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Family Schools - The Synergy of Pooling Your Resources

  • Debra Bell Columnist, author and conference speaker
  • Published Feb 06, 2002
Family Schools - The Synergy of Pooling Your Resources

In the past few weeks I've received a number of letters about setting up academic classes for older home-schooled students. So let me address all these questions at once, and at the same time awaken other readers' interest in the power of networking together for our common good and long-term survival.

"Family school" is my term for co-ops that offer weekly, fee-based, academic classes to home schoolers. At my house, we are all involved in a family school called CHESS - an acronym for Creative Home Educators Support Services. CHESS was founded seven years ago by my dearest friend and homeschool mentor, Cindy McKeown. Cindy had not been satisfied with the high school experience she had provided for her oldest son, and she wanted to make some changes before her remaining three children headed down that path.

My oldest, Mike and Gabe, were just getting ready to start seventh grade, and they were starting to groan, " Are you going to homeschool us forever!" Yes, I certainly was, but I didn't want bad attitudes throughout. So I was all for a brainstorming session with Cindy.

CHESS was our solution. Cindy and I had been co-oping for years, but our co-op was primarily extra-curricular type stuff and supplemental to our core program. Our new idea was to offer full-credit courses that would provide a framework for all the work students would do in that subject area throughout the school year. Plus, I was looking for an out from teaching any more math or science - I'd had my fill. What I really wanted was time to teach the literature I loved and to develop young writers - my passion. As perplexing as this was to me, we had another friend, Vickie, who was dying to have someone else teach English so she could devote herself to science classes (yuck!). And then we had another friend, Jane, who really wanted to coach Math Olympiad teams and teach kids math problem-solving strategies. Wow, instead of our kids benefiting from our strengths, and suffering from our weaknesses, we decided to pool our passions, talents and resources so all of our kids could have teachers who actually cared about their subject matter and knew what they were talking about most of the time.

CHESS is now in its sixth year. And it has become the keystone of our home-school program. I love teaching there. My kids love taking classes there. So, here's my perspective on the frequent questions I get from those thinking about setting up a similar program in their community:

Q. What is the basic structure of CHESS?

A. CHESS meets every Tuesday for 30 weeks during the school year. We have five, one-hour class periods during the day and a 20-minute lunch break. We chose Tuesday, because many of our families like to take long weekends for travel. With so little actual time together, it's critical that students not miss many classes.

Besides the hour of instruction each week, teachers provide enough homework to constitute a full week of work in the subject area.

Q. What courses are offered?

A. We offer classes for students in 5th-12th grade. Most classes are designated as elementary, junior high or high school. Upper level courses often have prerequisites. The subjects vary from year to year, depending on teacher availability, but we have developed a scope and sequence in science and English. We've also developed two levels of classes in these areas on the high school level to accommodate students who want a college-prep course or something less rigorous.


7th-9th grade: Intro to composition, intro to literature, World War II unit study
9th-12th grade: (academic) American Lit, British Lit, Advanced Composition, Christian Lit and the Arts; or (non-academic) Foundations of English, levels I, II and III.


7th-9th grade: life science, earth science, and physical science
9th-12th grade: (academic) biology, chemistry, physics - all with labs; or (non-academic) conceptual physics, conceptual biology, conceptual chemistry.

Additional courses:

Water color, painting, drawing, art appreciation, Latin, Spanish, math strategies (prep for competitions), recreational math (math games).

Q. How do you decide what courses to offer?

A. We offer the courses for which we have qualified teachers.

Q. How do you find qualified teachers?

A. Here's the surprise - after six years, we've concluded that our best teachers are home-school moms with their own children enrolled at CHESS. Why? Because these women have a vested interest in the success of CHESS. Outside teachers, especially former teachers from a traditional setting just didn't translate well into the home-school community. CHESS is still philosophically deeply committed to the tenets of home schooling - strong parental authority and involvement. Teachers outside our movement just didn't have good reason to give a lot beyond their weekly commitment to the kids and they preferred traditional teaching methods. We were looking for engaging teachers who wished to transfer a real love for their material to students. Our moms were the ones who had what we were looking for. Right now, our teaching staff is pretty stable (the turnover was high at first) and we're all on the same page philosophically. Some of us have degrees in our subject area, but many of us just have a willingness to master the material we've offered to teach.

Next time, more Q and A.

In His Sovereign Grace,


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