- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
As a homeschooler or a homeschooling parent, it is easy to feel like you’re alone. Aside from siblings, there’s not much in the way of classmates.
For 20 years, the South Potomac Educational Alternatives Resource has provided homeschoolers an opportunity to get together once a week for group classes, choir practice, subjects that might not be on the table at home and time with friends.
“The group is a wonderful thing for the kids,” said Karen Dickson, a mother who has been homeschooling for years and a past member of SPEAR’s volunteer board of directors. “They enjoy the time with their friends and seeing that they’re not alone.”
Meetings for classes are at the First Baptist Church of La Plata once a week. While the academy was founded at South Potomac Church, the Baptist church down the road has study-ready classrooms. Classes range from math and English to fashion design and Anything But Boring Poetry. All the teachers are volunteers from the group. The subjects are culled from the interests of the students and teachers.
SPEAR had a robotics team in past years because a group of students were engineering enthusiasts and had a teacher willing to guide them through the course, said Dickson, whose son, Isaac, was a member of the team.
Nathan Hancock, 16, was also member of the robotics team that competed in events around the area.
He’s now a student at the College of Southern Maryland with plans to transfer to University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is adjusting to deadlines imposed by professors.
“The college workload is different,” he said. “I have to set aside time [to do schoolwork].” While homeschooled, the assignments were done, but it wasn’t like his mom, Jill, had a stopwatch out.
Jill, the mother of eight, didn’t see herself on this path when Nathan, her oldest, was born.
She isn’t a very organized person, by her own admission, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something she needed to do.
“It’s not something I always wanted to do,” said Jill, who teaches a writing course at the academy. “It was something God was calling me to do.”
Nathan is one of the rare homeschoolers who didn’t fly the coop for high school.
“We have some brave souls,” who graduated, Dickson said. Once a child becomes a teenager, subjects get more involved, and some parents don’t feel they are the best teacher for certain classes.
“I was worried about calculus,” admitted Jill Hancock.
But Nathan’s father is an engineer, and one of Nathan’s strongest subjects is math.
Dickson estimates that about 40 percent of parents send their kids to a traditional high school when the time comes.
Some students might want to get involved in band, sports or other extracurricular activities.
Dickson’s daughter, Chloe, 14, has been homeschooled all her life and loves it.
“I like the flexibility of it,” said Chloe, a 10th-grader. “I have a little more social flexibility. If I was in a school, I’d feel stuck in a box.” Not adhering to a strict schedule works for Chloe, who carves out time to devote to Girl Scouts and youth organizations at South Potomac Church.
She participates in community service projects and is figuring out what the next step is when it comes to her education.
“I’m a huge history fan,” she said. But she thinks she wants to go into public relations.
SPEAR is a Christian program. In 1992, Marilyn Rocket, one of the academy’s founders, was on the board of the Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators and learned the state was recruiting churches to be “umbrella schools” for homeschool families.
Rocket, joined by another founder, Jacki Burkhardt, went to a meeting between MACHE and the state’s board of education and returned to South Potomac with the idea of becoming one of the umbrella schools, according to history provided by the program.
SPEAR was green lighted, and nine families came together that first year to study, go on field trips and encourage each other. The next year, organizers were given the go-ahead to allow other families into the program and offer group classes, and the program grew to include 25 families, then 70.
Right now, enrollment hovers around 116 families, Dickson said.
“Every year you see new faces,” she said.