We recently sat down with Michelle Levell, founder of Granite State Home Educators (GSHE), a NH nonprofit dedicated to supporting homeschooling NH families with practical information and curricular and extracurricular educational and enrichment resources. Since children were sent home this spring in the wake of COVID-19 and families have been faced with unexpected remote learning challenges, GSHE has reached out to help meet their urgent informational and support needs. We talked about their core mission and the support they’ve extended to all families during this challenging time.
Why did you decide to start Granite State Home Educators? “I homeschooled our three children and went from what I might call a ‘reluctant homeschooler’ to believing it was the best thing we ever did. As a homeschooling parent, I believe I had success because I benefited from those who came before me. I started my first nonprofit, School Choice NH, in 2013 and Granite State Home Educators (GSHE) in late fall of 2016. This year we merged the two under GSHE. We are the only resource of our type in the state. I am very blessed to be in this position. I work with a team of five other women, and we’re an all-volunteer staff. These days I’m working 16-18 hours a day just to stay on top of everything, but it’s a privilege and means so much.”
Is Granite State Home Educators just for homeschooling parents? “Our core mission is to support homeschooling families. My friends and I who helped establish GSHE believe in three basic foundational principles. We believe in empowered families. We believe in every family’s right to direct their children’s education, and we believe in the power of community. While we focus on homeschooling, those principles are central to all families and decisions parents make regarding their children’s education, whether they pursue public, charter, private, or homeschooling solutions.”
How did COVID-19 impact you? “Right at the beginning, as the quarantine hit abruptly, we put together resources for parents who had to pivot suddenly. We also set up a dedicated Facebook page, GSHE Unexpectedly Homeschooling to help parents connect with and support each other. It’s important to note that there is a difference between remote learning (where the child participates in school-provided curriculum and teaching) and homeschooling (when the parent becomes the primary educator and selects their own curriculum). That said, many resources that are available to homeschooling families can be used by families whose children are distancing learning. The interest was overwhelming. At the beginning of the year, our main GSHE Facebook page had 2,000 members. Now, we’re over 3,000.”
What support are you providing now? “Right now, we’re working with families grappling with decisions about this school year. Because schools and school districts are making decisions independently, there are a range of reopening plans including full-time in person, hybrid solutions, and remote learning. We are working to provide up-to-date opening information as different districts and private schools share their reopening plans. We are also holding Facebook and Zoom online informational sessions and seminars for parents. Again, these are intended to be a resource for all NH parents, so they have the latest information and guidance to help them make the best-informed decisions for their children.”
Do you recommend parents homeschool their children? “That’s not for me to say. I’m really not here to judge or advocate for any particular solution. Only parents know what their children need and can make those schooling decisions. Our role is to support and inform. We want to provide each family with what they need to choose what is right for them and their children.”
Have you seen any silver linings to “unexpectedly homeschooling” and the uncertainty of what will happen in the coming school year? “Surprisingly, yes. Parents are learning more about how their children learn and what they need to succeed. That makes them better educational advocates. This experience has given some families the opening to explore additional educational options. As stressful as making these decisions may be, there is also flexibility and the opportunity to give something new a try. Perhaps they’ll supplement their children’s education with some of the amazing resources (many free) we share. They can also explore the many flexible homeschooling options out there, everything from a full online curriculum to family organized “micro schools” that come together to pool resources and participate in activities together. I encourage parents to see education as a year to year or even month to month decision. If they are pursuing what they believe is best for their child’s needs right now, everything else will work itself out.”
What advice would you give to parents who are feeling overwhelmed? “I talk to parents every day, and they’re so worried they’ll make the “wrong” choice. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer. You know your child best. Trust yourself and your instincts. What’s right is what’s right for your family and your children’s needs. If that’s your guiding force, it will all be good.”
If you’re an “unexpectedly homeschooling” family coping with your child’s displacement from their normal school routine, you are invited to join the GSHE Unexpectedly Homeschooling Facebook group. If you are currently homeschooling (or have in the past) or exploring homeschooling options, the main Granite State Home Educators group may be your best fit. Both pages offer community support and updates on upcoming seminars and events. For general information and resources, please visit the GSHE website.
NH offers extensive free online K-12 learning curriculum support for NH residents through the Virtual Learning Academy School.