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’s 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 “Applying” for a waiver. You are “Notifying” 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’t a big deal. I used Weebly, which is a “Drop and Drag Site Builder.” 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’ll 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?