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Facing Fears, Overcoming Obstacles, and Finding Courage: The Bellino Family

by David Engle | Mar 30, 2022 | 7 min read

The past couple of years have been busy ones for homeschooling academies and programs like Bridgeway Academy. Without exception, everyone got a taste of the homeschooling experience in some way, shape, or form at some point between spring of 2020 and now. COVID-19 was obviously the common denominator–after all, the pandemic is what drove millions of students home to learn, some through virtual/distance learning with their schools and others through true homeschooling.

And while we all wish COVID-19 was simply a very long, painful, and seemingly endless dream, it had a major impact on so many families–those who may have been on the fence about homeschooling pre-pandemic, those who never gave it even a passing thought, and those who realized that learning at home might actually be the best choice for their students.

The Bellino family fall into the first category–they had been contemplating homeschooling their nearly 13-year-old twin girls, Makenna and Alyssa. But it wasn’t until COVID-19 arrived that mom Sarah and dad Steve decided to make the switch. The Bellinos’ story is one of struggle, fear, uncertainty, and–ultimately–courage.

Meet Makenna and Alyssa

The twin tweens (nearly teens!), both Bridgeway Academy students, love (as mom Sarah puts it) “anything artsy.” That includes painting, making jewelry, and knitting. And you don’t want to mess with these tough twins–they’re both orange belts in Taekwondo! But they also have a soft spot for any and all kinds of animals. Sounds like your typical 12-year-old girls. And they are–aside from the severe stroke that Makenna suffered just weeks before the twins were born.

The first few months of life were a struggle, not only for Makenna, but for her parents as well. In addition to the stroke, Makenna was born with other serious medical issues that kept both girls at Children’s Hospital of Colorado for 47 days. When the long-anticipated day came to finally bring the twins home, Makenna’s doctors informed the family that her brain had been so severely damaged from the stroke that it was a near-guarantee Makenna would suffer from cerebral palsy, she would be unable to walk, and she would struggle with most day-to-day activities and functions.

As devastating as that news was at the time, we’re happy to report that Makenna has been proving those doctors wrong for years.

Public school was fine…until it wasn’t

Amazingly, despite some developmental delays and residual effects of her stroke, Makenna was able to begin public school kindergarten with Alyssa, and the girls’ education was off to a great start. Over the next few years, the girls and their parents formed a close-knit bond with their school community. “We loved our public school and felt like it was a great place that embraced the girls and made them feel at home,” explained Sarah.

But the positive feelings gradually faded. As she advanced in school, Makenna began to struggle at her grade level. It became more noticeable at the end of fourth grade–just when COVID hit. And once Sarah started teaching the girls at home during the early stages of the pandemic, she and Steve realized that something needed to change. “My husband and I had our eyes opened to several issues and realized that we could not continue down that path with public school,” Sarah said. “We had to do something else.”

The primary concern with Makenna was the realization that she needed individualized attention, especially considering her developmental delays–something that a public school classroom of 30 students simply can’t offer. “We saw that Makenna was struggling since her skills were several years below the class she was actually in,” continued Sarah. “She bounced back and forth between being taught at too low a level and then back to her regular classroom where the level was too high.”

For Alyssa, the issues were a little bit different. She had trouble juggling the many demands of school and extracurricular activities, and this led to a habit of rushing through her work simply to get it done. Alyssa was apprehensive about asking questions in school and self-conscious about being the last one in her class to turn in her work, so she resorted to just writing in any random answer in order to turn the assignment in on time. The problem was, Sarah and Steve would not be made aware of her struggles until weeks later when the assignments would be sent home for review.

Mixed messages from instructors also caused problems–the girls were receiving plenty of praise for their schoolwork from teachers, but the grades told an entirely different story. For adults, misleading situations like this can be extremely confusing, let alone elementary school children.

Sadly, this is what so many public school students are faced with–the need for personalized education, which is so difficult to provide when lessons and curriculum are one-size-fits-all. Clearly, for the Bellinos, Makenna and Alyssa needed school to fit their needs–not the other way around. So the family decided to make the switch, even though there was some hesitation on their part.

Apprehension about homeschooling

One of the primary reasons so many parents are hesitant about homeschooling is that they think they need to have teaching experience. But the truth is, no experience is required whatsoever. But most homeschoolers–especially first-timers–need some help. Sarah Bellino was no different.

