DENVER — During the 2020-2021 school year, the number of families homeschooling in Colorado doubled. But many families have found it’s not a one-size-fits-all system.
Denver parent Joyelle Naomi founded Denver Independent School to help Black families in particular, access resources.
“The learning experiences, the resources, the communities that exist within the larger homeschooling space — they’re not really designed with us in mind,” Naomi said.
Naomi was homeschooling her two children well before the pandemic. As a single parent working full time, she could relate to the challenges many Black parents face.
Denver Independent School address four specific barriers:
- Economic, which is why DIS families receive stipends to help educate their children at home
- The health of the home educator
- Dealing with other life issues
- Socio-cultural differences
"A lot of families talk about not feeling like they belong," Naomi said.
So she found partners, including Kulan Village homeschooling co-op, to help provide relevant educational content. She also found community groups to help provide meals for families. And perhaps most importantly, she knew that home educators would need emotional support.
Denver Independent School parents meet regularly just to talk.
“We're safe to say, 'I need help with food,' 'I need help with the bills,' 'I need help with curriculum,'” said Simone Renee, a Denver Independent School parent.
Renee added that the parent support groups, where no kids are allowed, are a great mental health resource.
Fellow DIS parent Lana Hailemariam said when her 13-year-old daughter was in traditional school, she was regularly meeting with teachers and advocating for her daughter’s needs. But with Denver Independent School, she said she can relax.
“I think people underestimate what it feels like to be a Black parent in such a white educational system,” Hailemariam said.
Post-pandemic, Naomi said she hopes to provide Denver Independent School programs even for kids who return to traditional schools. She said she hopes Black students can take advantage of programs tailored to them, like S.T.E.A.M. classes (science, technology, engineering, the (liberal) arts, and mathematics) where they discuss Black engineers and scientists.
“It can feel really frustrating and overwhelming when we’re asking the schools to provide that learning and support and for whatever reason they’re not able to, but I think there’s empowerment in being able to say what is it we need and how are we as a community going to provide that,” Naomi said.
Naomi added that Denver Independent School doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion or background, and is open to all families who are trying to provide a quality home-based education to their children.