More than 25,000 students were homeschooled across New York state this past school year, with more than 3,500 students in Western New York and nearly 400 in Chautauqua County. In Jamestown, about 95 students are taught at home this school year, as Jamestown Public Schools join more than half of the county's 18 other districts that take an active role in the process.
What makes this work for families — and why?
"I'm able to teach to them the way they learn best. You need to teach your kid about certain major topics, and how you choose to do that is up to you," said Jessica Mierzwa of Forestville. She is self-employed, and created an at-home, one-room schoolhouse complete with the resources of a traditional classroom.
In order to homeschool, state education law required Mierzwa to initially work with the district. She had to send a letter of intent, submit an instructional plan and report her kids' quarterly progress.
Erin Morse of Jamestown homeschools her 9-year-old son Christopher year-round to maintain a consistent routine and schedule. Christopher is on the autism spectrum and was evaluated through the district, but tested too high functioning to qualify for services. She too had to file a letter of intent and curriculum to the district that meets her son's needs.
The district is quick to point out that educators are trained to do more than just teach.
"There's huge emphasis right now on social, emotional learning. Taking care of the whole child, and that's what the school buildings are all working towards," said Brett Muscarella, Jamestown Schools' director of pupil personnel services.
These homeschool families are all part of the Chautauqua Thrive Cooperative, and coming up in Part Two of Alternative Learning - A Lesson in Homeschool Education, we'll take you inside that co-op as a way to help break the stigma often associated with this form of alternative education.