Shared School program flourishes in first year |

Shared School program flourishes in first year

Moffat County School District program gives home-schooling families one day of classroom experience

Michael Neary
Students Brett Cox, left, and Alex Suessmeier practice during a Guitar Ensemble class, taught by Jim Vorhies, for the Shared School program of the Moffat County School District.
Michael Neary

— Rachel Peters, a 9-year-old student in the Moffat County School District’s Shared School program, has been helping a 4-year-old fellow classmate to learn math.

“I like teaching other people the things that they don’t know,” Rachel said.

It’s the sort of interaction that pleases Rachel’s mother, Michelle Peters. She notices her daughter socializing with other children — and also learning in the process.

“She’s able to help kids here,” said Michelle Peters, who homeschools Rachel. “If you’ve ever taught, you realize that you learn more when you teach.”

Homeschool-school district relationship

Rachel is one of 33 students in the Moffat County School District’s Shared School program. It’s a program that the Moffat County School District began in August, and it allows the district to enroll, on a part-time basis, students whose families have opted for homeschool.

So, every Tuesday, Shared School classes are held in the administration building, with courses including various sorts of music, physical education, art, science, writing and other subjects from kindergarten through high school. Zack Allen, the district’s director of educator effectiveness, said the school district has hired five teachers on a part-time basis to teach the courses. The program is free to families.

“If we can teach (students) 90 hours and they’re not currently accessing some other public online system, we can get part-time funding for them,” said Allen, who oversees the Shared School program.

Allen said the district receives about half of the $6,892 the state funds for full-time students.

“We are definitely breaking even, and making a little bit of money,” Allen said. “We are budget positive.”

But Allen cited another reason for the program’s importance, as well.

“I think it’s served as a way to improve or strengthen our relationship with the homeschool community,” he said. “That’s another benefit, aside from the financial aspect.”

Chances for interaction

Jessica Musgrave’s son Xavier, 11, attends Shared School — and like Rachel, he’s enjoyed the interaction with other children.

“We’ve been homeschooling him on and off since second grade, and he needed to have a place where he could get together with other kids,” Musgrave said.

Musgrave pointed to music as a particularly important offering — and one that can be costly to receive elsewhere. She also described a flexible mode of learning that she said suits her son well.

“He follows the rules, but he does it by his choice, not because somebody’s forcing him to,” said Musgrave, who also noted that parents’ input plays a big role in Shared School procedures.

Dana Prescott, who teaches writing and Spanish for the Shared School, reflected on the rhythm of the learning in her class.

“In my classroom, we learn together, and the kids can talk whenever they want — as long as it’s about the lesson,” she said. A small class size, she added, helps to foster that learning.

Prescott has two children in the Shared School, and she’s taught in a homeschool setting for about 10 years.

Musgrave noted that her son attends East Elementary School as well as the Shared School — all in addition to time he spends homeschooling. She noted good interaction between administrators at East Elementary and the Shared School program.

“I was really impressed with how the (administrators) interact with each other,” she said. “They make sure that he doesn’t feel like he’s missed out on anything.”

Some attractions of homeschooling

The reasons families pursue homeschooling in the first place vary. Allen noted that the choice often flows from parents’ desire for more involvement in their children’s education than a traditional school setting allows.

“Some of them did leave Moffat County because of bad experiences, or because of the parents’ perceptions of bad experiences,” Allen said. “That’s part of it. But I would say the majority of our parents choose homeschool because that’s their value; it’s not because of a negative experience with the school district.”

For Musgrave, the reasons she was attracted to the idea of homeschooling for her son crystalized into one word.

“Time,” she said. “He’s a very brilliant child, and he’s able to complete his studies fast … and then he has time to do 4-H and scouting and spend time with his family and be a kid. In public schools, he was in the first grade, and he wasn’t getting home until almost 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and then he had homework. If he wanted to do any sports at all, we wouldn’t see our first-grader.”

Michelle Peters emphasized values as she described her choice to pursue homeschool.

“I think that kids are going to pick up the values and the morals of people they’re around the most,” she said, and then she added, citing Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they’re old, they won’t depart from it.”

But Peters also emphasized that her daughter finds ample opportunities to interact though a number of community resources. She mentioned church activities, along with programs at Colorado Northwestern Community College and other organizations. Peters also participates in field trips and other activities with her daughter as a member of the Northwest Colorado Homeschool Association.

“The whole social stigma through the years has kind of lessened because there are so many outreach (efforts) for homeschoolers,” she said, noting that smaller social groups allow parents to interact with children when problems do arise.

“It’s not,” she added, “like we keep our kids in a bubble and don’t talk to anybody.”