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Homeschool Leaders Talk About Groups and Returning Post COVID-19


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A Quick Good-Bye

“We didn’t know when we cancelled classes for two weeks that our semester as we knew it was going to be over,” Heather from The Learning Connection shared.

Being together in person is the heartbeat of our co-ops, events, and field trips as homeschoolers. It is why most of our groups exist. We can do the education online or in our homes, but we typically put groups of families and/or classes to do life together in person. We hold one another accountable, share life, and invest in the lives that are given to us through our groups.

In the blink of an eye this changed. Our field trips, events, classes, dances, graduation ceremonies, and all of the in-person events we were looking forward to were canceled. While this has been hard and we have mourned our losses, we have seen parents, teachers, and students step into their giftings we, and sometimes they, didn’t even know they had. Some parents have stepped up with technical expertise, creativity in building community and developing a depth to our groups in new and exciting ways. Although we are used to educating our children from home and being together more than most families, the rhythm of our lives has surely been altered.

I had the opportunity to interview leaders of 5 co-ops of varying sizes located throughout the country to hear what they have done, what they have learned, and how they are planning for the future. Their stories of building community, reflecting on the “why,” and creativity of continuing and planning for the future brought a lot of inspiration and hope.

I hope you will gain some insight as well! I have captured the highlights in this article, but click on Podcast to hear the full one-hour interview with our leaders.





Going Virtual

What We Have Done

What is true for all of the groups that responded is the use of online resources to continue connections for their groups. Discord, Zoom, Google Classrooms, Homeschool-Life Forums and Classroom Dashboard as well as Pre-Recorded Videos are various platforms used by the 5 groups. They all have stated that looking to the fall, they are hoping to go back to in-person education but expect this virtual experience will impact the future of their groups as well.

Although it is not a substitute for what we had, the online platform has been good for connection, continuing education, and even building new skills that we never would have seen for our students if we had not been forced to make some changes. Rebecca from Branches Chandler said that they will definitely continue using technology as a part of the learning process. Students giving presentations over technology and using technology that would not have been required as a part of their typical class has brought out skills that are important.

Heather from the Learning Connection said they have a very community-oriented group and that character has moved to an online presence since the beginning of COVID. She said that Moms are meeting Friday afternoon or Friday evenings for a ‘coffee time’ to talk, laugh, and share life, once a week moms are playing games, and their weekly prayer meetings haven’t missed a beat due to the Zoom platform.

Caroline from RISE mentioned that 95% of their 100 class offerings are now meeting online. The largest challenge has been the classes that have an end of semester production. The bands and acting classes are meeting through Zoom and using the break-out rooms of zoom to meet in smaller groups and they are working on an online production. Working in this online production is providing a new skillset that would not have otherwise been taught.



Using Technology in the Future:

Assuming we will be meeting in person, some ways these new forms of connection and learning might translate over include being able to have a class that meets more than once a week. The class could meet at co-op once a week and another a week. Caroline in Washington said that their co-op does meet two days a week but no classes were scheduled to be a two-day a week class. Using the online platform this spring, the teachers of higher-level math classes have found value in being able to have classes twice a week. This is likely something that will be transferred to the future.

Rebecca said that technology has brought community for students in unexpected ways. She hopes to see this technology to be something that continues to develop community in the future as well.

Another teacher said that in the future they want to use Zoom for weekly office hours. She said, “Meeting with parents or having a discussion with students at our weekly co-op can be hard. Having time set aside each week that the parents or students can sign up for a time to meet with me would make co-op days much more relaxed and the communication easier.”

Having turned to this online teaching method is also useful for future snow days!

Accountability

Julia said that she has seen accountability and connected in a new way. Their co-op in Naples, FL is a drop off, full-day co-op for middles school and high school students. Being online has created a connection with the parents that was unexpected. Their group would like to harness this going forward too!


Looking Ahead

Comfort

One big value is having a structure in place that does not change. Because each of these co-ops were already using Homeschool Life for event and class registrations, forums, and the classroom dashboard, their families were already accustomed to communicating online. Adding other services were an extension of that group culture.

One of the loudest tips from all of the group leaders is to require teachers to use their classroom dashboards, event leaders to use the calendar for planning their events, and using forums to communicate for classes, events, and general messages. Once your groups are in the groove of using your site, it will become normal for all. Use the site to make newsletters and communicate with your groups. No matter what the future holds, using these resources will bring comfort to your group as a means of communicating, keeping track of accounting, and registration.

How do you plan for an unknown future?

One of our groups said they are small and are waiting until they have answers to plan their classes for the fall. Another smaller, events-based group said they are going to repeat the trips they had intended to do this spring in fall.

Another leader said, “We need normalcy in our lives. We need to have something to look forward to and be able to give us hope. We are planning summer events and for the fall as normal. But the group knows we will be doing whatever the schools in our area are doing this fall. Whatever the schools do for social distancing and requirements is what we will do. It provides a place of hope and normalcy, but also assurance of safety.”

Some groups registration for fall has already begun. They are planning to meet in person but putting contingencies in place for online education. They have spoken to the teachers about their willingness to go online if they need arises. They communicate which classes will be online should they need to be.

Financial Considerations

Having a financial cushion of protection is important. Having 1-2 semesters worth of finances set aside provides provisions for moving forward that could otherwise be hard. Some thoughts of ways in which this cushion has provided for the fall planning.

  • Not requiring payment from families until much later than normal
  • Helps for unknown numbers and later payments as parents pay for their students’ classes and they want their classes to be in person.
  • Extra expenses are covered without worry – one group is moving locations this next year and some of the expenses are unknown on top of everything else

Physical Safety

What about physical safety? What are you doing for the physical safety of your families?

  • The #1 answer for this is to see what the schools in the area are doing
  • Considerations for extra cleaning between classes, changing meeting dates to be off during flu season, and the potential of moving classes online during high sick times was also discussed
  • To allow for more social distancing, one of the groups discussed allowing natural attrition to allow their group to shrink a bit in size to reduce some class sizes.

Flexibility

A loud voice in planning for next year is to be flexible. Remember that we didn’t know that we were not going to be meeting in person this year until we had already stopped meeting. We adapted when we had this given to us and we can adapt again if need be.



Remembering our Origins

We GET to walk into the unknown with the knowledge that we can Trust that the One that is leading us into our unknown Knows the path. Each group, each family, each person has a different path. We are grateful that He has given us each other to seek wisdom and knowledge, but that is no substitute for listening to His wisdom. As you go and make decisions for your family, for your groups, may you trust in His voice.

Heather from Elgin, IL reminded us this has been a time to reflect on why we joined a co-op to begin with. Sometimes we forget the needs of our family for the needs of a co-op. Maybe this a great time to remember what your family needs, what your co-op needs, and to find out what the needs of others are as well. Maybe your co-ops will return to what they once were, but maybe, just maybe, God has a new plan.


To all of our leaders, thank you for partnering with us in serving the homeschool community. You have such wisdom, experience, and inspiration for others. You are a treasure!




If you have questions or ideas of your own that you’d like to add to the conversation, join our FREE group leaders support forum.

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Contributing to this piece were:

Heather Risdon, Christian Workshops of Elgin, Elgin, IL
Healther Kohler, The Learning Connection, Long Valley, NJ
Julia Schmidt, RISE, Naples FL
Rebecca Gaul, Branches, Chandler, AZ
Caroline Bedward, Homeschool Connection, Bothel, WA