As the number of home-schooling families rises, some community colleges are deepening their relationships with home-school communities and providing enrichment programming to enhance students’ education.
At College of Southern Maryland (CSM), a home-school enrichment program started with a conversation. Like all community colleges, CSM welcomes home-school students on campus for summer youth camps and dual-enrollment programs. But home-school families expressed a need for more support.
In April 2019, Tony Warrick, CSM’s youth program manager, met with 12 of these families and listened to some of their problems within the home-school system, particularly related to curriculum and ensuring their children advance academically.
“One of the things we do at College of Southern Maryland is try to provide solutions for our community, especially our students,” Warrick says.
And home-schooling families in southern Maryland are a big part of the community. More than 4,580 students were home-schooled there in the 2020-21 school year, according to data from the Maryland Home School Association (MDHSA).
Launch and relaunch
One of the solutions was to create a couple of science and technology classes to enhance the home-school curriculum by giving students hands-on experiences. The college, after all, has access to equipment that would be too expensive for many home-school families. The classes were offered at the La Plata Campus, and enrollment for those early classes was good as word-of-mouth spread within the home-school community, Warrick says.
The program went on hiatus during Covid but relaunched in fall 2021 — and enrollment has “exploded,” Warrick says, going from less than 100 pre-pandemic, to more than 300 enrollments for the latest semester. CSM is even expanding the program to its Leonardtown Campus.
Some of the most popular classes are the engineering and robotics courses. Many of the instructors are adjunct professors, and CSM hires some community professionals who have specific expertise and the skills to teach elementary-age children.
Beyond the academics, the students learn about classroom etiquette and are exposed to a college campus.
“The things they learn here will set them up in life,” Warrick says.
And, to ensure the cost of classes isn’t a barrier, “CSM Foundation has rolled up their sleeves” and provided some financial assistance to families, according to Warrick.
“No one gets left behind,” he says.
According to home-schooling parent Micah Periman, after one semester of classes, her family “fell in love” with the program CSM offers. Periman’s son has six semesters of classes under his belt now. He’s taken everything from literature to engineering and chemistry, and has even taken a drone class.
Periman’s daughter is just getting started but has taken classes in history and sculpture.
Periman really likes the variety of classes offered and the teachers.
“I could not have been more pleased,” she says. “All the teachers there seem to want to be there. The kids can feel that.”
She also likes having Warrick as a liaison.
“Tony will get to know you and understand your needs,” Periman says.
The program also serves as a pipeline to the dual-enrollment program at CSM, which may encourage students to enroll at CSM as college students.
Building a pipeline
Coastal Alabama Community College also is building a pipeline for home-school students by starting with enrichment classes. Campus directors at the college are charged with creating non-credit classes that would benefit the community they serve. For Fairhope Campus Director Mandy Bezeredi, the home-school community in her area was an untapped group. In fact, less than 1% of enrolled Coastal Alabama students were home-school graduates.
“I knew the number of home-school students was rapidly growing,” she says, noting there are nearly 2,000 home-school students in the county. “It was odd we weren’t seeing more of them.”
So starting a home-school enrichment program seemed like the right way to engage with that community.
The program, which launched this spring, started by bringing everyone to the table: first, the college president, public relations and workforce development departments, and the director of dual enrollment, who all saw the idea as a great way to get the home-school community familiar with the college. Then came discussions with parents of home-school students to determine their needs and what courses to develop for the pilot semester. Once courses were determined, Bezeredi met with college faculty who could potentially teach the classes.
Four classes were offered that first semester: biology, creative writing, photography and introduction to graphic design. The classes were eight weeks long and offered on Fridays.
The college spread the word on social media and the home-school community “shared and they shared and they shared,” Bezeredi says. Seventy parents came to an open house at the Fairhope Campus.
Bezeredi says the first semester was a success and feedback from students was positive. Feedback from faculty was good, too.
“They see the bigger picture,” she says. “This is marketing for their future classes.”
Financially, the program has been profitable, but more than that, “it’s about community engagement.”
This fall, the college will offer an expanded set of classes based on survey results after the first semester. Bezeredi also wants to build the courses in Canvas so they can be duplicated on smaller, rural campuses.
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