Monday, October 14, 2013

Starting a Homeschool Co-op, Classically Catholic Memory

When we moved here to South Texas two years ago, we left a large and active Catholic homeschooling group and a new co-op that we were really enjoying.  We quickly plugged into a local Catholic homeschooling group and joined some of their activities.  As our first summer approached, I considered the idea of starting a similar co-op here, and did send an email to see if there was interest, but in the end we kept it a slow year.  So as this past summer began, I brought up the idea again and had a good response, with many families interested in starting a Classically Catholic Memory Co-Op.  I'll recount some major aspects of starting a co-op.

Gauge Interest
When asking for families to express interest in the co-op, I sent a detailed email to my homeschooling group with a link to the website and a summary of this particular co-op.  I brought some of the materials to a homeschool event so the other moms could look through them.  I kept a list of interested families and the number of children and then started preparing for an informational meeting.  In my case, I knew the particular co-op program I wanted to use, but other groups might also need to take some time to pray about the particular type of co-op that is needed in your area.

Find a Partner
I found it was going to be very important for me to have a partner to help start the co-op and share the duties.  A leadership team could be another option for a larger group, but I think it's good to keep it to a small number of people who will work well together.  Having a co-leader allows you to bounce ideas off of someone and brainstorm together.  We were able to meet in person and over the phone for some of the planning, and we continue to communicate through email to make sure things are going smoothly.  I have handled most of the emailing, the coordination with the parish, and heading things up during the actual co-op.  My partner does more of the logistical duties, handling the family registration, the class lists, and the financial aspects of the co-op.

Find a Location
We were grateful that the location was easy to determine.  Our parish is very supportive of homeschooling and allows us to use the facilities without a charge.  We still plan to give a donation to help cover building maintenance and utilities.  Our registration fee was around $30/family to help cover class supplies, in particular for the science class.  It looks like we have used up a lot of the fees, though, so I think $50/family would have been a better amount to be sure we have enough to give a nice donation to the church.  We tried to keep the costs down since most families had already ordered a CCM textbook (around $30), and some bought the entire CCM Alpha year kit (around $100).  We might ask for a bit extra for those who want to contribute to the church donation.

I know many other groups have a huge undertaking with finding a parish that will allow them to meet, and sometimes they must provide their own liability insurance.  Some groups have continued concerns with the relationship with the parish, student behavior, etc.  We have still had a few small logistical issues, but there haven't been major concerns.  We did make sure to confirm that the buildings were available during our desired meeting times, and made sure to talk with our pastor to be assured of his support in beginning this program.  I also talk to the secretary each week to ask for the church to be opened, so we are in communication during that time.

Offer Informational Meetings
We offered two informational meetings this summer in late June and early July.  Since our parish was in a transition time getting a new pastor, we opted to have the meetings at my house.  One was on a Saturday morning and one on a Monday morning, with children welcome at both and snacks offered.  During this time, we gave basic information about the co-op, passed around the materials to look at, offered a rough schedule for the co-op, asked for teacher volunteers, and asked for input as to the meeting day and time.  We started the meetings planning to have the co-op on Friday mornings, but after discussions with the interested families, we opted to schedule it on Tuesday afternoons.  We meet every other Tuesday from 12:00noon-3:00pm.  We handed out registration forms and gave a final date for sign-ups.  We also asked the moms to order their materials by the end of July and scheduled two planning meetings for teaching preparation.

Secure Teachers and Volunteers
We asked all the moms to either be teaching partners for one subject during the co-op, or to help in the nursery.  For the most part, moms of two children preschool age and younger are in the nursery.  Our co-op has seven subjects, and we have separated those subjects into four half-hour classes, with two moms teaching each class.  Our subjects are Science, Geography/Math, Timeline/History, and Poetry/Art.  Sometimes we have a mom as a floater as well.  The lessons aren't too involved because we have the CCM textbook that offers most of the information we need, and we are just teaching basic memory work for each subject.  We have 3 groups of students, grades K-1st, 2nd-4th, and 5th-8th.  We split the groups based on registration numbers and ages of the children.

Schedule Planning Meetings/Work Days
We opted to schedule two planning meetings for the moms of the co-op.  This gave us time to go over the schedule, address a lot of details about the co-op, discuss questions or concerns, and allow the moms time to do some planning with their co-teachers.  We scheduled two meetings, but in the end we only needed one of the planning meetings and had the teachers discuss further issues with their partners apart from the meeting time.  These planning meetings were held at the parish on a weekday afternoon, with children playing on the playground.  Ideally, they would be a mom-only event, but in our case we were short on time and limited on dates.

