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Black families turned to homeschooling during pandemic — and are sticking with it

(NEW YORK) — Homeschooling, once a relatively niche form of education that has been growing steadily in the past decades, has seen a big uptick due to the COVID-19 pandemic with Black families adopting the practice at a notably high rate.

During the pandemic, the rates of families that home-schooled their children doubled, according to the most recent report released by the U.S. Census. In Black or African American households, the change was especially dramatic, going from 3% in the spring of 2020 to 16% by the fall.

Joyce Burges, co-founder of the National Black Home Educators association, based near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told ABC News the group had been seeing a “gradual increase in the number of Black families” homeschooling, but “with the pandemic it rose so incredibly.”

The reasons are multiple, she said, ranging from parents wanting to teach a more diverse curriculum to being able to better address the special needs of their children.

The numbers are just going to continue to increase, she said, adding that “education is not just brick and mortar, it will never go back to that again.”

Jania Otey told ABC News that there are myriad reasons why she home-schools her children, but ultimately she wants the children to “excel and progress.”

“We wanted them to be able to grasp a concept quickly or a subject matter,” she said. “We wanted to be able to move them on and build upon those things and not stay into one subject.”

For Otey, another rationale behind the decision to home-school Caleb and another son was “to provide a safe, engaging, healthy environment for our children.”

Although reports from the National Center for Education Statistics show the practice of home-schooling has been historically very white, the demographic shift is unsurprising for experts such as Cheryl Fields-Smith, professor of elementary education at the University of Georgia.

“Teachers are told what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, and that doesn’t always align with the students in the classroom,” Fields-Smith told ABC News.

The trends had already been set in place, but “the pandemic made it rise much more quickly.”

When she was first beginning her research, Fields-Smith said she was surprised to see Black families homeschooling, because she thought it was a predominantly white phenomenon.

“I was just blown away,” she said, learning about how Black families were adapting to make home-schooling work for them.

Similarly, Joyce Burges felt herself in the minority as a Black mother making the decision to home-school her children. She remembers vividly the joy at seeing another Black family at a home-schooling conference for the first time, more than 20 years ago.

Now, she can point to examples such as the parents of Venus and Serena Williams, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith as Black celebrities who have home-schooled their children.

Families can find resources and teaching lessons on “every subject,” she said, and she hopes to restart their conference series soon, through which Black families can hear about other parents’ experiences homeschooling.

Burges, who homeschooled her five children, said that it was ultimately “​​one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. But it was one of the best.”

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