Options in Homeschooling: Umbrella Programs Share Some of the Burden
By Suki Wessling
January is Growing Up’s Independent Schools issue, and you can’t get much more independent than homeschooling. In California, any family can homeschool simply by declaring their home a private school on a state form. That’s a pretty low barrier to entry, but after the simple form come the complex challenges.
I refer to homeschooling as “the ultramarathon of parenting.” You’re not only raising children (a hard enough job) but also educating them and taking full responsibility for their social and emotional growth. Although many families succeed at homeschooling independently and love doing so, another way that Santa Cruz families homeschool is through umbrella programs, both private and public.
What Kind of Umbrella is it?
Homeschooling programs offer a wide variety of support:
- Academic support by providing consulting teachers and classes
- Disability and resource support through testing and specialists
- Non-academic support with electives and field trips
- Financial support for tuition and materials
- Social support through family and student activities, clubs, and events
Each program offers a different mix, so families can choose depending on their areas of need.
Carrie Adler chose the independent study program (ISP) at Davenport’s Pacific Elementary for her two children after homeschooling independently for a short time.
“It’s been a really perfect balance for our family,” Adler explains. “I felt overwhelmed by the thought I would have to cover all the academic bases by myself, and we felt socially isolated.”
Jasmin Gerer was one of the found- ing teachers of Alternative Family Education (AFE), knowing that she wanted to homeschool her children in a community.
“I knew I didn’t want to homeschool my children alone,” she remembers. “I knew I needed support, and I was hoping that as people came together, parents would learn about homeschooling from each other.”
Stephanie Tucker has done a little of everything for her three kids, from joining the board of the local nonprofit homeschooling co-op, the Discovery Learning Center (DLC), to getting financial support from the Ocean Grove homeschool charter program.
“I have three different flavors of homeschooling!” she jokes. “One size
does not fit all.”
Her family has benefited from the social aspects of programs like Pacific ISP, the ability to hire qualified specialists to work with her child with special needs through Ocean Grove, and the flexibility and creativity of working closely with parents at the DLC.
Private Offers Flexibility
I was part of the group of parents who founded the Discovery Learning Center in 2011. Many of the founding families used public school programs, but we wanted to have a space where we could operate more freely. Stephie Tucker says the program is still going strong, though always morphing into new configurations as the needs of the families change.
“We want to be different from the places that are outsourcing learning,” she explains. “You drop your kid off, you pay a fairly hefty fee, you have professional teachers teaching curriculum that is standardized. We want to be a place where families who have energy to learn alongside their kids come to collaborate with other families.”
By its nature, the DLC remains unstandardized, and perhaps, therefore, closest to what homeschooling parents mean when they refer to “unschooling.”
“For parents, we get really isolated out there, driving to classes, therapies, teaching in our homes,” Tucker explains. “It’s a place for families and parents to connect more. We can be a homeschooling umbrella for people who belong to multiple communities.”
Another private option is part-time private school (usually called ‘Private School Satellite Programs’). Local private schools that offer this option include Monterey Coast Prep in Scotts Valley, where some students attend part-time in order to access academic and learning disability support. Private teachers also offer small homeschool support programs.
Public Offers Structure
Some of Santa Cruz County’s venerable old programs, such as AFE and Live Oak’s Ocean Alternative, were inspired by the alternative education movement of the 70’s. Charter schools are more recent, with Ocean Grove offering a decentralized approach with an emphasis on funding for approved vendors, PVUSD’s Pacific Charter School offering a more ISP-based approach, and Cabrillo-based Oasis giving an alternative option to high schoolers who want to access college classes.
One thing that they all have in common is that, as public schools, they are subject to educational standards, which the programs have to enforce to a variety of degrees.
“The neat thing about our program is that we can hit the state standards any way we want to,” explains Carrie Adler of Pacific ISP. “As a parent, I am teaching math and I need to cover the state standards, but I can bring in anything to do that, from hands-on to playing games.”
Adler explains that for her and a lot of parents, this offers peace of mind that their children will be able to integrate easily into full-time public school if they want to. “My eighth-grade daughter is thriving in [mainstream public] middle school and finding it very easy and not challenging enough!”
On the flip side, Stephie Tucker found that although Ocean Grove is working well for one child, another couldn’t quite get his needs served be- cause of their emphasis on staying more rigidly within standards-based education.
An Emphasis on Community
Some of our local programs, including Davenport, Mountain School, AFE, the DLC, and Ocean Alternative, focus on creating a community of learners and families.
“The parents are very close and the kids are very close,” Adler says of Pacific ISP. “They play together—all ages, all genders. We haven’t really seen bullying.”
Tucker agrees but adds that sometimes you have to look around for the right fit.
“Any of the negative parts of public school, you can get in these programs,” she explains. “But you also have some consistency, so kids who need structure and routine benefit from seeing the same kids. They bond.”
A the DLC, she has created a teen group to serve as an anchor for kids who otherwise don’t meet with a consistent group with shared interests.
“One of the strengths of AFE is that all the teachers have personal homeschooling experience,” says Jasmin Gerer. “I think that makes a huge difference in terms of being able to understand what it means to be a homeschooling parent.”
With her children grown and graduated from UC Berkeley and Stanford, Gerer takes a long view on home education.
“Homeschooling is like parenting. No one can tell you what it’s like until you’ve done it.”
I would second that. Our local homeschooling umbrellas helped move me from self-proclaimed “World’s Most Reluctant Homeschooler” to Happy Homeschooling Emeritus.
Homeschool Umbrella Programs and Part-Time Programs in Santa Cruz
- Alternative Family Education, Santa Cruz, K-12
- California Virtual Academy, California, K-12
- Oasis High School, Aptos, 9-12
- Ocean Alternative School/Ocean Online, Live Oak, K-8
- Ocean Grove Charter School, San Lorenzo Valley, K-12
- Pacific Coast Charter School, Watsonville, K-12
- Pacific Elementary School, Independent Studies Program, Davenport, K-6
- SLVUSD Charter Schools, Felton to Boulder Creek, K-12
Interested in learning more?
The Discovery Learning Center has an open house January 11 from 10 am – 2 pm.
Alternative Family Education offers a Homeschool to College info evening on January 23.
Suki Wessling is a local writer, teacher, and former homeschooling mom. Find information about her books and classes at www.SukiWessling.com.
Thanks for this excellent overview Suki!
Santa Cruz is an amazing place to homeschool, with so many options and support structures. I hope this article encourages families who are on the fence to give homeschooling a try.
Remember, stay flexible! Homeschooling might not end up looking like what you envision when you set out. Your approach will likely change over time, and from child to child. Do know that you will not be alone, there is a strong community of homeschoolers in our county!
I want to find a home school program without WiFi. Have you heard of one??