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Education

A growing number of Black families are taking education into their own hands by homeschooling

Artwork is displayed on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, at the Gates family home in Ferguson, Missouri. Shalon Gates said she began homeschooling over a decade ago to give her children custom educational experiences that public school may not provide.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Artwork at the Gates family home in Ferguson. Shalon Gates said she began homeschooling over a decade ago to give her children custom educational experiences that public school may not provide.

Beverly Hopgood took a leap of faith this year.

She became her kids’ teacher.

Like many parents, Hopgood had a front-row seat into her kids’ classroom during the pandemic. She saw all the distractions her 6-year-old daughter Addisyn had to deal with in virtual class. The first grader even told her mom how frustrated she was with repetitive learning.

“One day she came up to me and she was like, ‘Mama, if we have to count to 20 or go over the seasons, which I know, or listen to this dude Usher do the ABC’s one more time, it’s gonna be a wrap,’” Hopgood recalled.

The turning point was her 9-year-old son Andre. He’d get flustered typing out his answers. His confidence took a hit. He’d even cry.

“I could just see my kids were just falling apart,” Hopgood said. “I know as a mom we all have jobs outside of our homes. But as a mom, my first job is to my babies. My first job is to make sure that they’re OK and they are getting everything that they need. I knew in my heart that they just weren’t.”

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Beverly Hopgood
Andre Hopgood is reading a book to his younger sister Addisyn. Their mother, Beverly Hopgood, decided to homeschool the pair starting this year.

Hopgood knew it was time for a change. She did her research, and ultimately she and her husband ditched traditional learning for homeschool.

The Hopgoods are joining a growing number of Black families gravitating toward homeschooling. The U.S. Census Bureau published findings from a survey that found the rate of Black families swapping traditional learning with homeschooling between the spring and fall of 2020 was five times more than any other racial group in the country.

Sheretta Butler-Barnes is an associate professor at Washington University and a developmental psychologist. Some of her work focuses on the effects racism has on the educational and health outcomes of Black families.

She said the pandemic gave parents access to their kids' education in a way they hadn’t before. But the negative experiences Black children and parents have in the classroom aren’t new.

“It’s stemming from curriculum issues where Black children are not necessarily being reflected in the curriculum that’s being taught,” she said. “We have teacher biases. And then we have exposure to racism within these contexts.”

Some of those experiences in the classroom led Black parents to homeschool long before the pandemic.

Shalon and Halbert Gates have been teaching their four kids at home for more than a decade. They’d started their kids out with homeschooling, but for financial reasons switched to traditional school. That was short-lived, partially because their oldest son, Isaac, wasn’t able to thrive academically.

Isaac Gates, 13, works on classwork on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, at his home in Ferguson, Missouri. Shalon Gates, Isaac's mother, said she began homeschooling her children over a decade ago to give them custom educational experiences that public school may not provide. In addition, Gates said she and her husband used the child tax credits offered under the Biden administration to renovate their education space.
Brian Munoz
Isaac Gates works on his schoolwork in a home classroom. Shalon Gates, Isaac's mother, said she and her husband used the child tax credits offered under the Biden administration to renovate their education space.

Isaac has been a math whiz since he was 2 years old. His parents advocated for him to be placed in a class that reflected his skills but said they were shut down.

“It was just like, ‘Well yeah, you know you guys say he can do all of these wonderful things with math, but we kind of think he should just stay at this level,’” Shalon said. “And so, psychologically what that does to a child when he feels that he can achieve a lot, but then he’s told, 'Well no, we just want to keep you here.'”

Even Isaac worried about being an outsider if he continued to excel. Shalon recalled a conversation she had with him when he brought those concerns to her.

“‘Mom, I don't want to appear to be too smart, because then I won't have a lot of friends,’” Shalon recalled her son telling her. “So he felt the pressure, although it was never spoken. Nobody said you can't be too smart, but there was just this underlying pressure.”

Shalon and her husband spent a lot of time reshaping his confidence when they transitioned back into homeschooling. She told him to take pride in all his gifts.

“I want you to gain that spark again of wanting to achieve and attain a high level of academic achievement,” she said. “Like it’s OK. Sky's the limit.”

Now Isaac is doing 10th grade math as a middle schooler.

Zianne Gates, 5, reacts as she reads with her mother Shalon Gates on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, at their home in Ferguson, Missouri. Gates said she began homeschooling over a decade ago to give her children custom educational experiences that public school may not provide.
Brian Munoz
Zianne Gates, 5, reacts as she reads with her mom. Shalon Gates and her husband made the decision to homeschool their children more than a decade ago.

Having that kind of support is important, said Dannielle Joy Davis. She is founder of Circle of Excellence, where she assists supplemental and full-time homeschooling families in the St. Louis region and across the country. She's also a professor of higher education administration at St. Louis University.

Davis too was homeschooled, and a few years ago, her 13-year-old son asked her to homeschool him. She said some parents don’t think they have the chops to homeschool. However, she said there’s no wrong or right way to do it. Each family dynamic looks different, including hers as a single mom.

Davis said homeschooling is just an extension of parenting.

“Take your natural skill of teaching your child basic life skills, and just transfer it to teaching them a little bit about history,” she said. “Transfer it to teaching them about how to apply mathematics in a real and relatable way.”

For Hopgood's husband, Andre, there were concerns about whether she would be able to handle homeschooling on top of an already busy life. They’d just welcomed their third child, and Andre, a firefighter, isn’t always home. Beverly works a full-time job that can be time intensive running four offices.

“He felt it would be very stressful for me to try and work and do [homeschooling] at the same time, which I completely understood where he was coming from,” Hopgood said. “It just didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how stressed out I was going to be, because [the kids] were not OK.”

So far, the Hopgoods say the risk has paid off. Their kids are thriving, and their son has his confidence back.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

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