Forensic Science class with instructor Diana Toole
Squeals of delight are heard as young children march and twang their rubber band instruments, learning about sound waves. Groans come from elementary students as their isopods escape while they explore crustaceans. Laughter emanates from high schoolers when they discuss their latest movie assignment in "Movies as Literature" class.
Instructor Dan Copelin assists Nathaniel Lay in Electronics class
These sounds reflect a typical day at Home School Central in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a tuition-based drop-off program for homeschool students in grades 1-12. Unlike a co-op where moms share teaching responsibilities, Home School Central supports moms by providing specialists to instruct students in challenging subjects-public speaking, biology for middle-schoolers, literature, Algebra, English composition, Spanish, watercolor, engineering, solar energy, botany, physics for elementary students, and more. Specialties at HSC include hands-on lab science, communications, and private music instruction for all ages.
Kathryn Wong builds flying things in Electronics
While this program is unique to Ann Arbor, it can certainly be duplicated in other states. You will need to find well-qualified instructors. They will begin to approach you as your group becomes known, but you will always need to search for instructors for specific subjects. HSC seems to have a proliferation of communications and history instructors, but a dearth of math and language tutors.
Some homeschool moms may want to teach. Many trained for careers before becoming homeschoolers. Begin with other homeschool groups in the area. Attend a group meeting or subscribe to one or several email groups in your geographic area. You will meet contractors, biologists, nurses, architects, reading specialists, musicians, authors, attorneys, certified teachers, and more. These moms can also recommend husbands and friends who are talented and capable of instructing.
4-H leaders are another possibility; many are multi-talented and all enjoy working with children.
Colleges offer a significant pool of instructors; some will jump at the chance to teach in this environment. They also often recommend outstanding students who are capable of teaching in their specialty.
Broaden your instructor search. Want an American Government class? Approach state or local politicians. Need a physical education class? Talk to a martial arts school or your local park district. Get out the yellow pages and browse to get fresh ideas-and don't neglect placing queries in local church bulletins.
Students for your program will come from similar sources. Announce your group through local support groups and online email groups. Churches are often happy to include a notice in their weekly bulletin.
Abigail Copeland demonstrates a new electric guitar technique
Once established, your best advertising will be word-of-mouth. When one family is satisfied, they will tell as many as ten other families. Our second year in business we quadrupled our membership, primarily through word-of-mouth recommendations.
Plan your location within a comfortable drive from your home with easy access (near expressway, highway, major road) to families from a wide geographic area. Some will travel as much as an hour to reach you.
Where to Meet
Start by approaching churches. Most have classrooms, which are unused during the week, and are happy to support the homeschool community.
Work out arrangements and put your agreement in writing to help avoid misunderstandings. Can you use the kitchen? The copier? The piano? Do you need to vacuum or empty the trash? Will you pay a rental fee? Does the church require you to have liability insurance? Even if they don't require rent, it is always a kind gesture to make a monetary donation as a tangible way of saying thanks.
Adam Copeland plays violin for his instructor
Class offerings may vary depending on your geographic location; you may need to experiment to see what class is popular. Don't be afraid to make mistakes-learn from them and plan a better selection the following semester. When no one registers for a class you just received an education; don't offer that class again.
For example, HSC presented a great class in fall semester, "Skits and Improvisation," for elementary students. Only one student registered. Still believing this could be a popular class, it was offered again in winter semester. Not one person registered for it. So drama classes for elementary students won't appear on the HSC class list again in the near future-education received.
Bethany Church compares monocols and dicots in Botany class
Consider what else is available in your area. If there is a strong art program for homeschoolers, you probably do not want to offer art. If homeschool team sports abound, you might want to avoid physical education. For HSC, the classes which receive the most interest are science labs, communications, and private music lessons. Other classes are offered to round out the program: high school math, AP classes, physical education, art, technology, languages, and government.
Administering a program like this is no small task. Be sure you are willing to plan ahead, to talk to lots of moms and potential instructors, to handle complaints, to make unpopular decisions, to do bookkeeping, and to manage paperwork. As you grow, you might consider hiring a high-school student to act as secretary or bookkeeper.
Instructors and member families will need to complete forms before joining. Three forms will be ideal: application, letter of agreement outlining financial agreements, dress code, and expected behaviors, along with a health release.
So, is there a need for this type of program in your area? Probably. First you will need to determine if there are enough students within a 45-mile radius of your meeting location. Are co-ops nearby which offer classes? Co-ops are not necessarily a deterrent; many moms would prefer to pay instructors rather than teach a class themselves, and some co-op families may still want one or two classes you offer. There are four popular co-ops within a 30-minute drive of HSC.
If you live in an economically depressed area, it might be challenging for parents financially. However, you can search for reasonably priced instructors or offer moms an opportunity to earn some extra income by teaching.
The best way to determine a program's feasibility is to simply do it! Start small. HSC began with classes for only grades 5-8 and held classes two hours. If your small program proves popular, expansion is always an option. HSC expanded to grades 1-12 its second year with five hours of classes. Our third year we added an additional hour of classes and more class options each hour.
The satisfaction coming from a group like Home School Central is significant. Not only will your own children benefit from great educational opportunities and from meeting new friends, but you will have the pleasure of hearing comments like:
- "My child never liked to write before."
- "I can't believe how much chemistry my middle-schooler understands."
- "I've decided to keep my high-schooler at home because of your great classes."
- "Why are we taking a summer break?"
Try it-you just might like it!