In March of 2020, many parents worst nightmares came true: they became homeschool parents. When COVID-19 swept across the world, businesses, churches and schools shuttered their doors in an attempt to ‘stop the spread’. Businesses went from local shopping to online shopping, churches held services via ZOOM and many schools offered online learning to students through googlemeets. Parents who had never envisioned themselves being mom and teacher suddenly found themselves explaining how to multiply, divide and identifying species and genus for various animals. Yet for a select number of parents teaching their children at home was just another day in the life.
“We started with 11 families and about 25 kids the first year…We are going into this year with around 30 families and 82 kids,” shared Kimberly Vestal, Director and Creator of The Pursuit Homeschool Cooperative. “After (COVID) I did start getting new families….most of the families that we got that I would say from COVID, weren’t necessarily new to home schooling-they had been thinking about it for a while…”
Vestal started The Pursuit Homeschool Cooperative in 2019 with the first official semester starting in Fall of 2019.
“A cooperative is exactly what it means-we all cooperative to provide some form of home service to each other-to each others kids,” explained Vestal of how the cooperative, and cooperatives in general, function. “Some co-ops are kind of like playdates. Some are structured like a one day private school where they have teachers and they come in…the idea is that everyone is volunteering and helping out to some degree…”
“One of the moms (in the co-op) is a Math teacher. I would not have gotten Damien (Vestal’s son) through high school math had I not had her at co-op. I started the co-op for that very reason. When you get to high school the subjects get more challenging to teach…if you can share the load, it’s really really helpful,” reflected Vestal.
Many families within the co-op share the same appreciation for their “homeschool family”. Nikki Moore, mom to three girls, has been homeschooling her kids for seven years.
“My oldest is 13 and going to be in 8th grade, I have a 10-year old that will be a fifth grader and an 8-year old that will be a third grader this year. My oldest went to public school from kindergarten to half of second grade,” reflected Moore. “She did not like it. She would ask me every day, ‘why do I have to go, please don’t make me’. …After a while I just started feeling this push that this (homeschooling) was something I should do. Because I’m me, I was like ‘OK, lets find out reasons why I shouldn’t do it.’ I started researching it and everything I found was just more evidence that I should do it.”
After speaking with her husband and praying about what to do, Moore and her husband decided that homeschooling would be the best move for their family. “The climate in public schools-not having any control over what they are taught, what they are subjected to. The freedom of getting away from the public school calendar and set our own schedule. Do things that work for us around our lives. Things like that were things we considered,” explained Moore. After making the jump to homeschool, the Moore’s are still at it seven years later.
Tammi Hamilton, mom to two kiddos shares a similar experience, “We have homeschooled for eight years. Cooper is going into 8th grade, but he did do one year of public school to give it a try in 3rd grade. Allah is going into 4th.” For Hamilton, homeschooling her children was a dream that she had had since her oldest son was born. “Cooper was a preemie so he had a rough start and therefore I was overprotective. When it came time for kindergarten I wasn’t ready to send him…Every year we evaluate if we will continue on the next year.”
“We’ve had a great experience with homeschool,” reflected Hamilton. “Each year my kids get smarter and smarter and challenge me to teach them more and push their knowledge.” Hamilton has been a part of The Pursuit Co-op for going on four years. “Without our co-op I don’t think I would have survived the last two years without their support…having a solid group helps us enjoy our hands on schooling.”
While joining a co-op is a great way to have a support system and idea sharing, not all families choose to go that route. Krista Bitting, mom to two kiddos has been homeschooling her children for close to four years. “I have my own business. One of my clients is a homeschooling family and I was very inspired by their dynamic-of the family being together, and I started asking questions…it kind of inspired me to start the journey with our eldest child,” reflected Bitting. “We are not part of a co-op. We are independent. Co-ops are really good and they work really well for certain families. For us we wanted to focus on interest lead learning and have the flexibility to veer off in whatever direction was best for our children as individuals. For us co-ops didn’t really fit but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit for everybody.”
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to homeschooling is keeping kiddos involved in sports and socialized, however, many of the homeschooling parents would argue that that is simply not the case. “Just in Marshfield there is homeschool gymnastics, homeschool volleyball, basketball. If you’re willing to drive to Springfield there is homeschool theatre, choir, orchestra…” explained Vestal. “All of those are open to anyone, I don’t know of any of those that are directly connected to a co-op that you have to be a part of.”
On August 18 from 9 am to noon The Pursuit is offering a learning opportunity to families who are thinking about homeschooling. “This year we had the opportunity to bring in FHE-Families for Home Education…In each region of the state they are trying to help you know what resources are out there, they pay close attention to the laws-what do you need to do to legally homeschool, what laws are being passed that might effect you as homeschooling. We asked them to come, we have a lot of new homeschoolers. We have grown by 45% this year in my co-op,” shared Vestal.
With the amount of families entering the homeschooling community, up from 5.9% in 2019-2020 school year to 10.9% in 2020-2021 school year, Vestal thought that hosting an event for the community would be helpful in guiding new homeschool families on how to get started. “We wanted to have FHE come in and do a talk on homeschooling 101. The basics of what legally do you need to do.”
While the idea of homeschooling your children might sound like a daunting and impossible task the feedback from the homeschooling community is the same. “My advice to anyone thinking about homeschooling is-don’t sell yourself short. Don’t let the enemy telL you you aren’t enough, that you aren’t smart enough and that you couldn’t be with your kids that much. You absolutely can! You are smart enough….” expressed Hamilton.
“There are so many choices with homeschooling and there isn’t really one right or wrong way to do it. And honestly, the best way to do it is to figure out what works for you and your family and your child individually,” expressed Vestal. “That’s the beauty of homeschooling-you can individualize a program for each child based on their interests, their personalities, whatever.”
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