Rhonda McAfee thought her homeschool journey had ended when the last of her three children completed high school.
“When my youngest son graduated, I thought I was finished,” the Olathe, Kansas mother said. “Like most parents, we feel we’re done. But God made it clear to me that my homeschool journey was connected with other families.”
Today McAfee is preparing to launch the first year of Homeschooler Education Network (HEN), a Christian organization targeted to parents who work full-time jobs and want to homeschool. The program’s first center will open this fall at Olathe’s Church of the Harvest and has started pre-registering families with children in grades K-6.
“The purpose of the program is to lock arms with our parents so they are not alone in doing this,” she said.
How it works
The program provides daytime enrichment centers where parents can drop children off during the workweek, then continue their homeschool in the evenings and weekends.
(Families who are Kansas residents will need to register with the state to homeschool prior to joining.)
Parents interested in the program can fill out a pre-registration form for free. The nonprofit is also offering informational meetings to parents for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, including at least three virtual Zoom sessions in April (details via sign-up).
If they are accepted, tuition costs are $3,000 per child for the school year, with a 10 percent discount for the second child and a 15 percent discount for the third child. The maximum capacity is 75 students this year.
The program will focus on math and reading in the first part of the day. All children from noon onward need to be available for extracurricular activities such as art, physical education, music, and drama.
In addition, McAfee asks all parents to complete an eight-week virtual course where she and her team will work one-on-one with each family to customize their homeschool experience.
“It’s going to help them to boost their confidence in homeschooling, help them manage their time,” McAfee said. “And we’re going to customize a path for each parent.”
McAfee said part of the inspiration for her organization came from Church of the Harvest, which she attends in Olathe.
After the pandemic locked down public schools, her church opened remote learning centers where children could bring their computers and do online public school curriculum in a safe environment while their parents worked.
“It was evident that parents who had to work, and didn’t really have time to give their children, struggled more than anyone during the lockdown,” McAfee said. “It was almost like the Lord told me to do what Church of the Harvest had already done.”
Unlike the church program, however, McAfee says her program is for parents who are fully committed to homeschooling. Parents get to oversee the curriculum and review different options.
Often parents think they’re not qualified enough to homeschool, and McAfee understands the feeling.
“The large number of parents feel like they’re just unable to homeschool,” she said. “There are some working parents that maybe have a mother or a neighbor that their children can stay with during the daytime, but that’s not very common.
“Awareness is the largest obstacle. It’s helping parents be aware and feel like this is doable. Even though a lot of parents are looking for alternative education solutions, sometimes homeschool is just not the thing that comes to their mind.”
McAfee didn’t always consider homeschooling for her children, especially as a mom of preschoolers.
“It was my desire for my children to go to public school,” she said. “I went to public school, and that’s the mindset I had at the time. But God began to draw my heart toward what really matters. It’s not academics, it’s not socialization and all those things that as parents, we can be so focused on. It’s not getting the kids out of the house so I can have my time. That was what I wanted. … But God began to woo my heart.”
When her children were 4 and 2 years old, McAfee said she was constantly struggling with their behavior.
“They were out of control, let’s just put it that way,” McAfee said. “I was one of those parents who felt like, ‘My kids don’t listen to me!’ … I was that parent.”
She received help, however, from another family who went to her church and homeschooled. That family’s mom gave McAfee a book, “Raising Kids Who Hunger for God” by Benny and Sheree Phillips.
“When I got it, it changed my life,” McAfee said.
That book jumpstarted McAfee’s journey into homeschooling, and she’s passionate about helping other parents who want that route for their families.
“God has a role for parents, and He makes it clear in the Bible that parents are to train the children in the way they should go,” she said. “So when we’re not in direct alignment with God’s Word, we begin to see problems. … It wouldn’t fix very much if I just said, ‘Hey, I’ll teach your children for you.’ … That’s what we do in public schools, you know? Even in some private schools, that’s not the solution. … Parents getting in the drivers’ seats of their children’s education, I believe, is the solution.”
Taking time to explore all options
McAfee encourages all parents to use this summer to be intentional about researching every educational option for their children.
“It’s worth taking the time to pause,” McAfee said. “Homeschooling actually allows parents to pause.”
Unlike public schools, where children are often caught up in taking tests and doing other things outside the classroom, McAfee says parents can use homeschooling to focus just on the children and their specific needs.
“Give them a time just to connect during the summer,” McAfee said. “Instead of taking the whole summer off, have a plan and be intentional about coming up with a strategy.”
McAfee’s daughter, Christen, is a certified teacher who taught in the Blue Valley school district for 7 years. She is the acting director over the program’s centers.
“Kindergarten doesn’t have to be in a chair at a desk,” McAfee said. “My daughter, she doesn’t have the pressure of test scores, and all the [other] things.”
McAfee said she has been investing much of her time communicating directly with parents to make sure her program provides everything they need for a successful homeschool.
“We even added a math and reading program because math scares most parents,” she said. “We’ve added that to our program just to lavish them really – because God is that type of God – and to let them know that we have their back. We are helping them give their children the best educational experience possible.”