When the novel coronavirus began spreading across the globe early this year, Bridy and Kurt Oreshack were so concerned that they pulled their children out of school three days before it officially closed.
Their anxiety quickly gave way to other emotions. “We thought, there’s never going to be an opportunity like this in our careers,” says Bridy, a wealth advisor in San Diego.
She and her husband, an attorney, had hoped to someday spend a year traveling with their kids, who are now 5, 9, and 10. When COVID-19 disrupted schooling and made it not merely acceptable but desirable for the Oreshacks to work remotely, they decided to make the leap.
Instead of attending their normal bilingual private school, the three Oreshack children will “roadschool” for the 2020-21 academic year, stringing together a series of road trips to national parks and the Pacific Northwest, with a stretch in Hawaii in the mix. A French teacher will accompany them while they’re on the road, and an English instructor will join virtually, making in-person appearances while the family is at home between trips.
“We’re only on Day 2 of homeschooling,” Oreshack says from her home in San Diego, where the family is temporarily recovering from summer explorations. “But so far, it’s been rad and wonderful.”
Combining homeschooling and travel — an approach often known as “worldschooling” — isn’t new. But it has been a very rare phenomenon, limited to families willing to trade stability, structure, and conventional education for adventure. Now, “roadschooling” is emerging as a COVID-19-era alternative for Americans who are limited by border closures but not by commutes.
The term can mean many things. Families that can afford it are packing into RVs and boarding private jets, traveling intermittently or nonstop, spending a few days in each destination or months in a single spot.
Some children are remaining enrolled in public or private schools’ remote programs. Others are officially homeschooling — learning from online programs, parents, or private staff. Those considering the latter are required to follow specific state rules about registration, testing, and accountability as they proceed.
It’s difficult to ascertain how many families are putting the pedal to the metal, but overlapping initial data suggest it’s a growing trend. K12, a publicly traded company that specializes in online education, has experienced a nearly 40 percent increase in online public school enrollment, year-on-year. Campspot, an online marketplace for campgrounds and RV parks, says it has 20 percent more family RV stays booked for this fall than it had last autumn. And Katie Provinziano, managing director of Beverly Hills-based staffing agency Westside Nannies, estimates that private education requests have risen 2,000% since the pandemic began — with 40 percent of new clients planning to hit the road.
Supply and Demand
The potential upsides aren’t just for parents and kids. For instructors, roadschooling is a safe and lucrative alternative to working at traditional schools. At the start of the pandemic, private educators stood to earn from $30 to $60 an hour, according to Provinziano. Demand has sent those rates skyrocketing. (In general, the more you can spend on this endeavor, the smoother the road ahead.)
Pay now ranges from $40 to $100 an hour, with those who are willing to travel commanding a 20 percent premium, or more. “There are bidding wars,” says Provinziano. In the mid-range, this can translate to a $145,000 full-time annual salary, more than twice the typical earnings for a public school teacher in 2019, according to the National Education Association.
Private instructors can expect to spend a lot of time with families and may be responsible for child care, in addition to instruction. They may also get to stay in luxurious digs and have the chance to create a science program around a visit to Yosemite National Park — albeit one with intermittent Wi-Fi service.
Also hoping to cash in: the tourism industry. The $475-a-night Four Seasons Punta Mita, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, is launching a “schoolcation” program that provides tech support, classes, and “study buddies” who can supervise remote learning from a Wi-Fi-equipped beach cabana. (Stay for the semester, and it could cost $50,000.)
Hotel Esencia in Tulum, Mexico, and Anse Chastanet in Saint Lucia are offering private tutors or complimentary homeschool coordinators. And luxury travel planning firm Embark Beyond is jumping into the fray with its Embark World Academy, which can coordinate everything from teachers and resorts to extracurricular activities. Imagine virtual painting classes from a teacher at Borgo Egnazia in Italy’s Puglia or sustainability workshops with safari guides in four African countries, from Singita.
Tips From the Pros
The combination of parenting and teaching — even with professional help — isn’t for everyone. Denise Clark Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, says potential challenges include time zone changes, connectivity issues, quarantines, and lack of stability. Not to mention the cost.
“Sometimes, you’re going to be driving in the middle of nowhere,” Clark Pope says. “Are the kids going to be doing class from the car? The RV? A hotel? Is there going to be noise? You have to really think this through and plan it.” If regular schools start the year remotely and revert to in-person learning, she adds, “you might be caught on the other side of the country and need to come back.”
Alessa Giampaolo Keener, a Maryland-based educational consultant who advised worldschoolers well before the pandemic, has experience navigating these challenges. She suggests buying satellite hotspots; traveling on Mondays, when many museums that haven’t been shuttered by the pandemic are closed; and signing up for live online classes to obtain some structure, as well as a break for parents.
She also recommends making use of long drives for educational documentaries, podcasts, or audiobooks. But pack real books — not just Kindles — she says. “Kids have a lower level of comprehension when they read on a device,” she says.
Baltimore-based Katie Raspa, an early childhood special educator, has already seen that the dividends for overcoming those obstacles can be huge. The mother of children 6 and 8 years old sold her house and belongings in May. Now her family is RVing around the US, planning their route around national parks and the weather.
“I thought my kids needed a curriculum, a classroom,” she says. But after they learned about food webs and habitats at a freshwater pond in Delaware and invasive species in Pennsylvania — where a spotted lanternfly infestation was underway — she knew otherwise. “Our kids are getting a great education from just existing in the world.”