Anchorage homeschool programs fill and waitlists grow as the school year begins

An empty hallway with a long corkboard on the wall that's empty as well
A hallway that would normally be full of elementary school students is empty on the first day of school, August 20, 2020, as students begin the school year entirely online. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

As the school year in Anchorage gets underway, trying to find spots in an Anchorage-based homeschool program is hard.

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Each of the Anchorage School District’s homeschool programs, Frontier Charter School, PAIDEIA, and Family Partnership Charter School, are full. Each of them continuing to make their way through waitlists with hundreds of families on them.  

“I feel like we used to be the nerds in the education world,” said Jessica Parker, the Principal of Family Partnership. “But now we’re like the cool kids. It’s cool. It’s awesome.”

Parker said her school is over capacity at this point. Originally, her program had enough seats for 900 families. Then Family Partnership decided to cap enrollment at 1500 families. But, in order to keep families together, the school is also accepting siblings of enrolled families which has pushed their total enrollment even higher.

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But that growth hasn’t come without it’s challenges.

“It was really exciting at first, but now parents are starting to get upset because they can’t get in,” Parker said.” And it’s hard as a principal to hear that because I would love to receive everybody.”

Parker said she saw a noticeable increase in enrollment numbers the Monday after the Anchorage School District announced that it would be beginning the school year entirely remotely. 

Related: Fever checks and small groups: Anchorage private school students are returning to classrooms

The district reported in a recent school board meeting that 2096 students have enrolled in ASD’s homeschooling options and 4047 have enrolled in the district’s virtual school. But, ASD continues to report lower enrollment numbers than expected overall, with thousands of other students leaving the district for other options in and out of the state.

The district reported that it could lose as much as $30 million due to decreased and shifting student enrollment.

Large statewide homeschool programs based in other school districts like IDEA, Raven, and Denali PEAK, are still accepting students and continue to enroll students year round.

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Parker said another challenge with such rapid growth is meeting the demand. She’s a hired a curriculum coordinator, a clerical person, and seven more teachers to try and meet the demand but said she still needs more. And all of her new teachers are still in training. 

“All of them told me, ‘I feel like there’s something sitting on my chest,’ ‘I’m just anxious. There’s so much to learn in such a short amount of time’,” Parker said. “So they’re they’re overwhelmed.”

Frustrations from parents also stem from the scarcity of resources as the school year rapidly approaches. It’s getting increasingly difficult for families to find and purchase the curriculum and materials that their students will need due an increase in homeschooling nationwide.

Parker is optimistic about the school year, though. She said she’s watched families step up and help each other through the process, and now there are opportunities expand program offerings. 

It’s possible that families will move between different schooling options as schedules settle and the district makes decisions throughout the school year. But Parker said she’s hoping families will stick with her program. 

“They’re going to get the gift of time with their family, they’re going to get to tailor their child’s education to exactly their interest,” Parker said. “Once they get a taste of this, I’m telling you, this is permanent growth. This is going to change education forever.”

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