WATERBURY – It’s back-to-school time, which means that Catholic school students in the Archdiocese of Hartford are heading back to the classrooms after a three-month vacation.
Meanwhile, 200 to 300 Catholic students in pre-k through 12th grade – representing 80 to 100 families – also will return to the books, just not necessarily a classroom, after sharing a summer of extracurricular activities together.
Catholic homeschooling is on the rise nationwide, and the archdiocese is no exception. Although no statistics are readily available for local Catholic homeschooling enrollment, there has been an increase in registrations to Adoro Te, the state’s largest homeschooling organization for Catholic children. Adoro Te provides more than 50 extracurricular activities for homeschooling families, said Dee-dee Mihaliak, who was one of its founders more than 12 years ago.
I think there are many reasons for the increase in homeschooling, including the multitude of curriculum options, both [on] paper and online, and the awareness that homeschooling allows parents to tailor education to the individual child's needs, strengths and learning style,” said Mrs. Mihaliak, who has homeschooled her five children for the past 20 years. “We are not competing with Catholic schools. This is just a different option for these families,” she added.
Adoro Te provides a community where homeschooling families can take part in fun and educational activities, Mrs. Mihaliak said. At one weekly gathering at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, children broke into smaller groups and took part in age-appropriate activities, then gathered in praying the rosary.
Late spring and summer activities for Adoro Te this year have included: a Memorial Day celebration and recitation competition/field day in May, June graduation celebration and the annual Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, a production of “Oklahoma!” teen meetings, young adult meetings, shelter lunch preparation for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the monthly Rosary for Life in Hartford, and a summer open mic and family picnic."
“When my third daughter was in elementary school, God started bringing some amazing homeschooling families into our life,” said Lynn Wehner of Cheshire. Mrs. Wehner is a mother of four children now being homeschooled and one homeschooled graduate.
“There’s schooling that happens at the kitchen table, and there’s schooling that happens playing Frisbee in the park with their friends,” Mrs. Wehner said. “There’s schooling that happens at our dances. I happen to run a writing workshop. There are parents who are lawyers and run a civics class and run a mock trial.”A 2012 report by Catholic Online states that between 1999 and 2012, the number of children being homeschooled nationally rose 75 percent.
Many families have abandoned public schools because of fears that their methods may interfere with Catholic education, according to a 2015 report by the Cardinal Newman Society. It is not known to what extent, if any, the rise of local homeschooling has been influenced by these concerns.
Homeschooling takes many forms, Mrs. Mihaliak said, including traditional homeschooling between parent and child, using an accredited curriculum; schooling at home with online classes; co-ops where children gather at a common site and are taught by their own and each other’s parents; and hybrid homeschooling, a combination of two or more of the above.
Peter and Leslie Wolfgang of Hartford have been homeschooling their children since 2003. Six of their seven children have been, or currently are, homeschooled; their youngest is too young.
“We’ve been members of Adoro Te since its founding,” Mr. Wolfgang said. “We are also part of Regina Caeli Academy down in Wilton, Connecticut, which is a homeschooling hybrid academy where our kids attend school two days a week and are taught from home using the same syllabus the other three days.”
There also are co-ops and hybrid schools in the Hartford Archdiocese, including the hybrid Imago Dei Classical Academy in New Britain. There, also, students attend classes together two days a week and are homeschooled on the other three.
Not every family is able to afford the time and expense to homeschool their children, said Mr. Wolfgang, who is the executive director of Family Institute of Connecticut.
But, “I think it’s very beneficial to families who are especially interested in passing on the Catholic faith to their children,” he said.
Erika Ahern of New Haven is education director for the corporate office of Regina Caeli Academy, which she said has about 75 students from 23 families in Connecticut and New York. She also homeschools four of her five children; the youngest is under a year old.
“We wanted our kids to have the experience of just free childhood time and then of course forming them in the faith,” she said.
It’s not always easy, she said. “There are hard days and there are days when I ask, ‘Why did I not just pack them up on a bus for six hours?’ But the bonding that I see between my children and the things we’ve been able to do because of the flexibility of homeschooling have been wonderful,” she said.
“When I see these kids and when I teach these seniors, watching them go off to college, this is the future of the Church here. This is where vocations are going to come from,” she said.
Grace MacGillivray of Cheshire has homeschooled her daughter, Chiara, since she was in kindergarten; she is now 14. “A lot of my husband’s family homeschools, so they were a good witness to us that we could actually do it,” Mr. MacGillivray said. “I liked that she was home with me because I really enjoy my kids, and I liked that I knew what she was learning as well and what kids she was hanging out with.”
Chiara MacGillivray, now in eighth grade, said, “It’s special because I get to be with my family the whole day, and I would miss that. Also, it’s more one-on-one. [My mother] can help me out whenever I need help.”
She is already looking ahead to college, four years away. “I’m considering Quinnipiac,” she said.
Mrs. Mihaliak said Adoro Te graduates have gone on to the University of Notre Dame, University of Dallas, Franciscan University of Steubenville, University of Connecticut, College of the Holy Cross, Christendom College, Thomas More College, Benedictine College, Thomas Aquinas College, Hillsdale College, Boston Conservatory, John Paul the Great University, Wyoming Catholic College University of Dallas, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, University of Dallas, the Franciscan University of Steubenville and Ave Maria University, among others, many on academic scholarships.
Information about Adoro Te is available at www.AdoroTe.org.