set that not only serves her on stage and backstage but off stage as well. Additionally, Merit welcomes homeschoolers! My daughter is one of many homeschoolers who supplement home education with the wonderful theater program they provide.” —Rozelle H.
Thirteen students in this theater group are from homeschool families.
David Wiseman is a homeschool dad who has also served in a wide range of professional teaching and administrative roles over a span of nearly two decades. Currently, he is a Teaching and Marketing Specialist at Merit Preparatory Academy and also teaches courses in Latin American history, literature, and culture at Brigham Young University. In his free time, he enjoys running, raising farm animals, engaging in community and church service, and spending time with his wife, Heather, and their six children.