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In post-pandemic South Florida, unconventional education is thriving

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Science class at the beach? That's what home school looks like for a group of kids in South Florida. Jessica Bakeman from member station WLRN reports home-schooling has surged in the Sunshine State.

JESSICA BAKEMAN, BYLINE: To Luna Ojeda, getting tossed off her surfboard feels the same as riding a roller coaster.

LUNA OJEDA: I like when I flip over.

BAKEMAN: On a sunny afternoon earlier this year, a wave overwhelmed Luna's tiny frame, knocking the 6-year-old into the ocean.

LUNA: I couldn't breathe. But I took a breath and I felt OK.

BAKEMAN: Luna's teacher was with her in the water and her mom watched from the shore. Her classroom was the sand and sea of Deerfield Beach, Fla.

GABY OJEDA: It's the best end to the week.

BAKEMAN: Gaby Ojeda sends Luna and her brother to Surf Skate Science. It's a home school co-op for kids ages 6 to 16 that teaches science through surfing and skateboarding. They learn about the science behind waves and local marine life.

OJEDA: I have two kids in their program, 6 and 8, and they're both loving it so much.

BAKEMAN: There aren't test scores or other traditional methods for evaluating what students are learning in Surf Skate Science, but students can use their science projects in their portfolios. In Florida, home-schooled students have to show their progress every year. One option is getting portfolios of their classwork evaluated by a registered teacher. Ojeda brings her kids here some days, and other days they go to a small private school that serves home-schooled students.

OJEDA: I feel so lucky that we have those alternative options for education.

BAKEMAN: Many home-schooled kids in Florida have individualized schedules with a mix of different classes and activities, and that can add up. A semester of Surf Skate Science costs $500.

TONI FRALLICCIARDI: We're going to go down to the beach.

BAKEMAN: Toni Frallicciardi runs Surf Skate Science with her husband, Uli. Here, she and the younger students are burying Diet Coke bottles in the sand to look like volcanoes.

T FRALLICCIARDI: So you can make a turtle volcano, a whale volcano, whatever you want to make.

BAKEMAN: Then they drop a mentos candy into each bottle.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Everybody, back up. It's going to explode.

BAKEMAN: A sticky stream of soda shoots into the air.

(SCREAMING)

ULI FRALLICCIARDI: For homework, I want you to do a quick video.

BAKEMAN: This is Uli.

U FRALLICCIARDI: I want you to explain the chemical reaction to what we just did.

BAKEMAN: Before COVID-19, Surf Skate Science had about 40 students. This fall, the program enrolls 250 students throughout South Florida. And statewide, enrollment in home-based education has jumped 60% since before the pandemic. Now more than 150,000 students are being home-schooled. That's about 5% of Florida's pre-K-12 students. A national nonprofit institute dedicated to home school research estimates that last year, there were more than 3 million home-schoolers nationwide. Toni Frallicciardi is not surprised by that growth.

T FRALLICCIARDI: A lot of people have misconceptions of what home school is.

BAKEMAN: She says Surf Skate Science was born out of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and exploded because of the pandemic. The Frallicciardis live just a few miles from where 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Shortly after, they founded their program.

T FRALLICCIARDI: Everybody was scared to go to school. There were a lot of families newly home-schooling.

BAKEMAN: She expects the program to continue to grow, especially since this year, Florida expanded eligibility for vouchers. Home-schooled kids can now use them for something like Surf Skate Science.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Bakeman in Deerfield Beach, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.