Co-Ops & Hybrids
Not all homeschool co-ops are alike. One thing they have in common though is the support offered and the benefits of group learning and accountability.
Though families are encouraged to join or start no-cost or low-cost co-ops in their homes or other locations if they choose, SFA provides a facility, equipment, materials, and dedicated instructors, giving structure and balance to our students who benefit from a solid classical Catholic education.
The following two articles are from Today's Catholic Homeschooling Resource Guide. The guide can be downloaded free, or you can purchase a printed copy, from Today's Catholic Homeschooling.
Sancta Familia Academy, an educational alternative since 2001
Each year we offer the classes needed by our current students. We follow a four-year sequence for content subjects such as history and science. In this way, students cycle through two or three times, depending on when they begin. Skills, such as math and reading, are linear and student-paced. These subjects do not lend themselves easily to group instruction, especially mixed grades. We do, however, allow for homeschool enrollment in some of these classes which are provided for our full time students. (See classes scheduled for this year.)
Enrollment in the home academy (umbrella school) is not required to participate in co-op or to take a limited number of classes. The law requires home education students be taught by their parents at least 50%, so a full course load does require enrollment.
The only Florida scholarship that can be used toward Home Academy enrollment or classes for homeschoolers is the Gardiner Scholarship. The McKay and Step Up scholarships can only be used for full-time students who attend our day school.
Co-operative Learning - Popularity, History, & Resources
Sancta Familia Academy has been providing classes for homeschoolers, with a classical focus, since 2001, and we started our full-time day school in 2004.
Homeschooling has become very popular, and studies show how successful these students can be. (See Intro to Homeschooling) As the number of homeschoolers continues to grow, so does the number of home education services. From distance education and online classes to family co-ops and part-time enrollment in physical schools, business is booming.
When I began homeschooling in the early 1990's, there were a very limited number of specifically Catholic resources. Christian curriculum providers grew rapidly through the 80's and 90's, but the only thing for Catholics were full service providers that used some Christian texts, some republished old Catholic texts, and a small handful of new publications written by the school staff.
Just as the Protestant homeschool market had exploded, over the next two decades, the Catholic publishers caught on and today there are many more resources, including more distance schools, newly published textbooks, unit studies, curriculum guides, and lesson plans.
Over time, as groups of homeschool families found the benefit of pooling their resources, cooperative learning grew in popularity. The idea of a homeschool co-op is not school and home working together, but parents sharing the teaching of certain classes. Costs are usually just for materials and parents take turns teaching the children in groups. As the idea took hold, groups got larger, and meeting places were needed.
Eventually, some parents thought of hiring professional teachers and sharing the expense. Still called a "co-op" these groups became more and more structured over time. It seems the interest in classical education has really influenced this growth, partly because we parents were never given a classical education ourselves. Today there are university model schools, cottage schools, community schools, tutoring programs, and co-ops - both Protestant and Catholic - starting and growing all over the country. A few ambitious Catholic moms have put together programs modeled after the successful non-denominational Classical Conversations focusing on memory work in the grammar stage and covering history topics chronologically over three or four years. (i.e. Catholic School House, Classically Catholic Memory and Schola Rosa, Aquinas Learning, and RC History, which is a home program that is developing products for use at weekly co-op meetings.) Some are "add-ons" to whatever curriculum is used at home the rest of the week, while others require families to follow the curriculum and use it as a "spine" for some or most of their homeschool subjects.
Though learning history chronologically is not what makes a curriculum "classical," it is how we've always done it at SFA, and it has become a popular trend, allowing students to study a time period and culture at a more indepth level than the typical textbook survey. A great benefit to the trend of teaching in cycles is keeping the whole family learning together. While each child has his or her own math and language arts to do, all the children learn about the same topics in history, geography, and science.
There are so many benefits to home education, but there are also some advantages to group learning, especially as students get older. Most co-ops concentrate on classes that are most conducive to group learning, whether it be for recitation & debate or science experiments and art projects. (See the benefits of part-time classroom instruction in our overview of SFA.)
Different sources will explain "classical education" in a variety of ways. What SFA means by "classical" is in line with Highlands Latin School in Kentucky and Memoria Press. It is based on the Trivium, but out of necessity, it does follow the conventional "grade" system. Our founders have used everything from Seton to Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum and so much more. We have tried to follow the outline provided by Dorothy Sayers in her Lost Tools of Learning, implementing a curriculum using materials available today. The "lost tools" are those first three of the seven liberal arts. (See Classical Education & the Liberal Arts)