In recent years, the country has witnessed a growing number of parents choosing home education over traditional, brick and mortar schools — and the Black Hills are no exception.
As of 2020, over 6,500 students are registered as homeschoolers in South Dakota, and the numbers are growing steadily. While some parents homeschool to allow their family greater flexibility, others hope to offer their children a more personalized, one-on-one educational experience. For those with relatively little know-how outside of their experience with public or private school systems, the prospect of homeschooling may seem daunting. Luckily, the Black Hills area offers a variety of resources for both newcomers and seasoned home educators alike.
Academic co-ops and pod schools are growing in popularity across the country, including the Black Hills area. One local “school,” Classical Conversations, is a Christian homeschool program using the classical method. Students meet with a parent supervisor and other students on a “Weekly Community Day” to review the upcoming week’s lessons. Over 160 students are involved in Classical Conversations in the Black Hills. With locations in Rapid City, Piedmont, and Box Elder, Classical Conversations offers a convenient alternative to traditional homeschooling.
Lynette Epp, the Support Representative for Classical Conversations in the Black Hills area, says the program fits the needs of her family, as well as many other families she knows. “Classical Conversations offered the support I needed as a parent, a community for myself and my children, and accountability,” she explains. Classical Conversations also offers a Parent Practicum each summer, which equips parents to teach their children using the classical method.
Online Homeschool Programs and Resources
Online programs like The Keystone School and Bridgeway Academy involve minimal planning and, eventually, less parental supervision as children grow older and learn to guide their own education. This is especially helpful for parents who work from home.
Bridgeway Academy is a fully accredited program, offering benefits like academic counseling and learning style assessments. The Keystone School also offers accredited programs for students in grades K-12, including college prerequisite and AP courses.
Numerous educational websites offer free supplemental resources, ranging from short videos to interactive quizzes. Khan Academy provides self-paced lessons in subjects like math, reading, and computer programming. Students can also play math games on websites like Funbrain, PBS Kids, and Prodigy.
On a local level, SDPB Early Learning Initiative provides educational resources for educators, including homeschool parents, to prepare children for kindergarten. Parents can find videos, games, and worksheets on the SDPB website.
In addition to playing club sports, homeschool students can participate in athletic programs at private and public schools in the Black Hills.
Rapid City Christian School invites homeschoolers to apply for their athletic programs, which include volleyball, basketball, football, and track. According to Athletic Director Kyle Courtney, between 30 to 40 homeschoolers participate in RCCS’ athletic and extracurricular programs every school year. The number of participants has grown in recent years, which Courtney credits to the solid relationship between RCCS and the homeschool community.
Public school districts in the Black Hills also allow homeschoolers to participate in athletics, fine arts, and other school-sponsored activities. Students must submit proper documentation, including a birth certificate, transcript, eligibility checklist, and physical exam.
Extracurricular Co-ops and Activities
The Black Hills Homeschool Co-op meets for eight weeks each fall and offers extracurricular classes for students ages 6 and up. Activities range from beginner ballet to personal finance. The registration fee costs between $52-$62 per family, depending on the number of children participating.
Rapid City Christian School also encourages homeschoolers to participate in their extracurricular activities, which include spring play, chapel band, oral interpretation, and knowledge bowl.
The South Dakota Christian Home Educators group, also known as SDCHE, organizes field trips, offers a graduation ceremony for seniors, and participates in events such as the Invitational Christian Schools’ Track and Field Day.
Many organizations in the area cater to homeschool students, such as Live It Up Studio in Rapid City. Homeschoolers can participate in one-day or two-day a week programs, which include yoga, tumbling, ballet, aerial silks, boxing, and art.
Other homeschool-friendly activities in the Black Hills include Civil Air Patrol, Scouts, Code Ninjas, local 4-H clubs, and Bricks Bots & Beakers.
The Christian Homeschool Conference of South Dakota, which takes place at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, is an annual, two-day conference for homeschool families. Conferences like CHCSD give parents the opportunity to connect with other homeschool parents, attend workshops, listen to talks, and shop for curriculum. Children are also invited to attend conference’s activities and workshops. Past events have included an escape room, self-defense class, juggling workshop, leadership seminar, and first aid class.
A little closer to home, the Black Hills Homeschool Expo takes place every summer in Piedmont. With over 35 vendors, door prizes, and a curriculum sale, the Expo is the perfect place to discover good deals and extracurricular opportunities.
Community & Support Groups
For homeschool parents looking for weekly events, The MOMS Club of Rapid City organizes frequent get-togethers. Dues cost $25 per year, giving members access to the group Facebook page and calendar. Members meet at libraries, parks, and indoor play areas to mingle with other members. The MOMS Club also organizes field trips and participates in community outreach projects.
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) groups are located in Rapid City, Lead, and Sturgis.Local MOPS chapters meet twice a month, and childcare is provided during meetings. The MOPS International annual fee costs $32; additional fees to join local groups may vary.
Facebook groups such as Homeschooling South Dakota and Black Hills Home Educators are an additional resource for parents looking for advice, curriculum recommendations, and support.
Home School Legal Defense Association, better known as HSLDA, provides homeschool advocacy services, including information about state laws and requirements. HSLDA members gain access to a 24/7 emergency legal hotline, legal advice, educational consultants, support for teaching special needs, and discounts on online high school courses. Homeschool parents can also find free articles and advice on hslda.org, ranging from learning readiness to testing and evaluation.
Whether you’re a homeschool veteran or homeschool amateur, the Black Hills is the perfect place to continue the journey. With so many resources available — from support groups to free, online lesson plans — you can rest easy. You’ve got this!
For more tips on how to make this school year the best one yet, check out the ABCs of a successful school year.
WORDS: AVERY THOMAS