Homeschooling Booming in South Dakota

Published January 20, 2017

The number of families homeschooling in South Dakota increased by 40 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to data provided by the South Dakota Department of Education (DOE).

The South Dakota DOE reports there were 3,858 homeschoolers in the state in 2015.

“Statewide, home-school enrollment has risen 40 percent since 2010, according to a count from the South Dakota [DOE],” the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported in November 2016. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates there were approximately 2.3 million homeschoolers in the United States in 2016.

‘Fiercely Independent Folks’

Natalie Micheel, a support representative for Classical Conversations for Eastern South Dakota, a community of homeschoolers, says homeschooling comes naturally to many South Dakotans.

“South Dakotans are fiercely independent folks,” Micheel said. “That can work for and against homeschooling, because it’s hard to convince people to break away from their school system, but once they see the freedom in it, it speaks to our independent streak. We’re fairly conservative, and when we see opportunities to do things a more conservative way than traditional public schools, we’ll be happy to take advantage of that.”

Customizing Education

Micheel says a desire to customize her children’s learning experience prompted her to homeschool.

“I know so many people for whom math was the deciding factor for homeschooling, because they want to go back to traditional math facts and the more traditional approach of phonics and more classical and interesting literature than what’s being used in schools,” said Micheel. “I want to read things to my kids they’re interested in.”

Chad Theisen, a former higher-education administrator who is now a full-time homeschooling dad, says his own child gave him the idea to homeschool.

“When our daughter was four years old, she asked us if we would do school at home,” Theisen said. “Prior to that, it was not really on our radar.”

Building a Community

Theisen says he and his wife thought their daughter was simply going through a “phase,” because they had very few friends who homeschooled at the time. When their daughter persisted, the Theisen family found help getting started from Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators (SECHE). The group also enables the Theisens’ three children to interact with other homeschooled kids and their families through activities such as field trips and social events.

The Theisen family began voluntarily helping SECHE “to give back to the organization that helped us out so much.”

Chad Theisen says South Dakotans homeschool for a variety of reasons.

“Some parents made their decision [to homeschool] after very negative situations—such as bullying, assaults, and peer pressure—while others chose to homeschool based on the flexibility, small class size, and the freedom to educate their children,” Theisen said.

Theisen says his family takes advantage of the flexibility homeschooling provides.

“We have the flexibility in our schedule that we can travel and still homeschool on the road,” Theisen said, “If one of our children is excelling in an area, we can advance in the topic without waiting for others to master it. Also, our children are able to get rich experiences from world-class museums, successful small business owners, and engaging hands-on experiments we would not be able to get just through the public school system.”

Overcoming Unique Barriers

Micheel says South Dakota laws support homeschooling, but the state’s demographics can impose limits on the practice.

“If you’re in a small town and have a reason to homeschool or feel called to homeschool, you can feel kind of bad because you want to support your school, and if it falls below a certain headcount and they were to lose the school, it’s a huge loss for that community,” Micheel said.

Micheel says another impediment to homeschooling is for many South Dakota families, both parents must work.

“Often the business is a farm,” Micheel said. “Dad farms, and mom goes into town to work at the bank to get insurance. It really is a two-income state, and that cuts into homeschooling a bit, but anecdotally, I’m starting to see a lot of parents looking at how to make it work, to homeschool and work.”

Theisen says his family homeschools because “no one is more passionate or dedicated about the education of my children than I am.”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.