MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – Kristina Hernandez was never going to homeschool her children. She didn’t have the patience for it. She wasn’t even going to entertain the idea. 

Then, the pandemic hit.

“The world changed, and you know, I was like, as a mom, as a woman, I have to pull whatever superpowers I have and make it happen,” she said. 

Her preschool and third-grade students hated learning online. Hernandez, who works remotely, made the decision in May 2020 to homeschool them for the next academic year. 

But after learning that it only took a couple of hours to get their work done, she decided to continue teaching at home.

“I think it was the freedom of it that really won me over pretty quickly,” she said. 

Hernandez is among thousands of parents who chose to withdraw their children from public schools in 2020 and teach them at home –- and stuck with it. 

Driven by the move to virtual and hybrid learning, the number of children being taught at home jumped 45% from 20,611 in the 2019-20 academic year to 29,927 in 2020-21, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Education. That change, expected to be temporary and reverse when in-person classes returned, hasn’t faltered. Not only were parents continuing homeschool, but there was a 2% increase in the number of children schooled at home for this academic year. 

Zan Tyler, the founder of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools, expected to see what she calls the “COVID mom” return students to school after virtual learning was over.

What’s happened, she said, is that parents who didn’t think they’d be able to homeschool their children have gained confidence that they can.

“Certainly some of those people are going back, absolutely, but I’d say the great majority are continuing to homeschool,” Tyler said. 

That can partly be attributed to organizations that support families who homeschool, co-ops with other parents, social media support groups, publishers printing curriculum and legal defense associations. 

When she started homeschooling her children in 1984, Tyler said she was threatened with jail.

“At that point in time, I didn’t know anybody in the world who homeschooled,” she said. “I think it is providential that the COVID virus hit in the 2020s, because we have a strong homeschool infrastructure now.”

Heather Horry was on extended maternity leave as a public school teacher when the pandemic started. After her oldest son’s daycare closed, she knew that he was too young for online learning to work for him. 

She chose to homeschool instead of sending him to kindergarten. She initially intended to homeschool him for a year, but she’s decided to continue.

“I don’t know if I could ever let him go back into a school right now,” Horry said.

She now runs a micro-school from her farm for a handful of students. After finishing classwork within a few hours, her students are able to get outside and do field trips – including picking strawberries and making jam.

The other parents were worried about their children falling behind due to online learning during the pandemic and said teachers are assigning too much homework.

Horry used to think that homeschooled students would end up as “hermits.” Then, a friend told her about opportunities for homeschooled students to make friends – including sports, music lessons and homeschooling co-ops that arrange playdates. 

She was afraid of her son struggling and being left behind, and said she knows what learning styles work best for him. 

A year later, she’s noticing more parents who are choosing to teach their students at home.

“A lot of them regret not doing it sooner because of the education gap,” Horry said. 

Tyler said parents who are considering homeschooling need to educate themselves on the process before withdrawing their children. She points to the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools, a Christian homeschooling organization, as a resource that can help.

She said homeschooled students have higher test scores and that colleges are actively recruiting homeschooled students. She said those students end up being leaders on campus, are self-motivated and don’t arrive at college burned out. 

Homeschooling builds stronger families, provides more bonding time and can increase a student’s religious faith, according to Tyler.

She anticipates the number of homeschooled children will continue to grow.

“It is absolutely an innovative, excellent way to educate your children because it’s one-on-one,” she said.

For Hernandez, homeschooling has meant being able to take her children on her travel writing assignments. After learning about the Civil War, they visited Fort Sumter. They’ve also been to museums in Columbia and gone owl watching at Congaree National Park. 

“I didn’t think I’d like it as much as I did, but the time I get to spend with my kids and get to know them as little people is so priceless, and getting to learn with them has been so much fun, and the state of South Carolina – I didn’t know it is so cool,” Hernandez said.