Saturday, February 3, 2018

Homeschooling 101: What is a Homeschool Co-Op?

Guys, I've been away for too long! I had to take care of some medical issues, some family things, and carve out some me time to recuperate. But I'm back and ready to start delivering some great content again! During my hiatus I had some time to rethink my plans and goals, for myself as well as my business...That led me to the conclusion that I have a wide variety of educators in my audience. The first teachers I encountered on the internet were homeschoolers such as myself. Then I met many classroom educators while I was working on my degree. Soon, while figuring out how I wanted to use that degree, I connected with many tutors and special education teachers and specialists. Years later I found a fabulous group of teacher authors....That means I need to find a way to provide meaningful content for each of you! That's not a small order you know? That being said, I'm going to start a monthly series called Homeschooling 101. I'm going back to my roots friends! Today's topic is Co-Ops...oh boy is that a loaded subject!

Let's start by defining exactly what a Homeschool Co-Op is, and what it is not.
The word "Co-Op" is short for cooperative, a popular dictionary defines this as an adjective, meaning "involving mutual assistance in working toward a common goal" and as a noun meaning, "a farm, business, or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members who share jointly in its profits or benefits" (Google Dictionary). These two definitions give us the answers to our two first questions!

How do homeschool co-ops operate? They operate as a collective, one voice for the group.

Smaller co-ops (of 2-10 families) will likely all have a say in any plans and procedures. They typical hold regular meetings to discuss how things are going and where they want them to go. Then the group will vote to make decisions. Occasionally, the group will nominate or elect a head or leader to make tough calls when the group doesn't agree.

Larger co-ops (of 10-hundreds of families) usually have a board of directors or a leadership committee. This committee works as a sort of representative government for the rest of the members, they are usually chosen because of their experience or expertise, either as homeschoolers, certified teachers, business leaders, or religious authorities. The members who participate and work "under" this leadership head typically know, trust, and respect their committee members. They feel comfortable enough to talk with them about their goals and concerns, and have faith their voice will be heard during the committee's meetings.

Who pays for what? If the co-op functions as one unit equally profiting or benefiting from the arrangement, that means the costs are typically shared evenly among the members.

Again, this arrangement may very from group to group and according to the size of the group. But most co-ops (especially ones that meet regularly and maintain a wide variety of classes) meet this need with a basic monthly, quarterly, semesterly, or yearly, membership fee. These fees are typically called dues, just like Boy Scouts or Awana Clubs. Some co-ops I've been involved with over the years held regular fundraising events to help share the cost without putting the burden on low-income families. Others offered discounts to larger families if they took on more duties to help spread the work load for others. And still others required tuition for classes each child would attend, therefore if a family opted out of a term, they didn't loose their membership, but also didn't have to pay to keep it active.

Vintage image created by Tirachard -
Since a homeschool co-op is education based, rather than a farming co-op or purchasing power co-op, the need for good teachers is at the root of their existence. This fundamental concept of homeschooling co-ops brings us to our third question, and again can be answered using in part using the definition we started with.

Where do homeschool co-ops find teachers? Remember, they work together to reach a common goal...that means their most powerful teachers are already among them!

Yes, as homeschooling parents, members of the co-op already have a core belief that they can provide the best available education for their children, so why wouldn't they want to assist each other to reach that common goal? Typically speaking, each member has an area of education that they feel passionate about, have a lot of background knowledge in, or have trade experience with. That makes it very easy for that member to provide classes for other members and their families. The skills of one offset the needs of others. That's why homeschool co-ops work!

Occasionally the need arise for a more qualified, out-side teacher. Say a few high schoolers want to get certified in a trade, they need a registered, licensed tradesmen to apprentice them, otherwise their time spent will not actually help them reach their goal. In some states or territories, core subjects must be taught by a certified, licensed teacher. In this case, those core subjects are often outsourced to a local teacher, perhaps a retired teacher or substitute that has the time available. In either case, or others that are particular to the co-op's needs, the group as a whole will use their local resources and personal connections to find a qualified teacher that meets their standards and their needs. These teachers rarely come free, so that tends to be another expense the group has to decide how to fund.

Where do co-ops meet? There is no specific answer for this one! Where-ever works best for the group.Of all of the co-ops I've been a part of over the past 20 years, there have been 4 basic meeting places.

Large co-ops often rent a facility, usually a church or religious building, sometimes a private school gym or cafeteria and a few classes during off school hours. Many of these local organizations provide a discount to the co-op because of the nature of their organization. Again, this incurs costs the committee has to account for.

Smaller groups can often find suitable meeting places in their area for free or very low cost. I've meet in coffee shops, libraries, book stores, pavilions in the park, and food courts in the mall! Yes, all of those are viable free meeting places. Each one presents its own issues however.

Intimate co-ops of just a few families often meet in each others' homes. One home (usually the most centrally located and/or the one with the most room) will serve as the meeting hub, then each satellite home serves as the specific classroom for the classes that family cares for. This worked for groups of 3-10 families and was really nice for working parents because they could drop off their kids on their way to work, knowing they would be continuing their studies under the supervision of a trusted adult!

A newer, more tech-aged meeting place is online in social media groups! I absolutely LOVE the possibilities with this last meeting option. Families can now connect with other like-minded homeschooling families, free from the limitations of distance! I am part of virtual homeschool co-op now that has members in several different countries, and it's such a beautiful thing to share culture and heritage in that way! No school on the planet can give our kids this kind of real life education :) These co-ops are free from room rentals and that kind of overhead, but they come with their own financial burden. Virtual meeting rooms that offer the tools needed for a quality classroom don't come free. And all members, obviously, must maintain tech equipment and internet service to participate fully. There is another issue of scheduling across time zone differences.

People vector created by Freepik

The last two questions are answered again by that definition we used. A co-op is a an organization made of individuals who share a common goal.

Where do homeschool co-ops find members? Short answer--people they already know.

The size of the co-op is relative to the number of people each founder knows directly who share their ideals and goals for organizing the group. Often times these are members of other organizations they belong to; their church, social club, neighborhood, family or close friends. Each person likely knows another person with the same goal, in turn that person knows another...and so continues the word-off-mouth invitations to be a part of something bigger than yourself. 

Occasionally new members are found through advertising streams. There are many co-ops listed on websites for people to find, and they may host community events to get the word out. The idea with such groups is "it takes a village," so they work hard to create the kind of village they want raising their child with them. 

So who can start a homeschool co-op? Again, short answer--any two or more, like-minded individuals.

There may be some local registration or licensing that has to be taken care of. But for the most part, it just takes to great minds, and often that starts with 1, who put the wheels in motion. From that point on its up to the member body to keep the co-op moving and growing.

I hope that answered some of the questions you've been asking about homeschool co-ops, and please, if you have any more, post them in the comments section below, I will do my best to either answer from my experience or find others' experiences to share! Come back next month to explore the topic, Homeschooling 101: What to Worry About and What to Let Go. See you then!

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