As efforts to improve West Virginia’s standing in the ranks of academic achievement continue, some parents are opting out of the public school option and homeschooling their children instead.
“‘Homeschool’ is a misnomer. We’re rarely home! It’s not like we’re sitting at home just by ourselves, looking at each other. We’re out there every day.” –Homeschool mom, Ericka Rhodes-Edwards
Ericka Rhodes-Edwards decided to homeschool her two young children, but says making that decision wasn’t easy. She had to overcome misconceptions, do a lot of research, commit to an education plan, make sacrifices. She says she and her husband had to recognize priorities.
“I loved school,” Rhodes says. “I really enjoyed going to school. I loved my friends. I didn’t want my son to miss out on THAT. That was my fear—that he was going to miss out on something really fun and special. So I think this program, LEAP, did it for me. If this weren’t available, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.”
Rhodes found LEAP—Learn, Explore, and Play—in Marion County, a new co-op for homeschooling families.
In West Virginia, school is mandatory for kids 5 to 17. But anyone with a high school diploma or GED can homeschool their own kids. Parents or guardians just have to prove that the methods they choose are effective with annual testing and/or a portfolio review. So that’s what founder and co-coordinator of LEAP Erika Fishel decided to do.
Fishel says her husband was brought up homeschooled, so it’s not a foreign concept. But after a brush with some bullying in the public school system, Fishel contacted her county’s board of education to make arrangements to homeschool her son.
So Fishel started a new co-op for homeschooled kids ages 4-8. $125 per family per semester pays for basic supplies and covers facility fees. The group meets once a week from 10-2. Parents collaborate to offer classes in the morning, then they eat lunch together, and in the afternoon they play, or field trips, or venture to the nearby park.
“Being able to see your kid have that moment where they GET it? That’s priceless.” –LEAP co-coordinator Erika Fishel
Science, art, reading, and geography are among the subjects LEAP is exploring in this pilot year. Rhodes says her son Kaleb LOVES LEAP.
“The information that they’re learning here is good information to have but it’s not like they’re going to be tested on Venice in Kindergarten. Right now, it’s just, this is HOW you learn. This is a learning environment. It’s not necessarily important what they learn; it’s that they’re learning to learn,” Rhodes says.
The environment at the co-op sort of harkens back to the days of the one-room school house where a wide age range existed in a single class. Rhodes says the diverse age range creates social dynamics that bear edifying benefits.
“These kids range in age from 2 – 10 years old. So there’re probably about 15 kids here on a full day. We’ve not had any discipline issues, no one cries, no one fights, no one is mean, no one is hurt. They have good role models in the older kids and the older kids feel responsible for the younger kids. There’s compassion. That’s what they’re learning and it’s really beautiful,” Rhodes says.
Dani Glaeser is also a coordinator of LEAP along with Erika Fishel. Glaeser has been homeschooling her kids for several years and has been involved with other co-ops as well. She stresses the importance of the co-op’s function as a support group for families. Glaeser says it’s important to be able to compare notes, as well as interact with other kids and adults.
“It’s a support network.” –LEAP co-coordinator Dani Glaeser
“If your child loves dinosaurs so you spent a full year studying every sort of dinosaur that exists, but that’s not on the test! Regular school systems, they don’t teach like that,” Glaeser says. “So it’s a support network. You’re always wondering if you’re doing enough. As a mom you’re always wondering and homeschooling, to have a support system is really important because then you can have somebody just say, ‘You’re doing just fine.’”
Glaeser explains that there are many different types of co-ops throughout the state, secular and religious, who interact in a variety of ways, but for her family, LEAP is a good fit. She says her daughter is easily overwhelmed by to too much sensory information and so the small co-op provides a gentle environment for her to learn to socialize and make friends.
“We were at Rich Farms a couple weeks ago, and she is terrified of slides. And she was in this big bouncy house with a slide. I thought she would just stay in the first part but then I came around and she was sitting at the top of her slide with her sister Hunter, her friend Gavin, and Kaleb, from here, and they were talking about her being scared. Kaleb puts his arm around her and says, ‘We’ll do it together.’ And they all come down the slide together. She went on that slide the rest of the afternoon,” Glaeser remembers.
“So I watch these kids here and their gentleness and their kindness when they play together and tell stories together and THAT is what it’s all about—kids coming together and reaching out.”