School Shutdown Inspires New Educational Opportunities

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What will public education look like in a post-pandemic world? Will homeschooling and learning pods increase in popularity? Will the emergence of new educational models emphasize the social-emotional needs of students?

“This disruption has been a chance for parents to explore beyond the norms of accepted educational settings,” said Ruth Popp, a United States Naval Academy graduate and mother of five. “When resources become limited, it can be a clarifying experience.”

With public schools choosing to remain online for the start of the school year, more families have opted for learning pods, homeschooling and private schools.

“Our hybrid approach to homeschooling has attracted lots of new families,” explained Melinda Deras, director of the St. Thomas Aquinas Tutorial (STAT) in Arnold. “Our Catholic identity offers a way to support our students’ spiritual and emotional needs.”

STAT offers a classical curriculum that includes traditional homeschooling on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday combined with in-person classroom instruction on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30am to 3:00pm. In-person instruction is held at Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville and capped at 12 students per class.

"STAT is like having someone hold your hand to homeschool,” shared Melissa Freymann of Severna Park, whose children attend STAT. “The hybrid approach offers the opportunity for community and peer friendships while also having the benefit of being with your kids.”

Educational innovation was not necessarily the goal for Jessica Hermanstorfer and her husband, Geoff, when they retrofitted the basement of their West Severna Park home to support the needs of their daughter Ashton, a second-grader at Severna Park Elementary School.

“We took a challenging situation and made the best of it,” Jessica said. “After collaborating with some local moms, we came up with a model that would meet the academic and social needs of six second-grade girls.”

Committed to the county curriculum and its online instructional schedule of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:00am to 11:00am and 1:00pm to 3:00pm, Jessica hired a classroom teacher to supplement the virtual learning experience.

“I saw Jessica’s post on Facebook looking for a teacher,” said Melody Wukitch of Severna Park. “As a teacher, I was looking for a small group atmosphere that would benefit students in new and unique ways.”

It turns out Melody Wukitch was more than a teacher. As an adjunct English instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and a K-12 reading specialist, she was the perfect fit for six energetic second-graders.

“Partnering with the girls’ public school teachers has been seamless," Wukitch explained. “We have a mutual respect for one another. We share a common goal. And because I’m a former public school teacher myself, we speak the same language.”

The exercise in educational entrepreneurship has gone so well that Jessica Hermanstorfer now jokingly refers to her basement classroom as the Cedar Academy for Girls - On the Severn. But many educational innovators are more serious about these pioneering new forms of learning.

“This has been a period where parents have gained practical knowledge as teachers. The shutdown gave the opportunity to observe children’s educational needs more closely than before,” explained Popp, whose children have attended public, private and homeschools. “These experiences equip parents to take a greater role in their children’s education. They may gain confidence to advocate for their children as they return to school and be inspired to offer more support and gratitude to teachers. Parents who have seen their children thrive at home may seek out and develop alternative learning environments.”

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