When Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico in 2017, causing unprecedented devastation, Mariela Rivera’s family had no electricity for five months. To make matters worse, everything around them was destroyed, confining them to their house.
However, Mariela remained optimistic about her homeschooling.
She quickly adjusted the curriculum to teach solely with books they owned, and she added a new course to keep her kids busy: survival skills! Mariela instructed them on everything from handwashing clothes to cooking over an open flame.
Today, even though Mariela is not dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane, she continues to face different challenges when educating her eight children at home (including a child with special needs), such as planning lessons, keeping the house organized, and finding time for her own well-being.
“It's difficult, but not impossible," she said.
A Beautiful Journey
The Riveras’ journey into homeschooling began with a surgery. Eleven years ago, Mariela enrolled her first child, Ezequiel (now 16), in a public school kindergarten in Puerto Rico. Two months later, Ezequiel's teacher had to undergo surgery, leaving the classroom without a teacher.
The Department of Education did not provide a substitute teacher, so Mariela decided to homeschool Ezequiel to prevent him from falling behind. She fell in love with this educational alternative, so much so that she continued homeschooling him even after the teacher returned to her job.
“I never visualized homeschooling. I didn't study to become a teacher," Mariela said. "Besides, I had many misconceptions about this alternative, like how children weren’t able to socialize."
What kept her homeschooling was the opportunity to be actively involved in her children’s learning.
“The interaction between a parent and a child by educating at home is beautiful," she said.
Since then, Mariela and her husband, Gilberto, have homeschooled their other seven children: Ángel David (14), Jesús Adrián (13), Micaela Isabel (11), Miguel Elías (9), Sebastián (7), Mateo (4), and Katherine Edith (1). For Mariela, this has been a blessing.
Learning Along the Way
Mariela has learned a lot while homeschooling her eight children.
First, she has realized she can be flexible with her time.
This school year, she decided to begin teaching her older children a week prior to starting with her younger ones.
“In previous years, we all started at the same time, and there were many interruptions," Mariela said. “I’ve felt calmer this year by starting this way."
Additionally, Mariela has learned to let the older children work on their own while she spends time with the younger ones (she spends at least an hour with them because they need to run and play).
Another crucial aspect for Mariela is taking care of her own physical and emotional health. She believes that if she is well, her children will be well, and the teaching process will flow smoothly. If she is tired, the educational process won't be as effective.
“We need to make time to rest, exercise, eat well, and spend time with our spouse," she said.
Her homeschool support group is also a blessing for her family.
After Hurricane Maria's devastation, her family had to move to another town. Shortly after, she founded a Catholic homeschooling support group called “Sagrada Familia." Her children have been able to make friends through this group, and so has she.
“Homeschooling is done together, and there are many homeschooling moms with whom one can find support," she mentioned. “They are like family."
A Gift from God
One of Mariela's most recent challenges is homeschooling her sixth child, Sebastián, who started to demonstrate special needs after the COVID-19 lockdowns.
When Mariela noticed Sebastián learned differently from her other children, she sought a diagnosis. A friend encouraged her to apply for one of HSLDA’s grants to cover the cost of the test. She’d been a member of HSLDA for a while, but had never applied for a grant.
“When I received the letter saying I received the grant, I was so excited that I ran to tell my husband," Mariela said.
The grant money helped them obtain a diagnosis for Sebastián. They learned he has ADHD and a speech and language disorder. Mariela wasn't alarmed—she was determined to learn how to adapt Sebastián’s education in a way that would enable him to excel.
“Special needs or not, it is the child who educates us as mothers," she said. "They tell us how we should educate them."
Mariela began teaching Sebastián by focusing on his interests: animals, dinosaurs, and insects. She also frequently uses play to spark Sebastián's curiosity, and allows him to move and run so he can develop his motor skills.
Mariela is deeply thankful to HSLDA’s donors for the grant.
“It's a blessing to receive support to fulfill this particular need," she said. "I appreciate knowing I'm not alone, that there's a community helping me make this possible."
The HSLDA grant also enabled the Orta Rivera family to buy a computer for one of their children and enroll others in online classes.
There’s Still Time for a Hobby
Despite the myriad tasks Mariela must keep up with daily, she still dedicates time to her hobby: her blog titled “Mommy de ocho” (“Mom of eight”), where she shares her experiences. Her aim is to help other families discover homeschooling, and to provide resources to assist them along the way.
“It used to be called 'Mommy de siete,' but after Katherine Edith was born, I changed it to 'Mommy de ocho,'” she shared with a smile.
Since starting her blog three years ago, mothers across Puerto Rico, the United States, and even Peru have reached out to her for advice.
For this school year, the Orta Rivera family plans to take more excursions, prepare Ezequiel for college, and include new and exciting courses in their curriculum: zoology and biology for Jesús Adrián, and robotics and astronomy for Miguel.
Every year, Mariela still has some fears about homeschooling because she teaches children of different ages with different minds. But she always remains optimistic, knowing that her trust is in God.
“I am a witness that you can homeschool 1, 3, 5 or even 8 children,” she said. “All thanks to God.”