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The Perfect Partnership: Public Libraries and Homeschoolers

by on April 9, 2014

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics 2013 report, the number of school-aged children being homeschooled has risen 17% in five years. As a community partner, the public library can assist this growing population’s needs.

In the case of the branch where I work, the Lovettsville Library, a branch of Loudoun County (VA) Public Library, staff has worked with the local homeschool community by creating Homeschool Enrichment classes. The branch manager, Catherine Hall, and several members of our branch’s Friends group, brainstormed together to find ways to serve this population within their community.

Initially, one-time only programs were created, such as Library Skills for Homeschoolers. Certain programs were scheduled during traditional public school hours so that homeschooled children could attend. As these events cemented the relationship between the homeschool community and the library, library staff took a leap of faith and created a weekly set of Homeschool Enrichment programs. After some discussion, it was decided that courses would be created to complement what parents are already teaching at home.

Hall worked with Friends of Lovettsville Library board members and homeschool moms Michelle McIntyre and Beth McKenna to create the classes that accompany what’s already taught at home. In Lovettsville Library’s case, course topics such as art, personal finance, geography, literature, and engineering are just a few of the subjects covered so far. The age range of the attendees are anywhere from six to fifteen. Currently, there are four classes held each Tuesday afternoon. One of those classes is taught by library staff, but the others are taught by homeschool moms. Time is set aside for public forum presentations as well.

The program started last fall with a 12-week session. The same number of sessions was repeated this year but the topics are different since the same students who were in the first session were expected to be in the second one.

During this whole process Hall and the other contributors re-evaluated the process as they went, changing some procedures for the second session. More homeschool parents were recruited to teach courses in the second session. The public forum was scheduled at a different time than the other programs as requested by the homeschool parents. Even a month into the second session, challenges and solutions are appearing. “Since none of the leaders are classroom teachers, we are learning about managing groups of learners as we go,” says Hall.

This program is certainly making a positive impact at the branch. Door counts, program attendance, and circulation numbers are pumped up on Tuesdays. And there is a feeling of camaraderie amongst the staff and homeschool families. “It is safe to say that we really found a need in our community and filled it. I find it very rewarding to know that all of our careful thought and decision-making about how to serve the needs of the homeschool families in our community has paid off,” says Hall.

Beth McKenna, whose children attend these classes, agrees with Hall. “Programs that require teamwork are difficult to accomplish at home. During last semester’s programs, my sons enjoyed working as a team with a group of students meeting engineering challenges. Additionally, the gathering of homeschoolers at the library provides a large, friendly audience for poetry recitation or public speaking.”

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