One year ago, I sent my two youngest children off to school — and then I moped around the house, tearful, for weeks. I couldn’t quite believe I’d chosen to abandon the way of life our family had followed for more than a decade. Homeschooling is more than just an educational option, it becomes a framework for nearly everything a family does. Mealtimes, chores, budgetary choices, employment, church, community involvement, entertainment, friendship: they’re all shaped and directed by this core-value decision.
I should have anticipated that the choice to move in a new direction would affect more than how our family “did” school. In August of 2013, though, I honestly believed the changes would be contained. Instead of quickly cooking something for everyone to eat midday, I would now have to pack lunches. Instead of taking a nap at 3 p.m., I planned to run the Mom Taxi Service. I had no idea at the time what that job entailed. After all, I had enjoyed the luxury of being the prime factor in arranging our family’s schedules so everything worked smoothly and made sense. Now, other people had a say about where my children should be, and when.
As the impact of the changes began to register, I often wished for a magical double, an extra Mom who could be in two places at once, accomplish all the errands on time, serve meals on demand ‘round the clock. Surprisingly, I found that what I missed most of all was the daily focus on education. From pre-K to 12th grade with my older daughter, I’d always assumed that the primary draw was my child. I was homeschooling out of love and commitment, as part of my relationship to her and my duties as a mother.
What I discovered was that, while I love my children very much, I am an education junkie.
With one daughter off to college and the others delivered to Liberal High School, I sniffled and sobbed because I missed my children … but I also felt a disturbing mental aimlessness. We weren’t learning anything! Well, they were off at school, presumably learning something, even if nobody consulted me about the reading list. I wasn’t learning anything!
That’s where online courses came in. I signed up for a poetry class, a course on China, a study of the modern novel, a survey of marketing methods. I kept notebooks. I took exams. I felt a bit better. But as marvelous as these free, non-credit resources were, I missed having companions as I learned. I missed being around other people who were also engaged in the challenge and struggle and triumph of absorbing new information, examining hard questions, finding the right answers to math problems and science queries and historical puzzles and writing assignments.
Fast-forward a year. Classes started at Liberal High School on Thursday, and both my children headed to the classroom, more optimistic and excited than last year when they tried to be cool but were clearly as thrilled and terrified as kindergarteners. I dropped them at the north doors of the building and drove to work at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, tear-free and focused.
I’m no longer a homeschool mom, but I still spend every day with people who are fully immersed in learning. All month, I’ve marveled at the steady stream of traffic past my office in the Hobble Academic Building. Students come to take the COMPASS test, which diagnoses their readiness for college-level work. They come to enroll in classes as brand-new college students. They arrive with questions and problems, and my coworkers and I work to address each problem and set the students on a path to success.
Perhaps nobody else would see it this way, but I experience it as a giant version of how my own house looked and felt years ago, a collaborative effort to learn everything we could, together, with the purpose of launching people into the best life possible. I did it for my kids; now I get to do the same for more than 2,000 people of all ages, walks of life, income levels and interests. That’s what a community college is for — making higher education nearly as accessible as a person’s own living room.
Along the way, I unwittingly replicated another aspect of the life I inhabited before everything changed a year ago. Last week, I finalized enrollment details for classes my family will take when the fall semester at SCCC/ATS begins on Monday. My husband and I will complete coursework to help us develop professionally; my daughter will take humanities electives at the college after high school dismisses each day; my son will get an early start on college-level general education requirements with one of the concurrent outreach classes the college offers at high schools throughout the area.
Here, too, I saw community college at its best. There truly was something for everyone in my household — and we are a diverse bunch with varying interests, ages and educational goals.
As I finished filling out forms, I felt a familiar sense of anticipation as things clicked into place for the new school year. Everyone was on track to move forward. It was just like the years I spent all summer writing lesson plans and designing individual studies for my three children. Except it wasn’t, because I was less sleep-deprived and more relaxed. This year, we have amazing resources available through USD 480 and SCCC/ATS and I intend to take full advantage of it all, in the nicest way possible.
Best of all, our entire family is back in school, learning together. You might call it “away-from-home schooling.” Whatever name we give it, though, it feels just right.