Details to Consider
I was surprised at just how many details we needed to discuss with the group during the planning meeting and the first few co-ops.  Some of these included: uniforms, snack time, chapel time, nursery details like diapering, illness policies, cut-off ages, playground usage, behavior systems, restroom routines, etc.  Our group opted to ask students to wear a uniform with a navy or red shirt (collared for boys) and khaki bottoms.  We have a snack time after the 2nd class of each co-op, during which the children give short presentations on a designated topic like their favorite book or their favorite summer memory.

We also begin our co-op afternoons in the church sanctuary for our lovely Chapel Time.  We start with the Memory Work CD playing to help us review while families are arriving.  We do an opening prayer, learn the Latin prayer or song for the week, and learn the Religion memory work for the week.  One family then leads a short presentation, either on the week's Religion topic or on another religious topic of choice like a saint or feast day.  Finally, we line up in classes outside and say the US Pledge, the Texas Pledge, and we sing a patriotic song before starting classes.

At the end of the co-op we meet to close in prayer at 2:45pm and discuss any important announcements.  Then the children are released to their parents to help the parents clean up their assigned area.  We allow the children to play on the playground for a few minutes before locking up the building, usually around 3:15pm. 

Classically Catholic Memory
What I like most about the CCM Program is that it is an educational enrichment co-op that allows the children the social aspects of a classroom experience while teaching them classical Catholic memory work.  Following a classical approach to education, memory work is something I want my children to learn anyway (memorizing poems, geography facts, Catechism, a historical timeline, etc).  Doing the memory work in a classroom atmosphere is very fun and motivating for them, and for us has been much, much easier than trying to do it at home.  They also get a chance to speak in front of a group during the presentation time each week, have a short art lesson, and do some hands-on science projects thanks to our great science teachers who are both pediatricians by trade!  I have roughly followed the Mother of Divine Grace homeschool program over the years, and this memory work fits in very well with the MODG methodology.

How Much Work for the Leaders
I admit that I felt a bit "in over my head" this summer.  I decided to start the co-op before we were expecting a new baby, and I ended up spending most of July working through issues with my pregnancy and doctor situation.  There were several points in time where I really questioned my ability to coordinate something of this magnitude, especially when we had close to 20 families interested!  In the end, only about 12 families registered, which has been a great number for our group.

Aside from the initial work I've detailed above, there have been little ongoing concerns throughout the semester to deal with.  Those have included building maintenance like AC and plumbing, coordinating with the secretary to get into the church sanctuary, communicating with new families who want to join, keeping the meetings on time, behavior issues, and supervising clean-up and lock-up of the buildings.  My partner has had to handle accepting and depositing checks, reimbursement for class supplies, updating class and family rosters, scheduling families to lead the chapel time, and making the calendar for the year.  She'll also have to step in when I am gone for a few weeks before and after the baby's arrival.

Each week has gotten easier for me, although I am still wiped out at the end of each co-op day.  I think a lot of this is due to the pregnancy and the excessive heat here in South Texas!  But the work has been worth it, and the moms are telling me that their kids are really enjoying it, so that is reassuring.  We'll see what happens in the coming years, but the Classically Catholic Memory co-op seems like a good fit for our group and for our family this school year.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I've thought about starting a coop, so this is a good reference.

Anonymous said...

I did have one question though...if you don't mind sharing. How much is your fees/tuition and is it per family or per child? How did you determine the amount?

Blair said...

Thanks for commenting, Amelia. Our fees were about $30/family, to go towards some class supplies, particularly for the science classes since they're doing some dissections. Extra monies will be given as a donation to the church, and we may actually ask for a little more because the supplies have added up. $50/family would've probably been a better choice. Families also purchased the CCM text (about $20), and some chose to buy the entire CCM pack with CD and flashcards and everything (about $100). I thought I wrote this on the post, but I guess I should add it!

Unknown said...

Hi! Thank you so much for writing about this! We have a CCM co-op, and I am curious about how you organized your teachers and age groups. Did you rotate the teachers every thirty minutes between the age groups? I am just trying to get my mind around it. I believe CCM and CC have one teacher teach all subjects to their section, however, I can see the practicality of just prepping science for the whole group, for instance. How did it go? Any advice?
Thanks so much!! Krista

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