By Heather Jones Skaggs
Photos by Lauren Winter
School disruptions and closures due to COVID-19 have caused many parents to take a step back and reevaluate other methods of learning outside of the conventional classroom. Though distance learning isn’t the same as homeschooling, many families who have students attending classes on campus and online are finding new options for education in light of the pandemic. For Jessica Goldfon and her family, it was a decision they had considered for several years even before COVID, and now three years into their journey they have been able to reach out to other families unexpectedly thrust into a life of distance learning or homeschooling due to the pandemic.
For these parents, veteran homeschooling parents like Jessica have been a valuable resource. “Homeschoolers are a very welcoming group as a whole,” says Brandie Brown, Foundations/Essentials Director at Classical Conversations, a Hoover-based homeschooling program that Jessica’s family is a part of. “We understand there are many reasons parents choose to home educate their children.”
In the past year, Brandie has seen veteran homeschooling families take new families under their wing. “I have watched them patiently answer questions and encourage them when everything seems so overwhelming,” she says. “It’s truly an amazing group of people who are always willing to share what has worked, what has not worked, and how to try, fail, and adjust without giving up.”
Even in the pandemic, as their learning days at home did not change for most families, Classical Conversations did not go untouched and had to make several modifications for their families. “As the state ordered stay-at-home mandates, we had to figure out an online platform quickly. Our parents were so gracious, and we charted unknown territories,” Brandie says.
Like public schools, Classical Conversations had to move all class gatherings to a virtual format. In addition, more virtual opportunities for the children to interact and do presentations with their peers were added. The Bluff Park campus created a safe drop box where parents could gather supplies for science lessons and experiments to be completed at home and then shared with each other. “It is certainly a challenge, but we made the best of it,” Brandie says. “We created a comprehensive COVID-19 plan to ensure all families are protected to the best of our ability.”
The core of Classical Conversations’ Christian-based curriculum remained the same though. Their method takes a classical approach to teach students how to learn for themselves by equipping them with the tools of learning. “We begin with core knowledge and skills, followed by formal instruction in logic and rhetoric. In addition, students develop verbal and written styles of expression,” explains Brandie.
Classical Conversations emphasizes three important sets of skills. First, the “grammar” of each subject: the core knowledge one needs to know about each area of study. It also focuses on dialectic thinking skills, or the ability to ask the right questions and draw proper conclusions, and on rhetorical skills, or the ability to speak and write clearly, gracefully and persuasively.
“We liked the structure through the curriculum, socialization through community days, and life skills while keeping God in the center of everything that we learn,” Jessica says. “Our days are filled with knowledge, understanding and wisdom. We enjoy the ability to learn together, and we celebrate the freedom to pause and richly discuss the assignments for the day.”
In a sea of different philosophies and “boxed curriculums” in the realm of homeschooling, Jessica says Classical Conversations not only enabled them to homeschool but also beautifully transformed their family. For them the process started when they attended informational meetings and an open house to observe the process. “Our transition was one step at a time and in faith,” Jessica says.
The Goldfons had planted roots in Hoover over 11 years ago, and Jack, now 15, and his 13-year-old sister Abby attended public school until three years ago. It was not due to a lack of a good school system that the Ross Bridge family made the change to homeschooling. They had been considering homeschooling for several years. “Honestly, the lack of confidence on my part is what initially kept us from homeschooling,” Jessica admits. Once the family started taking steps out of their comfort zones, the more their desire to homeschool continued to grow. “Our priorities shifted, courage increased, and confidence rose. We knew that homeschooling was for us.”
With the light shining on more options to home educate due to COVID-19, Brandie offers this advice to anyone considering this new path. “Ask yourself, ‘Why?’ Before ever looking through the curriculum or making lesson plans, it is important for parents to have a purpose that motivates them to homeschool. Your why, like in many endeavors in life, is your motivating force. It’s what you fall back on when the days get hard and the fun wears off.” Jessica also offers this advice: “Push all fear aside, come out of your comfort zone, and take the first step (to see if it is right for your family.) You are equipped!”