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Thurston County school district creates new academy for home school students

North Thurston Public Schools converted a building used to train teachers into a three-classroom campus, with three full-time teachers and a principal.

LACEY, Wash. — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more families have taken their children out of traditional schools in favor of home schooling, according to the Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

North Thurston Public Schools is trying to get some of those students back on campus, at least some of the time. The district converted a building used to train teachers into a three-classroom campus, with three full-time teachers and a principal.

Classes started this week at Ignite Family Academy.

"We... partner with our families, support them with their home schooling. We can help out with guiding them, we can help with assessments and then we provide supplemental small classes," said Stephanie Hollinger, the academy's principal.

The curriculum includes classes like robotics, art, music and reading to students, four days a week. It’s free for families who are required to have monthly meetings and assessments with district staff. 

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"There’s so many resources. Everything is so better connected," said Maegan Millar, who has home schooled her five children for eight years.

Millar said she is looking forward to her children getting lessons they won’t get at home.

"For me, it’s great to have an outside resource like that that can provide kind of the more engaging hands-on fun stuff and things that are better done with your peers," said Millar, "I think it’s valuable to learn from another teacher."

While families like the Millar's benefit, so do North Thurston Public Schools.

When students leave traditional schools for home schooling, districts miss out on funding, which is paid to districts based on how many students are enrolled.

But the district is now receiving funding for the 42 students enrolled in Ignite. The more classes they sign up for, the more money the district receives, according to a North Thurston Public Schools spokesperson.

"Even though the pandemic is not anything any of us wanted, at the same time there are things that have come out of it that are great," said Hollinger.