Annie Graham was called to her son’s school so much because of behavioral challenges that she started helping out in his classroom.
“It just wasn’t working for him. It was his personality. He likes to move a lot,” she said. “I was finally like, ‘Let’s just try home-schooling.’”
Soon, she and her husband taught all six of their children. Graham has a master’s degree in education and soon will receive a doctorate in instructional design for technology, so she felt prepared for the challenge.
“It was awesome, but we were kind of lonely,” she said. “We were always trying to find kids and trying to find people to meet up with and make friends with.”
Other home-school parents told her they felt the same.
“We all want our kids at home because it’s what’s best for them — and we all have different reasons for having our kids at home — but they need something more. They need a community. They need other kids to hang out with and people to have play dates with. So we started this place.”
eNDVR, a homeschool cooperative learning space and resource center, opened in Missoula about three years ago for parents who home-school or to supplement traditional school learning.
Classes and workshops are offered on a sliding fee scale or through a co-op system. Members must volunteer a minimum number of hours at the school but can work more to reduce, or eliminate, a monthly membership fee.
This fall, Graham launched Aspire High School, a self-directed democratic program for middle- and high-school kids who split time between eNDVR and courses they choose themselves. Some students attend Aspire for the full week and others are primarily home-schooled, attending a limited number of days based on their classes of interest.
Approximately 80 students attend eNDVR and 16 go to Aspire, she said.
Steven Crossier, 15, has been home-schooled off and on as his family moved around the globe with his father’s job in the military and then as a contractor. He said Aspire and eNDVR relieve some pressure on his parents to teach while giving him access to new teachers and new subjects that fill in the gaps of his dad’s background in engineering and his mom’s expertise in the medical field.
This quarter, he’s taking music lessons, research writing, computer programming and business courses through Aspire, in addition to his lessons at home.
“Those are classes I chose because they’re topics I figured would be most useful,” Crosier said. “That’s one of the things I like about this school. It’s hands-on and very much useful, which I haven’t really seen in many other schools.”
Jonas Rodriguez, 16, said he’s been home-schooled much of his life and appreciates that lessons are tailored to his interests, including “stuff you won’t normally learn at a public school.” Right now, he is learning — and teaching other kids — how to program with the popular computer game, Minecraft, and is nearly finished writing a script for a zombie movie that he’ll produce with other students this year.
“You can sleep in sometimes. You get to do school at your own pace,” he said.
Shayna Adams’ family lives and farms on a Bitterroot homestead, but she drives her boys, ages 5 and 8, into Missoula once a week for classes at eNDVR. She said their decision to home-school was “solidified” by one week at a charter school in California, where they used to live.
“The teacher was drilling him on phonics with an iPad and expecting him to sit still on this little ‘X’ she had duct-taped on the floor. He couldn’t. He was too bouncy,” she said. “ This has been a great opportunity for my kids to have a social circle, and it’s also really great to be able to sign your kids up for classes so everything isn’t on you as the sole educator.”
Last week, Elaine Anderson-Wood, who taught in area public and private schools, started a new class at eNDVR. In “Eat Your Way Around the World,” middle- and high school students will learn geography, culture, science and cooking. The course culminates in a final report and preparation of a dish from a particular country.
“This was something all the kids choose to do,” Graham said. “Last spring, everybody wanted a class on paper airplanes, so we spent eight weeks studying aerodynamics and different aspects of flight and making paper airplanes. You can fit any educational goal into a child-driven environment.
"They can come up with the ideas and you can come up with the ‘What do they need to learn?’ Then they’re interested and excited and actually want to be here.”