Westport Island couple selects homeschool for their two boys

Posted:  Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 10:00am

September meant back to school for students all across the state. Most of Maine’s kindergarten through grade 12 students attend public schools. In 2017-18, Maine’s Department of Education reported 180,650 did, while 11,819 others attended private schools. But two Westport Island youths, Wesley and Nolan Bragan, attend neither.

They are among 5,275 students being homeschooled, according to DOE records. Wesley, 10, and Nolan, 7,  are two of Kurtis and Melissa Bragan’s four sons. They moved to Wiscasset three years ago when Kurtis, who is employed by the U.S. Navy, was assigned to work at Bath Iron Works. The couple is building a home in Westport Island, but their decision to homeschool pre-dates when they lived in Virginia.  Six years ago, Wesley began a faith-based education in a Virginia private school. But continuing with a private education and its tuition wasn’t a long-term option for the family.

So the Bragans searched for an alternative faith-based education option. They found homeschooling after learning several church members were doing the same.

“They were homechooling their kids, and I looked into it, and thought I could do that,” Melissa said.

The Bragans found a faith-based curriculum called Classic Conversations and have used it ever since. The curriculum was developed by Leigh Bortins in her Winston-Salem, North Carolina home. In 1997, Bortins began instructing 11 boys in her basement on the curriculum she developed based on The Bible and family. The Classic Conversations website reported 114,000 families worldwide use the curriculum.

The Bragans' decision to homeschool was based on their children’s need, and was not a slight against public education. Melissa, 35, is a product of public schools. She grew up in Palmyra and graduated from Nokomis Regional High School in Newport. Her parents are both public school teachers and she enjoyed her time in the public school system. “I loved everything about going to school — my classes, playing sports, and riding the bus.  I’m not anti-public school, but in the end, it came down to doing what was best for my children,” she said.

Kurtis, also 35, also attended public schools. He grew up in Corinna and attended Nokomis where he started dating Melissa in 2000. Kurtis is a homeschooling advocate. “I like being in charge of what my children learn and preventing indoctrination of things we may not value or appreciate,” he said.

Each fall, the Bragans are required to notify the local school superintendent about their decision to homeschool. Parents also must send the prior year’s test scores or submit a portfolio review. For the last six years, Melissa has instructed her sons 170 to 180 days per year. 

Once a week, the Bragans meet with other Classic Conversations homeschool families in Augusta learning the Foundation Program, designed for students ages 4 to 11. The group lessons cover Latin, math, science, English, history geography, timeline, and public speaking. The students have lunch followed by a recess. In the afternoon,  a writing program for students ages 9-11 is held.

For Melissa, the curriculum is easy to follow and meets her children’s education needs. Five days a week, she gathers Wesley and Nolan around the dining table for their lessons. The school day lasts about four hours with each boy receiving one-on-one instruction and doing some independent work. In the beginning, she wasn’t sure how her sons would handle having mom as a teacher. After a few lessons, she learned it wasn’t as hard in some aspects, but was more challenging in others.

“We often bickered about (Wesley) eating his vegetables so I wasn’t sure how he would handle me teaching him. I saw a bigger difference in myself becoming more patient, and our relationship didn’t become better or worse, just different,” she said.

For Melissa, the best part of homeschooling is spending more quality time with her boys. She also described it as a learning experience for both her and the boys. “I like learning with my kids. I had a good education, but I love learning stuff about the world around us, it’s fun,” she said.

The only concern Melissa had about homeschooling was opportunities for her kids experiencing public school activities like playing sports and going to the prom. But she said that’s no longer an issue because homeschool students can now play on public school teams and increased municipal recreational activities for youth sports.