This fall, will be the inaugural year of SHINE, which is an acronym for Students at Home in New England. It is a low-residency home-school cooperative for children in commuting distance from the Pioneer Valley, in Western Massachusetts. I have run a nearby home-school cooperative for the past ten years, and I am moving the program on-line. I will be running an online meeting with WizIQ once each week and I will also have tutorials and online classes. The kids will also meet once each month to learn and play together. You can read more about it at www.s-h-i-n-e.org.
Recruiting has been a project. The home-school world is, justifiably, pretty tight. People do not trust anyone with their children. Many families that home-school participate in cooperatives that have grown up organically as their children have. Though I have experience running a home-school coop, that has a great reputation, it is about 30 miles east of where I want to live. Also, many families only want programs that are free or very inexpensive. Nonetheless, I am offering a solid program, and I am sure that I can find families that see the value in it.
This is what I did:
1) I put myself out there, in every way that I could think of. I created a website, and unabashedly declared who I was, the values that I espoused and the coop that I wanted to create. I had never created a website before and it was much easier that I had expected.
2) After years of reluctance about social media, I decided to learn about Facebook, twitter, Linked in, and the like. I wish I had paid more attention to these things for the past decade, but I am now.
3) I subscribed to all of the home-school list serves that allow for-profit postings. This is tricky, because many do allow some for-profit posts, if they are of interest to the community, as long as they are not obnoxious or excessive. I post about my coop every month or so.
4) I held several events, including a picnic and an informational fair. I advertised the events on the list serves, and paid a flyer service to hit targeted areas. I recruited organizations to come to the events that would be of interest to home-school families. The idea was to create publicity for all of us. I was really surprised how many people there are who are eager to work with and market to home-schoolers.
5) I meticulously keep track of any inquiries, and check in with everyone once each month to see if they have any new questions or thoughts.
What has worked: Virtually all of my students have come from the website and from social media. I currently have 7 students enrolled for the fall and am mid-conversation with two more families. My goal for the first year was 8, so I am mighty close. Most people found the website referred to on a list serve, liked the idea and then realized that we have a common friend.
I am wary to spend another cent on posters, events, or any print advertisement. It just doesn’t seem to work.
What I think will work: Frank Grinrod, who runs a successful outdoor ed program in Western MA, suggests, “Just run the program, even if it is initially at a loss.” If the program is any good, people will hear about it, and you will get students. That is the plan that I think will ultimately work. I want a curriculum and a program that will actively wow my students and leave them with a more fully examined world view. I have a lot of the pieces in place, but there is still a lot to organize before it becomes a reality.