By David Dawson
Communications specialist, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
With homeschooling numbers on the rise across the nation, many families in East Tennessee have been interested in reaching out to Fawbush, who serves as director of Classical Conversations homeschool community group in Mount Juliet.
As the start of the school year approached, Fawbush said interest in the program exploded.
“Over the summer, I was getting new leads about every other day,” said Fawbush. “In June, I had 24 students signed up (for the group). I now have 47 students.”
The Mount Juliet Classical Conversations group, which meets at Green Hill Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, is part of the national Classical Conversations (CC) pipeline — a Christian organization that was developed with the purpose of “leading the home-centered education movement by teaching parents and students the classical tools of learning so that they can discover God’s created order and beauty.”
The recent surge in membership for Classical Conversations and other similar community groups has been driven by the circumstances surrounding COVID-19. With the pandemic creating new challenges and adjustments for traditional school systems, many families have explored homeschooling for the first time this fall.
“I have 16 new families (this year), and many of those are brand new to homeschooling,” said Fawbush, wife of Donelson View Baptist Church pastor Bo Fawbush. “Last year, my community was pretty much set by the beginning of June, so I could do all the planning and buying of supplies. This year, I have been talking/e-mailing/texting so many people that I have not been comfortable buying all the supplies until this past week (two weeks before the starting date).”
Cindy Catlin, a member of Shiloh Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, has homeschooled her children for eight years and has held leadership roles for homeschool groups. Catlin, a mother of four, said there are many reasons that more and more families, especially those with faith-based ties, are finding homeschool appealing.
“As a homeschooler using an umbrella school, you may choose your own curriculum,” Catlin said. “It gives (parents) the freedom to use Biblical curriculum and not the state standard curriculum. For a fee, an umbrella school will keep your records and after completing all the high school requirements, issues a high school diploma.”
Membership in the Home School Legal Defense Association — a national Christian group working to train and equip homeschooling parents — is growing at 300 percent of its pre-COVID-19 growth rate, said Mike Donnelly, Home School Legal Defense Association senior counsel.
“We are seeing unprecedented interest in home-schooling,” said Donnelly, himself a homeschooling parent. “We are seeing just dramatic numbers of people contacting us. … Our membership numbers are growing at record levels.”
Parents can homeschool their children, on average, at a cost of $600 to $1,000 a year and sometimes less, Donnelly said.
Many churches in Tennessee are helping homeschool families by serving as the host site for either a “co-op” or a “tutorial.” These groups, which generally meet once a week, help with both social and educational needs of homeschool students.
Although “co-ops” and “tutorials” share a few similarities, Catlin explained that there are some notable differences between the two.
“A co-op is where a parent will rotate to teach an elementary enrichment, like science and history,” she said. “A tutorial has ‘drop off’ core subjects with a parent volunteering to help with an activity (such as field trips, Christmas parties, prom, beach trips, Science Fair, History Fair and many more),” Catlin said.
The increase in homeschooling has opened ministry doors for churches around the nation, and Fawbush said she hopes churches will utilize this opportunity as a chance to connect with their communities.
Fawbush, who has been with Classical Conversations for seven years and is in her second year as director, said she has seen some instances in which churches were unwilling to allow their facilities to be used. In other cases, the churches simply charged too much to make it feasible for the group. Fawbush hopes those situations will become fewer and fewer.
“I think the biggest take away is that Christian homeschoolers are raising the next generation of church/world leaders and the church can have a crucial part in that by just offering their buildings,” she said. “Our church buildings are to be tools to advance God’s kingdom.”
Fawbush praised the churches, such as Green Hill Baptist and her home church Donelson View Baptist, that are open to homeschool groups. (Donelson View hosted a CC group for two years before the group merged with another CC group).
“Green Hill Church is an amazing church,” she said. “They really believe in using their building for the glory of God.” B&R This article includes reporting by Baptist Press writer Diana Chandler.