When Michelle Parrinello-Cason and her business partner, Blair Lee launched SEA online classes (In June of this year stood for secular, liberal, Homeschooling Professional, academic), there was still no way of knowing if the schools would reopen. But they knew that their model was not only to accommodate their core community – the secular homeschooling Family – but how parents and children first upgrade, replace or temporarily replace the traditional K-12 Education With remote Learning.
For Parrinello-Cason, the effort since 2018 was the expansion of her work running Della Learning, a resource site for families homeschooling their children. He soon found a kind soul in Lee, who was overseeing SEA homeschoolers (of which SEA Online is an offshoot like 2015).
SEA Online aims to provide homeschooling families with an easily accessible, secular curriculum that is chosen and operated by Parrinello-Casson, Lee, and other experienced academics. Goalposts shifted slightly, however, when both realized that their demand was greater – or at least more inquisitive – than their services and homeschooling methods had a larger writ than ever before.
Parrinello-Cason, who is a mother of two herself and has also taught in a campus environment, was caught with us from her home St. Louis To complete the moment, to complete SEA Online, to change earlier perceptions about homeschooling and that parents of any background can use this period as an opportunity to explore all options.
Michelle Parello-Carson (L) and her business partner, Blair Lee.
Image Credit: Michele Perellillo-Casson / Blair Lee
When the schools first closed last spring, did you speculate for new inquiries about the fall?
I don’t think it was immediate. Back in March, we were still thinking, “Oh, you know, by the time classes fall around, things will be back to normal.” But when it became clear that things were not going to return to normal, it really affected the way we thought about that stage. We recognized that the demand was high which we were expecting and that many people in our community were new to homeschooling, which we were looking for alternatives they had not previously. So we grew faster and started bigger than we had expected.
What were the biggest challenges in adjusting for that development?
When we were going to do a very small pilot, we were trying to keep our expenses down. We ended up going together Teachable, Which has an existing LMS platform, but we [initially] Going to build some at home and maybe use some with WordPress plugins and build your own LMS system. But to do so would require more time and trial and error. Because we recognized how quickly we needed to be ready to meet the demand of our audience, we went ahead and budgeted for the expense of using a platform that already existed.
Should you be emphatic in your messaging about how homeschooling can be for someone else, not just families from more religious communities?
Absolutely. It was already work – advocating for the secular homeschooling community and making sure we had high-quality syllabus Choice because most of the courses available in the homeschooling community for decades have been very religious. The influx of new homeschoolers is largely those looking for secular material because they are coming from public schools, where it was already the norm. Knowing that we can assure them that there are high-quality materials that meet those needs is an important part of this.
Is your ultimate goal to market your model as a sustainable alternative to traditional schooling, or is it about offering it as some supplement to the uneducated?
This is actually a very different approach than the traditional classroom, but we also know that many people use homeschooling in the transition period in their lives, so they can only do it for a year or two . And in those situations, if they are hoping to revert to a brick-and-mortar traditional orbit, it may actually be just a supplement. So we have tried to create classes and materials and resources that meet families where they are and help them get where they want to go, and we let them know that there is no one way to do homeschooling is. As you do some trial and error, you can always adjust it.
What should all children say about school-going studies for social development?
I understand that. I was also there when I was an unexpected homeschooler. When I was entering this world for the first time, I was like, “My God, my child has no friend. What am I going to do? “But there is a very strong homeschooling community.
It may not be the majority of parents, but it is definitely a very active and supportive community. And even traditional homeschoolers struggle this year Are doing because our co-person cannot meet in person and our field trips cannot be in person.
So we are trying to find ways of social activities through virtual opportunities and accommodate that kind of things as well. But I think we are already used to that flexibility and are able to adapt on the fly in a way that gives us an advantage in this situation.
I take it, then, is SEA Online doing well so far?
Yes. Because our platform is new, we do not have the numbers to compare it, but it is certainly above our expectations because we were expecting maybe six or seven classrooms with two or three teachers. And instead we now have six teacher 30 classrooms and two book clubs that provide nine books each.
So that’s actually 48 classes, and they’re almost all complete. Now we are trying to find out, “What does it look like in spring?” Because hopefully a lot of brick-and-mortar schools will return in session. We are trying to find out that we make sure that we are meeting the needs of our audience when our audience is not sure what their needs will be in the next stage.
So you are prepared for the possibility that when schools resume, this surge of interest in SEA Online may be slightly less.
If we lose a lot of people who are temporarily here, then we have a passionate, truly connected audience who want long-term experiences for these online classes and their learners. We are trying to make sure that we are driving that balance of what we are really going to live in that specific need. It may not be strong enough, but I know those people are still going there.
And with a lot of investment that we were planning to make sometime down the road, we were able to make them much earlier because of this boom. Not everyone is going to continue on this path, but I think some people may have found it by mistake and decide that it works best for their families.
To be honest, it sounds like if you got up to speed new to a lot of brick-and-mortar schools. What do you think is the biggest obstacle for traditional teachers right now?
I really feel for teachers and administrators in brick-and-mortar schools, because a lot of it is uncertainty. I have the benefit of certainty. I know that students who sign up for my classes have stable internet access and microphones and cameras that work and are a quiet place to do their work because the people who come looking for my classes are Doing this with that understanding in mind.[Public school] Teachers and administrators who make these choices do not know that all their students have those things. They do not know that all their families are interested in the same. And so I think there is uncertainty that has actually caused some bumps in the road for them.
If we knew in April, “Hey, we’re all 100 percent virtual starting on August 20,” I think the teacher would definitely be able to rise to that occasion. Instead, we’ve got a lot of, “Okay, maybe we’re doing a hybrid model. No problem, now we are all virtual. No problem, now we are meeting in person.
Do you see the trend of popping homeschooling pods in suburban areas as a threat to your business model?
We have been approached by some people who are asking “Can we take your group to one of your sections?” So I don’t think it’s a threat to us, because the people who meet those people in those small groups still need a course. They still need expertise and material to deliver truly great classes.
And especially if those pods have students of mixed age and mixed abilities, they have to differentiate for a lot of different needs. The types of classes and experiences we probably compete with those who compete more with them.
Ultimately there is going to be a general on the other side of all this, but there is always going to be a requirement for individualized education that meets the unique needs of the learners. This is what we are trying to give. We were doing this before that because there was already a demand, so it seems to me that there is definitely going to be a demand.
Any last words of wisdom for fellow parents pulling their hair?
I would say that nothing is permanent. Do not feel like any choice that you make now is a choice forever. And that children are more resilient than we give credit to, and learning happens in ways we don’t expect.
I know it is very stressful right now, but put a little more trust in our learners so that they can get out of situations that are not ideal, because children can really thrive on the occasion if they are given materials and opportunities. Will help them get through it.