Kroc Centers reach out to home school families

Oct 24, 2018 | by Brad Rowland

Kroc Centers reach out to home school families

By: David Ibata

Like most parents who home-school their children, Erica and Jacob Davis of Biloxi, Mississippi, could handle the "3 R's" – the basics – but they were stuck  on the extras like art, music and P.E. They found a solution at The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Their daughters Evelyn, 7, and Hannah, 5, have taken art, music, physical education, swimming and Spanish at the Kroc Center. This year, Evelyn is in a broadcasting arts class, and Hannah, dance. The Davises plan to enroll their son Henry, 2½, when he turns four.

"We really, really enjoy the Kroc Center," said Erica Davis, a civil engineer who works part time and devotes most of her time to teaching the children. Jacob is a civilian engineer for the U.S. Navy at the shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

"We're Christians, and we'd just like to keep the focus in school on Christ, and that's something we can't find in the public schools," Davis said of the decision to teach their children at home. "It's harder on me, preparing lesson plans and things, but it's nice to have flexibility. If my husband has to travel for work, we can work our schedules around what's going on in our lives other than school."

Also, she said, the Kroc Center "gives us an opportunity to become involved. We swim with our children, and fit in a few workouts."

Home schooling is an area of growth for Kroc Centers. Biloxi's started offering classes three years ago and now serves 30 families with 56 children ages preschool to middle school. Kerrville, Texas, began a home-school outreach last year with competitive sports. Augusta, Georgia, has offered physical education to home schoolers since it opened in 2011 and this year expanded to art and music.

"Biloxi started with two or three kids," said Renee Johnson, Kroc Center territorial program manager. "When you do home schooling, the parents do most of the teaching, but there's also a need for extracurriculars like art and music. They've built a really robust program."

"Some of our other Kroc Centers are interested and are working to develop their own home-schooler programs," Johnson said. "There are pockets of home schooling happening around the Kroc Centers. We're hoping to take the work Biloxi has done and scale that up."

Danielle Emery, director of operations at the Biloxi Kroc Center, said the military is a big presence on the Gulf Coast, many military families already are Kroc members, "and a lot of them home school their children because they move around so much."

While parents attend to the core subjects, she said, "we offer the extracurricular activities – music, art, science lab, swim safety, Spanish, broadcasting, theater, dance and physical education."

Each Biloxi class session goes for eight weeks; this fall's sessions were Aug. 6-Oct. 5 and Oct. 10-Dec. 19. Classes are for children ages 4 and up. They meet from noon to 4 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays. Registration is $10 per child; class fees start at $75 for a single class and top out at $144 for five classes ($55 to $125 for Kroc Center members).

The Kroc Center in Kerrville, Texas, started serving home-school families after a private school, which had let home-schooled kids participate in its sports program, grew its own enrollment to the point it could no longer accommodate outside families.

In the late summer of 2017, "we had a lot of home-school parents calling us to ask if there was anything the Kroc Center could do," said Lance Wilke, the center's fitness and wellness coordinator.

Wilke contacted private schools in the area and asked if they'd schedule games if the Kroc Center fielded teams of youths ages 13 through 18. Seven schools said yes, enough for the Kroc to start a boy's traveling basketball team with 11 members, and a girls' volleyball team with eight.

Families pay a fee of $30 per student per month during the season, covering all practices and home and away games; and, if they choose to, $30 a month during the off-season for performance training. The volleyball team started mid-season last year and played a couple of scrimmage games. The basketball team played a full 11 games this year and finished 6-5 – a winning season its first year.

The Kroc Center now is looking at joining the Texas Christian Athletic League, based in San Antonio. "If we can offer league play, maybe even post-season play, then we can go out there and really advertise to these home-school kids that they'd be playing at the same level as at a local high school," Wilke said.

In Augusta, home-schooled children ages 5 to 12 have been invited by the Kroc Center to participate in game play in different sports three days a week since 2011, said Michael Johnson, sports and recreation coordinator at the Augusta Kroc Center, in charge of home school physical education.

As many as 45 youngsters come by over a two-hour period. Each class is free to members and $2 per hour for non-members. "We do these as drop-ins, not as sessions, as most parents aren't able to commit to a full session," Johnson said.

Since January, art classes have met on the second and fourth Fridays for up to 10 home schooled children ages 5 to 10. Music classes were added this fall on the first and third Fridays. Art fees are $7 per class for members and $10 for non-members, and music fees, $8 and $10. Heather Cupp, children and youth manager, oversees home school music and art.

"The price this fall includes up to two children, a huge success compared with including only one child as we did this spring," Johnson said. "Most home school families have multiple children, and participating in extracurricular activities can get expensive."

In Biloxi, Emery said, the home-school outreach not only brings new people to the Kroc Center, it helps parents connect with each other. "Some mothers have done Bible studies in the hallway while their kids are off in class."

Erica Davis said her family hopes to get more involved with the center. "We love it there. It's a good environment, everybody is very friendly, and the teachers are very professional and very good with the students. Our girls always come out with big smiles."

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