Saturday, 21 July 2018

C Columns

Vineyard Christian Academy Where homeschool and classroom meet

Vineyard Christian Academy students (front to back) Jacob, TJ and Taylor study in their weekly computer class, where they learn keyboarding skills and gain confidence using the computer for math, research and writing. (Photo by Cassie Zimmerman)

By Gaye Bunderson

Homeschooling success stories abound, and for good reason. Many homeschooled children perform well academically and socially and are prepared by age 18 to take the next step in their educational journey: going to college. But there are some homeschool failures as well, and that's where models such as Vineyard Christian Academy in Boise step in to fill the gaps, still utilizing a homeschooling program but combining it with classroom instruction.

The Academy, formerly known as Vineyard Christian Home School Co­-op, needed to re-visit its program when one of its ninth grade students wanted to transfer to Rocky Mountain High School to play football. Rocky Mountain, not satisfied the student met required State of Idaho educational standards, made him retake the ninth grade.

That's when the Co­-op faced a dilemma, according to Annie Anderson, now principal of Vineyard Christian Academy. It needed to guarantee it was meeting state academic standards and that its graduates could transfer to a public school, if they wanted, and ultimately move on to a university.

Since there are homeschooling parents who aren't adequately trained to teach certain subjects, the idea behind the Co­-op was to hold classes for students two days a week, while on the remaining days the youngsters were schooled at home by parents. The Co­-op needed to build on that concept by becoming certified and, ultimately, accredited.

“We needed a pathway,” Anderson said. She found it in a program called NAUMS, or National Association of University­Model Schools.

According to a NAUMS brochure, “This model of education takes the best attributes of homeschooling and combines them with the best attributes of traditional, Christian education.”

It's a “chalkboard and kitchen table” style of learning. It allows parents who want their children to be schooled in a safe environment with a Christian worldview — and who also want to be actively engaged in teaching their own children — to pair with qualified teachers who excel in their areas of expertise. It also seeks to prepare students who want to pursue higher education.

“It was a huge endeavor,” Anderson said. NAUMS scrutinized the Co­-op, broadly looking into every nook and cranny to make sure it was worthy of certification. But it came out on top and is now NAUMS­-certified. The certification was granted in May of 2017; this spring, the Academy is anticipating accreditation through AdvancED, NAUMS' accreditor.

“NAUMS was a miracle for me,” Anderson said.

When the Co­-op gained its certification — eventually becoming the Academy to reflect its new standards — its educational model shifted. During the Co­-op's 25­year history, parents felt they were the educational drivers and would sometimes give the teachers push­back over their more stringent requirements.

“Homeschoolers tend to be independent. But as a school, we needed to set a standard. The change was a culture shift. We were asking for academic rigor. Pure homeschoolers didn't like the shift, and some left,” Anderson said.

Ultimately, the biggest question to be dealt with was: “What's best for the children?” With that in mind, parents and teachers now work together in a way that benefits the youngsters most, all in accordance with NAUMS' structure.

Anderson sees parents and teachers as a team.

“We have to be united for the children,” she said, explaining that parents and teachers must respect one another and recognize one is not more important than the other in the role of educating children.

“Teachers are the education experts; parents are the child experts, and they know their kids. They know how they learn and what motivates them. We will not be successful if our parents and teachers don't have a partnership,” she said.

The current academic model at Vineyard Christian Academy is for children in grades K­8 to come to school three days a week — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday — then take home a teacher­ prepared lesson plan for them and their parents to work on together at home.

“Our teachers work really hard on the lesson plans for parents,” Anderson said. “And parents must be engaged on their days. They're choosing a challenging way, and they need incredible commitment.”

One such parent is Megan Osborne of Boise, whose third grader and fourth grader attend Vineyard Christian Academy. She praised the in class experiences her children get, while also extolling the value of having the children learn at home two days a week.

“I love the intentionality it gives to family time,” Osborne said. “My kids go deeper into the objectives of what the teacher has assigned. It's not burdensome in the sense of busywork and just getting grades. They enjoy learning.

“We don't even use the word 'homeschool'; we say 'university model'. They teach it and then we practice it at home. My kids have different learning styles and learning needs, and I'm able to work with them in that way. I call myself a co­-laborer with the teachers.”

Committed parents and highly qualified teachers who know their subjects are a match that Anderson has gotten behind from the beginning of her career. As someone who sees herself as “born to teach,” she always conceptualized a bond between parents and teachers. As principal at Vineyard Christian Academy for seven years, she's worked on her objective of partnering “with every single parent.”

“Having this for seven years has been a miracle,” she said. “It's dovetailed with everything I've thought about teaching, and all my goals.”

Currently, there are 105 students enrolled in Vineyard Christian Academy and 12 teachers, some with college degrees and others certified through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. “They all have a natural gift,” Anderson said.

Plans are on the drawing board for a Vineyard Christian Academy high school in the not-­too­-distant future.

One thing the principal is especially proud of is the teacher­-to­-student ratio at the Academy. Each class has only 16 students in it, allowing for plenty of one­-on-­one time for each student and his or her instructor.

Twenty different churches are represented among the school's staff and student body.

“That's the DNA of Vineyard,” Anderson said. “It's always sought to be ecumenical.”

For more information about Vineyard Christian Academy, go to vineyardchristianacademy.org.

 

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