From “Least Likely to Homeschool” to Owning At-Home Learning

Sarah Raybon wasn’t always a homeschool mom. Sarah is the first to defend the efforts of her local public schools. They’re struggling to pivot an enormous institution and meet the challenges of virtual learning. As she says, she’s not “knocking” public schools, they just aren’t the right fit for every kid. As she puts it, in a previous life she “would have been voted least likely to homeschool.” In fact, it’s all she can do not to laugh when she thinks about the situation she’s in. She has started a microschool with her kids and a collection of other local families.

Sarah started this transformation like so many of us: spinning in the COVID-19 tornado, trying to understand and meet the expectations of traditional school. A mother of 5, Sarah grew concerned about the effect of all the confusion on her youngest two, a 6 and 8 year old.

Falling Through the Cracks

“If there were ever a time to give it a try, to do a microschool or learning pod myself, it was now.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, Sarah watched it give rise to challenge after challenge for her school system. She watched as parents struggled to quickly adapt to a virtual learning environment. And while some kids were adjusting, the approach was letting too many kids slip between the cracks. Among them, Sarah’s 8 year old son Luke. As Luke struggled to adapt to the static, stationary virtual environment, it sent Sarah down a rabbit hole. How could she give Luke the interaction he needed? How could she maintain his real love of learning? How could she keep him from falling between the cracks and never coming back up?

To be fair, Sarah had a leg up on most moms in her situation. She’d worked with a group to build a new model of school in San Carlos on tribal land with kids from diverse backgrounds. She learned a lot building those “microschools” and knew she could use it to help her own kids during the pandemic.

Sarah dedicated the summer of 2020 to reaching out to her local community on Facebook and Instagram. She quickly formed a pretty cool bond with parents who were in her same uncertain situation. After a few group discussions and continued confusion from the local school district, she “threw it out there” and said something she never thought she’d say– “Anyone interested in microschooling?”

The Response?

“A lot of parents are looking for options out here and just started blowing up my inbox!”

Sarah was overwhelmed with incoming messages. In hours, she knew she had been afraid to ask the same question that everyone wanted to ask. The momentum of the conversations quickly funneled into planning, organizing, budgeting, and collaborating. They were really doing it: creating a microschool. It’d be in a rural area, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 kids, and it’d be brought to life by a group of inexperienced parents ready to hustle for their kids.

Despite being a totally new adventure, something felt really safe and predictable about it. They’re also able to control class-size, instill manageable safety precautions, customize the curriculum and cultivate an environment that allows for more time to enjoy extracurriculars, instead of worrying about troubleshooting technical difficulties to stay connected.

What should other folks keep in mind?

“There are so many resources out there. Think outside the box when it comes to what you can bring and offer, too.”

Sarah will be a host for her microschool classes and although most students are relatively close in age, some kids will be a little older, serving as role models for the younger, creating a supportive environment she hopes one day will become a model for other microschoolers.

And while some parents are using microschooling, pod-learning, and homeschooling as a temporary solution, Sarah is increasingly optimistic that this little start-up will become a permanent fixture of her community. It took a lot–a global pandemic, for one–but Sarah is nearly past her old image of homeschooling. She’s let her “least likely to homeschool” persona take a backseat to “most likely to do whatever is right for her kids.”

Oh, and Luke’s excited too. Sarah and the other parents have put together some interactive and outdoors projects that let more active learners like Luke thrive. At his new school, there’s no way Luke falls through the cracks.

“We’re having a new experience that is just going to be a lot of fun.”