For the past ten years, I have run a home-school cooperative middle school that is not really a home-school coop.¬† It is really just a school.¬† It is called The Chicken Coop at the Farm School, and it is in the little town of Orange, Massachusetts.
Home-schooling – Be prepared for paperwork (it will be worth it)
It seems that you can circumnavigate all of those pesky regulations if you call yourself a home-school cooperative, instead of a school.¬† Neat, huh?¬† We have a nice little system. ¬†I organize all of the paperwork that a family needs if they want to apply for a home school waiver (something similar is needed in most states if parents don’t want to send their kids to an established public or private school; essentially, you have to prove that your children will be educated appropriately if they want to leave the compulsory education system).¬† I then e-mail it to the families who are enrolled in the program.¬† The families open the files, insert the child‚Äôs name, sign them, and forward the package to their school district.¬† We have never had any problems.¬† From what I understand, in Massachusetts (regulations vary by state), you are not even technically ‚ÄúApplying‚ÄĚ for a waiver.¬† You are ‚ÄúNotifying‚ÄĚ the school that your child will be home-schooled, although every district tends to interpret this differently.¬† We have had 10-12 students most years.
The school only serves middle school students.¬† The students transition to high school with reasonable ease. ¬†For the most part, kids who excelled before they were enrolled at The Chicken Coop excel in high school.¬† Students who struggled a little bit before they came, struggle a little bit when they move on.¬† While they were here, though, they got to run, climb trees, and play like puppies.¬† They got to experience belonging, lots of attention, and a warm and nurturing environment. ¬†The school is a lovely place to be a middle school student, a claim that many middle schools can’t make during this difficult transitional period in many teens’ lives.
Bringing home-schooling into the 21st Century
I am taking this idea online, and organizing it as a social and academic support program for middle school students.¬† It is called SHINE (Students at Home in New England) and I just got the web site up and going (www.s-h-i-n-e.org).¬† The kids will meet together once each month, and camp or go on a field trip.¬† The will also get weekly curriculum from me.¬† The big project of the year will be the Utopia Project, in which the students will plan and create a model of the world or community that they want to live in.¬† The program will provide meaningful, relevant, engaging curriculum to home-schooled children, who will learn in a largely virtual community, but not attend daily classes.¬† I hope that the articles and the ideas that I offer the students will become dinner time conversation for their families.
I want to take the program online for a number of reasons.¬† The school that I currently teach in is set in a tired little town, our enrollment is down, and I am worried about the future.¬† Also, I am somewhat tired of living in that particular tired little town.¬† I really want to get my kid and myself some place with a little more fun – maybe a yoga class and Thai food every now and then?
The first thing I did was write up a lot of text for my web site.¬† I have some pretty clear ideas as to what I want, so I just started to write.
Then, I got a web page through i-page. ¬†It really was so much easier to design a web page then I ever would have imagined.¬† It wasn‚Äôt a big deal.¬† I used Weebly, which is a ‚ÄúDrop and Drag Site Builder.‚ÄĚ¬† It cost a couple hundred bucks, from beginning to end, including the pictures that I purchased from iStock.¬† Again, it was not a big deal.¬† Weebly has a lot of really great tutorials on how to do it.¬† You can do it.¬† Go and try.
I used the text to design flyers and brochures.¬† My new used computer happened to have Microsoft Publisher, which is really amazing.¬† You can find templates for brochures, business cards, flyers- everything.¬† I have since discovered that the Staples Copy and Print Center has a similar service.¬† You can work with their templates, add your pictures and text, and create something that looks like an actual business in a few hours.
I found out when some spring fairs were, made up a few banners, and sat behind a table.¬† I currently have 3 or 4 students who want to enroll.¬† It is promising, but not quite enough to make it profitable.
Tackling the tech
I know that technically, I am supposed to be blogging about WizIQ, but every time I go to explore it, I feel a bit overwhelmed!¬† I am not fond of technology.¬† Do you need a wall knocked down?¬† I can do it.¬† Your electricity fixed?¬† Sure.¬† You want me to raise a baby, by myself, on my salary?¬† No problem- I‚Äôll take two.¬† Explore the WizIQ Virtual Classroom?¬† Yikes- that is going to necessitate a few deep breaths and a beer.¬† That said, it is my goal for this evening.¬† I am going to try to schedule a class with my mom.¬† How hard can it be?