The idea that pain can lead to a positive change in one’s life left students seeking more answers in Jason Crawford’s class.
One student sat laughing in disbelief. “How could this be?” she asked with amazement.
“Because pain leads to awareness and awareness plus choice equals action,” said Crawford, donning glasses and sporting a beard, as he wrote the formula on the wipe board. “Action turns into habits.”
This was not your typical classroom. Crawford is not your typical teacher. He is a marketing consultant who has a master’s in counseling.
Pathfinding is just one of more than 50 courses students can take at Class Source, a nonprofit enrichment program for home education students in Lutz. The list includes core offerings such as English, Math and Social studies. But it also includes classes that are not normally offered in a traditional school setting, such as life skills and novel writing. Families also find a community at the classes. While students take classes, parents receive mentoring and support from one another.
As the education landscape in Florida continues to shift toward customization, homeschooling is itself becoming more customized for families through a growing network of support and tools. In addition to programs that offer curriculum and instructors, there are mentoring groups for parents. Class Source is one of 10 such programs in the state. Homeschool families have been building networks to support one another and offer classes where students can find what interests them most.
“It gives a child a chance,” said Dina Fox, who founded Class Source in 2007 after observing the inconsistency of co-ops. “If they have a passion, they can log onto that passion. You can take that passion and put it into other areas to help them learn.”
Class Source differs from a co-op as parents are not required to contribute time and help teach classes. The program is more structured, with 21 instructors who are experts in their field, from authors to police officers to scientists to certified teachers. Students can attend classes up to twice a week at Christ Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Lutz. Parents can pick and choose which course they want their child to take. Class costs vary from $375 to $515 dependent on whether they attend once or twice a week.
Fox said there is accountability built into the program with an online grading system.
The church includes a beige modular building for classes. Each classroom is small with six to seven students.
The program opened in 2007 with 40 families. Now there are more than 100.
“We have an eclectic group that comes here,” said Fox. “There is no typical homeschooler anymore.”
Fox said the typical homeschooler used to be an evangelical Christian who wore blue jean skirts, had her hair in a bun and played a musical instrument. Now, Class Source has semi-professional athletes, student with health issues who find it hard to learn in a typical school setting, even an actress who must travel for work and needs a flexible schedule.
There are several students in Class Source who are on the Gardiner Scholarship, a state program that allows families with children with severe special needs to pay for therapy, school tuition and other education-related services of their choice. Step Up For Students, which administers the program, publishes this blog.
Ethan Smith is one of those students.
The 16-year-old was a straight A student and a basketball player at a private Christian school in 2016. Everything was going well until one morning he was involved in a freak accident at his home. His life was forever changed.
Ethan stepped on a small cushy basketball when getting out of bed and fell backwards hitting his head against the headboard and blacking out. He could no longer focus in school and had stabbing migraine headaches that would not go away. He learned he had a traumatic brain injury, said his mother, Corinne Fontana Smith. The commotion and sounds in a typical school building made his headaches worse. He could not focus. He had difficulty retaining what he read.
She chose Class Source after determining that private school was no longer a good fit for Ethan. The Gardiner Scholarship provided her the ability to pay for his classes, which she couldn’t afford otherwise.
“Class Source is quiet,” she said. “It is small. They are kind and caring to him. He feels very good. He can take the whole week to do his homework.”
Prior to coming to Class Source, Smith said Ethan was isolated. Now, he has made friends with another student his age.
Fox said the nonprofit allows parents to not worry they must be an expert in every subject area.
“A parent does not have to feel they have to learn piano, biology, history, etc,” she said.
Julie Sanchez’ specialty is English, not math. So when she began teaching her son Algebra, the two struggled.
Now, Caleb, 13, enjoys taking Algebra at Class Source.
Catherine Williams, a certified teacher in the public and private school system for 21 years, loves teaching writing for upper elementary, middle and high school students at Class Source.
This is her eighth year there. She was invited by a friend after her school closed many years ago.
She reiterates she is not the teacher per say.
“The parents are the teacher,” she said. “My job is to set up the structure for the students to follow throughout the week.”
Williams observes strong parental involvement in the program.
“Regardless of the type of education, the more the parent is involved, the better the child receives the education,” she said.
Williams was recently teaching medieval history to her students. Students were exploring how the five senses help them describe what the character is thinking.
Instructors in the program say they are satisfied with the work they are doing.
Crawford, who was preparing to become a counselor, decided teaching at Class Source would give him the opportunity to make real change.
Many students want to take his class again. He said his class is about preparing students for life. They learn about how to handle anger, conflict, and understand their own personality.
“I teach them how to become resilient and survive,” said Crawford. “My personal belief on it is we have a suicide rate that is climbing in our country and since the 1980s we have seen advancements in technology, modern medicine and the mental health industry. With all these things, we have seen an increase in suicide, especially in youth. This is something they need.”