“I am not a teacher and don’t have any background as an educator or anything even remotely related to it,” explained Sarah. “So I started to research homeschools and was looking for something that could help me with curriculum, planning, and tracking.”

She also wanted a program that wouldn’t simply offer her girls easy A’s–Sarah searched for a substantial program that would challenge Makenna and Alyssa. For Sarah, this would be the best way to demonstrate that the girls were receiving a top-quality education when the time came to apply for college or rejoin a public school.

And while the decision to remove the twins from their public school was a difficult one, it’s already paying off.

Finding success with Bridgeway Academy

Sarah’s homeschool research led her to Bridgeway Academy, and she knew from the start that it was the right fit. “I loved that Bridgeway offered so many different options and laid everything out for me,” said Sarah.

With the Bellinos’ specific circumstances, the family needed a program that was flexible enough to accommodate Makenna’s school trajectory while allowing Alyssa to thrive at her grade level. Plus, Bridgeway Academy’s learning style assessments opened the Bellinos’ eyes. “We realized that both girls do not have a learning style suited to sitting in a classroom of 30 kids.”

Alyssa is currently working at her sixth-grade class level and thriving. More importantly, homeschooling has allowed Sarah to keep a watchful eye on Alyssa to make sure she’s fully grasping the lessons and working hard. “I know her well enough to see when she isn’t understanding the content or isn’t putting in enough effort; now we are able to stop and go over it again,” explained Sarah. “We’ve worked hard to get Alyssa to slow down and learn that everything isn’t a race–the quality of her work is more important.

“We’ve also been able to focus on her work ethic and study skills since she’s been home,” she continued. “It’s still a challenge every day though, since school is not something that naturally interests her. However, she is extremely proud of herself now as she’s been able to see the work she’s putting in reflected in better grades and realizing she’s knowing more and more answers.”

As for Makenna, she was placed in third-grade classes to accommodate her learning needs.  Any frustration that she may have felt while repeating some content quickly dissipated once she started experiencing the classroom success that eluded her in a public school setting. While she still struggles at times with developmental delays as well as lingering physical effects from the stroke, Makenna is doing incredibly well with school and, most importantly, enjoys it. And both of the girls love when Sarah stops classes so everyone can work together on a special project or a science experiment.

As wonderful as it is that the Bellinos have seen their girls flourish while learning at home, the family still goes through its share of trying moments. “It definitely hasn’t been an easy couple of years,” admitted Sarah. “I feel more stress and pressure to help the girls do well since they are my responsibility.”

Despite these difficulties, however, Sarah and Steve firmly believe that they made the right decision to homeschool Makenna and Alyssa with Bridgeway Academy, and they fully intend to continue for the foreseeable future. “Our original intention was to move the girls back to our public high school in a few years,” said Sarah. “But we’ll revisit that as we get closer…we’d hate to see the girls struggle again. With the great curriculum and more personalized attention, they are both now excelling!”

In addition to the personalized lessons and curriculum, the flexibility, and the ability to keep Makenna at a grade level most appropriate for her development, there’s another reason the family plans to stick with Bridgeway Academy. “The support we’ve gotten from Briana, our advisor, has been great,” Sarah said. “I always feel like I have someone to help me.”

Alyssa’s and Makenna’s stories share some similarities with so many others in the wake of COVID-19, but it seems like a blessing in disguise as the family was able to see up close and personal the many advantages homeschooling has over public schools. The fact that Makenna has developmental needs that simply weren’t being met in public school adds another layer to the Bellinos’ story–which is as real-life as it gets. Stressful, emotional, and difficult…but ultimately rewarding.

“Overall, we feel that Bridgeway Academy is the best choice for our family and is definitely worth any sacrifices we have to make,” said Sarah.

For what it’s worth, Sarah, we’re thrilled to have the Bellino family as part of the Bridgeway Academy community and could not be more proud of both Makenna and Alyssa for battling through adversity and coming out on top. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for these girls!

To learn more about how Bridgeway Academy can offer the homeschooling flexibility you’re seeking, call us at 1-800-863-1474 to speak with a homeschool expert.


David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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