Friday, August 3, 2018

How I Started a High School Community

When I think back on the social life and times of my two high school graduates, one through public school and one through homeschool, I see pros and cons of each. As I look ahead to high school again, I want to attempt to remedy one major con we experienced. The con of public school affording too loose of structure with peers and not enough constructive adult interaction. And, on the other hand, homeschool affording too much parent only structure and not enough constructive peer interaction. It is my experience that both situations can lead to unbalanced adults. With my rising high schoolers, I endeavored to find a happy medium.

There are many opportunities in my area for home educated high school socialization from co-op courses to sports. There are also a few clubs and organizations one could get involved with. However, everything has a price and because we live rural, it usually involves quite a bit of travel, which makes those opportunities cost prohibitive. After much thought, I realized that I personally have always loved book clubs and got a great deal of socialization from them. Having a book to discuss gives the group something in common right from the start and usually opens up a whole gamut of other conversations. Some of which, have developed into great friendships and relationships. And, usually book clubs are of little or no cost once you obtain the book. Hence, I decided to put together a free high school community for home educated students to come together to discuss great books and ideas, which to my knowledge, is not something that exists in my community.

It's a project I've been working on since last spring. Initially, I put a post out on our local homeschool forum gauging interest in a high school community. I immediately received over a dozen responses. From there, parents gathered to brainstorm what the community might look like. I did research ahead of time and presented a couple models to draw ideas from. I also shared some of my potential concerns and expectations of what a community of this nature should and should not be.

I wanted the community to be parent led, meaning each family with a student participant must have an adult participant. I like this idea for a few reasons. Namely, to keep cost down and save time. As home educators, we are all busy and often living on one income. If one person has to coordinate and teach all subjects, it gets to be a lot of time and energy for that one person and they should be compensated. However, if each family has an adult willing to organize one subject of study, we will all be working together for the greater good of the community. It's a divide and conquer mentality. We split up the tasks to lighten everyone's load. 

I also love the idea of parents reading and learning with their children, even and especially at the high school level. Often times, busy moms will hand over the books to their high schoolers so they have more time to work with younger children or do other things. I'm all for students gaining independence in their upper level studies. However, completely handing off everything withholds a great opportunity from parents to connect with their teens. If you've ever had a cranky child, there's nothing like putting distractions aside and snuggling up together with a good book. It is no different at the high school level. Reading together quite often builds relationships. It gives you a different focus rather than stewing over bad attitudes. Then once you have your child's heart, it's much easier to develop positive character that offsets the negative. Reading alongside your kids helps you stay connected while fostering independence. 

Another bonus of parents participating in the high school community is "schole" and "mother culture". Mystie Winckler defines schole in this post and links to some wonderful video lectures of Dr. Christopher Perrin explaining schole. Mother culture, a phrase linked to Charlotte Mason, is the habit of reading for mothers. LindaFay has an excellent post here explaining the origin of mother culture and why it's so important

We must value education enough to pursue it ourselves. If we want our kids to be life long learners than we must model this attitude. In time, the attitude we portray in the atmosphere of our home and the knowledge we acquire in this pursuit will greatly benefit our children and others around us in their aspirations of truth, beauty, and goodness. I liken the aim for schole and mother culture reading to filling a cup. One cannot pour from that which is empty. We must refill in order to pour out. It is important for us to value education enough to desire to continue striving for it ourselves. Not only will we personally reap the benefits, but so will all those around us.

We do not plan to grade high school community work within the community. However, since we are doing academic related work, parents are free to grade individually and use time spent toward high school credit. I did not want this group to be added on to what people were already doing at home, but rather a compliment to it. It shouldn't be a dreadful burden, but an aid to their existing high school plan.  

After our initial meeting, I created a survey of the ideas presented there and sent it to all interested parties. The survey included questions regarding subjects to be taught, volunteers to teach those subjects, frequency of meeting, and dates/times/locations of meeting. It also included questions about younger siblings and who was willing to entertain them while the high school community met. There were ten families that took the survey. I then sorted the survey responses and shared results with all interested parties, highlighting majority responses and offering suggestions on how to proceed. We hashed out a few details by e-mail and I asked for a more formal commitment. Unfortunately, a few families were not able to make it work due to scheduling conflicts and a few were not ready to make a regular bi-weekly commitment. However, there were a handful of families still interested. 

Those interested parents met last night to finalize the details. We currently have a group of four families with five students, 3 boys, 2 girls committed to joining, and the possibility of three additional students from three more families (2 boys, 1 girl) still considering it. I did create a deadline for them to decide so we can advance with ordering our materials. Subjects, leaders, and meeting dates have been set!

We will meet bi-weekly on Fridays for twelve weeks from September to November. We will take a break in December and resume in January, meeting bi-weekly over the course of twelve more weeks through the end of March. We are anticipating approx. 2 to 2 1/2 hours of time will be needed for each meeting, with possibly up to 3 hours the first meeting so we can include introductions. Together we will study Literature and Composition, Shakespeare, Recitation, and Current Events. 

Literature with a Composition component 

I will facilitate student learning through the five titles pictured above using the Teaching the Classics/Socratic method of discussion. The students will be expected to read on their own and also research assigned online sources. With each book, we will look at an author bio and historical context, as well as related music, art, and poetry from the time period. I will also assign writing projects to be worked on independently at home based on the Excellence in Literature - American Literature modules by Janice Campbell. In addition, each student will keep a commonplace book to copy passages that interest them as they read.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Rip Van Winkle & The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens


Another mom will lead the students through the study of Oxford School Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream. They will read/discuss a retelling such as Lamb's Tales in order to understand the play/plot for the first class. After which, they will read the original work together, breaking up parts and reading subsequently one act per class. We will pick a second play at a later date for the second term. 


Each student will pick a passage/poem of at least six stanzas to memorize throughout the first 12 weeks of class. The lead mom is drawing from The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist, but the students are free to use poetry resources they have at home or can find online. The goal is to memorize and recite at least one new stanza at each class so by the end of the term, each student can recite a full poem at least six stanzas in length. The students are welcome to recite longer poems if they'd like, but they can be no shorter than six stanzas.

Current Events

We are basing this subject off the Ambleside Online suggestion for current events. Each student will keep a journal/notebook of current events that interest them, listing 1-2 per week or 2-4 per class. For example, they would write, "This Week in History, September 7, 2018" and then give a short synopsis/summary (narration) in their own words in the notebook of the event to share in class. They should also cite their source. Maybe they want to track a major development over the course of several weeks or maybe they want to choose different events each week. It is at the family's discretion. AO has provided a list of possible current event sources that students can draw from or they are welcome to use personal family favorite sources if they have them.

Originally, the survey indicated the subject of Debate as a favorite, but as time went on no one stepped up to lead it, so it has since been dropped. That's not to say we can't add it in the future, but for now it feels like we have a solid start on this community with the four planned subjects.

My dream of a low or no cost high school community with parent participation is now becoming a reality. I am very excited! I think this high school community will be an excellent opportunity for our students to socialize in a constructive and fun atmosphere while learning alongside parent mentors. It will also be a great occasion for parents home educating through high school to connect and support one another. I pray that it's a win/win for everyone involved. 

1 comment:

  1. I love this idea! My son participated in a Writng Club a couple of years ago and it was such a positive experience! Excited for your community!