Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person classes for a time, Olga Hidalgo observed that the environment in her two children’s public schools had changed.
“I noticed the kids were not respecting authority,” the Florida mom told the Christian Science Monitor. Compared to what she’d seen in past years of volunteering at school, she added, “many teachers were not motivated to teach the young people, and they felt like the students were not being respectful.”
At one point, Olga’s daughter asked if she could try a different kind of education. Olga didn’t seriously consider homeschooling at that time for several reasons.
To begin with, she and her husband stay very busy running a pet-grooming business. Also, as an immigrant from Peru who still primarily speaks Spanish, Olga faced inherent challenges to preparing her children to thrive in what is primarily an English-speaking culture.
Then came the pandemic. Like so many schoolkids around the country, Olga’s children spent a good portion of 2020 learning from home. Such unprecedented circumstances caused Olga to consider how much better her kids would fare if, as a family, they crafted their own learning plans and operated on their own schedule.
“I had a friend who already did homeschool,” said Olga, “and when I went to visit, I saw how she was doing the schoolwork with her children. It just made me think my children had another option to learn at home without that hostile environment.”
Olga’s family switched to homeschooling in the fall of 2020, a change that exemplifies an exciting trend in home education.
According to data from various federal agencies, the number of Hispanic families in the US who homeschool went from 3.5% in 2016 to 8.9%
This surge represents a welcome development to longtime Hispanic homeschoolers, such as HSLDA Bilingual Educational Consultant Karim Morato.
Karim and her husband began homeschooling their children 15 years ago. Though they immediately recognized the benefits the educational model provided, she said it could be disheartening to attend homeschool co-ops and conferences and encounter only a few families from a similar cultural background.
In addition to occasionally feeling like less-than-full partners in the homeschool community, Karim said Hispanic families can also struggle to find curriculum and a teaching plan that fits their needs.
First-generation immigrants may not feel fluent enough in English to directly teach their children in that language, so they often rely on videos, distance learning, and tutors. Even when they do use Spanish-language materials, much of it is simply a translation of mainstream curriculum that doesn’t necessarily reflect aspects of their culture that they value highly.
These specific concerns are among those HSLDA is trying to address. We’ve launched several initiatives to assist Hispanic homeschoolers, including hiring bilingual consultants and working with outside groups to provide additional support and resources.
In April, we partnered with Ricardo and Ana Maria Bagnuoli to organize a Spanish-language homeschool conference held in Miami.
Ricardo moved to the US from Uruguay nearly 20 years ago. Ana Maria’s family emigrated from Columbia when she was 15.
The two met in Miami, married 14 years ago, and have been homeschooling since the oldest of their three children was five years old.
As leaders in their church, explained Ricardo, they began to see that they needed to assist other Hispanic homeschool families: not just to support their educational choices, but also to minister to them.
As a result, in 2017 they formed TransitionEd, a homeschool training and mentorship organization.
One thing the Bagnuolis focus on is helping immigrant families craft a homeschool program that honors the blended culture they’ve embraced.
“As Hispanics, we consider ourselves blessed to be bilingual,” says Ana. “Parents understand that, in the United States, their children are going to need English, but they want to preserve their Spanish language and their cultural background.”
Again, she explained, the key is to use homeschooling to create a custom learning environment that meets the needs of the family.
“It’s not a matter of translating the whole curriculum,” Ana added. “I think it’s a matter of providing tools that people can use to enhance the Spanish [homeschooling] experience.”
Another important aspect of their work is connecting families and building community so that they see themselves as part of a mutually supportive movement.
The Miami conference in April was especially aimed toward this end.
“Every single family there,” said Ana, “expressed their need to be with a community that knew how they felt, and can provide support emotionally, spiritually, and academically.”
In June, Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) invited HSLDA to offer a Spanish track and events specifically for Spanish-speaking attendees at the state organization’s conference in Richmond, Virginia.
At a reception hosted by HEAV, Karim, fellow HSLDA Bilingual High School Consultant Clarisa Loparo, and HEAV Hispanic Coordinator Catherine Mireles, parents shared how homeschooling has benefited their families.
Catherine noted that home education can help bilingual children avoid a stigma she’s seen attached to students in traditional schools. Quite often, she said, if students mention that they speak Spanish, they are assigned to remedial English classes as a matter of policy.
Pablo Ugalde pointed out that, on the other hand, he’s seen how homeschooling makes it possible to focus on one thing that really matters to most Hispanics—becoming closer as a family.
And yet, he added, by fostering respect and affection within familial bonds, homeschooling can help individuals find the courage to reach beyond their own enclaves.
Because ultimately, Pablo said, “cultural differences are real, but as a Christian, I feel it’s important to connect with others who don’t necessarily share the same culture.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Olga Hidalgo, who noted how homeschooling has helped her children forge ties through dual-enrollment college classes and a co-op at their church.
“Now they have even more friends—closer and more meaningful relationships than they had at school,” she said.