Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed President and CEO of Bridgeway Academy Jessica Parnell to the newsmakers line to talk about Bridgeway Academy’s 30 year legacy in homeschooling, what they offer, and their stance on critical race theory.
Leahy: We are joined now on our newsmaker line by Jessica Parnell. Jessica is involved with Bridgeway Academy and Edovate Learning Corporation. Good morning, Jessica.
Parnell: Good morning. How are you?
Leahy: Good. So tell us about Edovate Learning Corporation and Bridgeway Academy.
Parnell: Sure. Edovate Learning Corporation is an organization that focuses on education, home education primarily. Bridgeway Academy is our home school academy arm, and that academy is support to home educators either who are working independently or who are looking for a full-service academy where we walk with them and provide curriculum for them, keep records, and just are there to support and walk with them as they go through the school year.
Leahy: And if somebody in our listing audience wants to go to Bridgeway Academy. The website is homeschoolacademy.com. Now, Jessica, you’ve been involved with this for how long? 30 years is it? How long has this group been operating?
Parnell: We’ve actually been around since 19 89. So going on 32 years this year. So Yes, we’ve been around for quite some time and we’ve been working with homeschoolers from the beginning. But more recently, we’ve also worked with homeschoolers who are being sponsored by their school district. So that’s a recent trend in the last few years as well.
Leahy: Is that all COVID-19 pandemic situation that has driven that?
Parnell: No, actually, depending on where you are in the country. And Tennessee is one where there are some laws that allow homeschoolers to take advantage of school funding depending on your district in order to take advantage of homeschooling. Most of our homeschoolers are independent homeschoolers.
Leahy: How many K-12 home school children do you have in Bridgeway?
Parnell: Well, fully enrolled we are approximately 4,000 students in some way or another. But we serve many students who choose to work as I said, if they choose not to fully enroll with Bridgeway Academy, they can still take a live class from us. A live online class. They can take asynchronous online. They can take textbook courses independently. So we serve many more than that.
Leahy: And these 4,000 full-time are around the country?
Parnell: Yes and around the world, actually.
Leahy: Around the world. Interesting. And how much does it cost?
Parnell: So Bridgeway Academy has various levels of membership, so a student can get started for as little as about $800 for the year all the way up to if you want full service where we are doing all of the teaching for you up to $5,000 a year.
Leahy: Still very reasonable, very reasonable for most parents it would seem to me. Jessica, tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this.
Parnell: Well, actually, my parents started the company. I was a student at the time studying to be a teacher and kind of helped with the groundwork while in college and then went off to teach for several years and then came back to being a at-home mom and a homeschooler myself and got back involved with the company at that time. And then in 2006, my parents retired and I purchased the company and went forward from there.
Leahy: Well, that’s a great family legacy I would say. Tell us a little bit about the differences that you find from being a teacher. Were you in a K-12 public school or a private school?
Parnell: I was in a public school as a professional teacher. I did teach in a private school prior to certification as well.
Leahy: What’s the difference for you between teaching in K-12 public schools and providing this online home school experience at Bridgeway Academy?
Parnell: I think the biggest difference that you see between the public and the home education is just that ability to really look at the gifts and ability of each individual student and really allow those gifts and abilities to be nurtured and students to get excited about one interest and pursue it. And then, rather than be consistently shifting years, the beauty of homeschooling is you discover if they have interest, they have that they didn’t know they had.
And we’ve seen a significant transformation in kids who come out of a public school system. And that’s not necessarily because they had a poor teacher or poor school, but they’re in a school system where they’re part of a group where there are stressors going on. Where maybe they had a hidden academic difficulty and had to move forward because the class is moving forward and they start to fall behind.
And then they start to think poorly of themselves or they’re feeling that anxiety. And those academic gaps continue to widen. When you come into a home education setting we start by testing all of our students to see where are their academic gifts and where are their academic needs. And then we take them back if they need to and we plug those points of first failures.
Those academic gaps. And help them to gain those skills needed so that they can continue forward and succeed. And one of the number one things we hear from parents is my student is confident, they’re more relaxed, I’m seeing their personalities again. So it’s more than just an academic change for their kids. It’s the spirit. It’s the whole child that they start to see that transformation. That’s what makes it so exciting.
Leahy: We’re talking with Jessica Parnell the CEO of Edovate Learning and Bridgeway Academy. Jessica, big question for you. Where do you see K-12 education generally going over the next year or two? And where does Bridgeway Academy fit into that?
Parnell: Yes. Good question. We’re all watching that, aren’t we? (Chuckles) So we are seeing a significant trend in schools looking to create their own option for home education now because COVID-19, I think it’s kind of been that catalyst for change that we’ve desperately needed in the public education sector. It’s time to move.
It’s time to make those changes. So we’re speaking with districts all the time that are looking for support and advice on how do we create a home education option. Whether they do that independently or through an organization like ours so that the homeschool family has the benefit of home education. So I think districts worked as hard as they could.
And I think teachers did a good job implementing what they could through COVID and what we call schooling at home. But it’s not the same as homeschooling. So what we are seeing is this trend of school district says, wait. We can learn from home school organizations from homeschoolers and learn from them to implement changes and programs that will meet the needs of those homeschoolers.
We’re seeing parents, of course, keeping a close tab on our parents who started homeschooling because of COVID. And we’re seeing a significant trend among them where they’re saying we’re planning to continue, and we’re planning to continue because we’ve seen those transformational changes, or we’ve seen them succeed academically. So I think you’ve got both of those things happening and parents saying I can do this and I like what I’m seeing. And schools are saying, we need to do this. Let’s figure out how to do it in a way that meets the needs of the home educator.
Leahy: Jessica, I’m going to throw you a little bit of a curveball. You ready?
Leahy: There we go. So, we have reported here on The Tennessee Star Report the spread of what I think is a highly divisive curriculum. The critical race theory in public schools. Is this something that you’ve seen from homeschoolers coming to Bridgeway Academy, or do you have any particular viewpoint on that in the curriculum? We’ve got a minute left with this curveball.
Parnell: There’s extreme concern around critical race theory because it’s not just divisive among people, people groups, but it’s divisive for the nation. So, yes, we’ve heard many homeschoolers wanting to hear our stance on it, and we will not put critical race theory into our curriculum. We will not rewrite history to 1629. We are about equipping students with the skills they need and the information they need to approach life’s critical thinking manner with truth as their foundation.
Leahy: Jessica, Barnell, I threw you a hanging curveball, and you hit it out of the park with that answer on critical race theory. Thanks for joining us.
Parnell: Yes. Thank you, Michael.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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