Education in NH, as in most states, was hit hard by the pandemic. Covid truly turned all forms of education upside-down, with public school students struggling to adapt to remote learning and homeschoolers without our usual vast network of social/educational contacts. The stress of fitting children into a small box of strict compliance left parents, teachers, and the kids themselves hurting. We all know that learning loss and adverse mental health are real results of this pandemic, despite everyone doing the best that they could.
For various reasons, more families than ever took the leap into homeschooling. Parents were afraid that their kids would catch covid, or spread it to vulnerable family members. Other parents did not agree with the mask and distancing requirements, or feared for their kids’ mental health. Some parents realized that remote schooling was not an option for their child, or had special needs children who were not being given the support required in their IEP or 504s. I'm sure there are many more reasons that we saw over double the number of new homeschoolers in NH. Granite State Home Educators took the lead in creating a group for these "crisis-homeschoolers" and worked hard to support those families struggling to give their kids the best possible outcomes given the situation.
There had been quite a bit of chatter over the last year about "learning pods" and "microschools" without much implementation, so we hosted an online event with Commissioner Edelblut. He clarified the fact that this educational setting IS legal, with GSHE confirming lots of interested families across all of our support groups. As a traditional homeschooler in NH, I was confused yet intrigued by a parent's post in a Facebook group regarding an up-and-running microschool in nearby Dover. After a quick online search, I decided it would be best to visit and meet with the Director to answer questions and see the school for myself.
Were they homeschoolers or private school students? Who are the instructors? How are the kids split up into classes? Did they all do the same year end assessments? These were just a few of the questions I had going into my tour of Acton Academy Seacoast.
Acton is located downtown in Dover in the mill building directly above (the beloved) Noggin Factory toy store and across from Henry Law Park and the Children's Museum of NH. I parked on the street, and looked up to see a couple of adorable young faces waving to me from the window. The entrance is at the west side of the building, immediately inside the stairwell door.
My appointment was with Sarah Cheek, homeschool parent, co-founder, and Head of School. She met me and my six-year-old at the door, and we immediately felt welcome. As I wrote in a blurb for our GSHE Homeschool Pod Connections group,
"Acton is a true microschool. The students are all homeschoolers, and have reported as such. This pod is set up as a small, private school, except that the flexibility of homeschooling makes it unique in its ability to tailor to the child.
Who might be interested in Acton Academy Seacoast? In my opinion, families who are familiar with and support the Montessori philosophy and Socratic method. Freedom-minded, child-led, growth-mindset, quality, purposeful are words that come to mind. It's beautiful physically and educationally.
A husband-and-wife team started this microschool recently, and this full-time school has tuition that reflects that. So, it's not cheap- therefore not for everyone, but there is definitely a market on the Seacoast for this educational option."
In short, I was impressed, and apparently there is another Acton Academy in Laconia!
I love that our great state, particularly Governor Sununu and Commissioner Edelblut, is supportive of educational options. In line with that statement is the rollout of Prenda Pods, a can-be-confusing hybrid option that offers two different paths to satisfy compulsory attendance. Again, Granite State Home Educators was at the forefront in seeking to clarify and understand this new educational setting so that we might pass that information on to interested families, and held an online discussion with Commissioner Edelblut. For more information about the Prenda Pods, go to Prenda NH.
To say that all of this is exciting educational innovation would be an understatement! I believe that education in the United States needs to change and catch up with modern life. No longer is teaching to the middle of a spectrum of learners considered adequate, never mind optimal. Focused, individualized attention in programs like Acton Academy, Prenda, homeschooling, homeschool co-ops, private schools, charter and magnet schools offer families the best opportunity for each individual child to reach their potential.
Acton Academy Seacoast is hosting a Children's Business Fair on August 28th; watch this brief video of their November 2020 event. Their students develop and implement a unique business plan and it's open to all homeschoolers. They rent out a large area of Henry Law Park annually and this year hope to add more students, music, and food trucks. Please contact them directly for more information.
By Amanda Weeden