Friday Feature: Homeschool Connections Educational Services

Colleen Hroncich

Tarla Gernert grew up surrounded by educators—her mom, grandma, and aunt were all teachers. So it seemed natural to her to follow that same path. But it was never a great fit for her. “Every time I would teach a lesson, I would know that some of the kids were really ready for it,” she explains. “Some of the kids, I knew that if I explained it to them for a day or two, they would get it. And there was always a group of kids that I felt like they’re never going to get this. And much of what I was teaching I felt was really not relevant to them.”

After a few years, she took a leave of absence from the classroom and moved into an academic advisor position at her alma mater. She enjoyed that role, but when she had children she decided to stay home with them. They moved from Virginia to Michigan to North Carolina, with a variety of schooling options, including a little bit of homeschooling, along the way.

When they moved to North Carolina, Tarla decided to see what homeschooling was like there. She reached out to the local homeschooling community, and they embraced her family. “They had art classes, and music classes, and PE classes, and all kinds of things. They had Friday classes where it was kind of a co‐​op, but you paid the teachers a little bit to teach,” she recalls. “It was just this wonderful community down there, and we just fit right in.”

They moved back to Michigan after a few years, and she didn’t find anything like what they’d had in North Carolina. She says, “I kept talking about how in North Carolina, we did this. And in North Carolina, we did that. One of my friends said, ‘I think if you start what you had in North Carolina, people will come.’” And that’s how Homeschool Connections Educational Services Inc. came to be.

Tarla didn’t want a traditional homeschool co‐​op, where parents typically teach each other’s kids on a volunteer basis. “Whenever we were part of a co‐​op, it was difficult because the level of quality wasn’t necessarily there,” she explains. “I realized you can’t really fire volunteers, so with this program, we wanted to hire and pay teachers.” She found a woman who had a masters in bilingual education to teach Spanish and a microbiologist to teach biology. A multitalented artist, author, and actress taught the children art, writing, and acting.

Homeschool Connections started in 2002 with 32 kids at a church in Rochester Hills, MI. The next year, it grew through word of mouth, with the kids telling their siblings and friends to come. Before too long, parents were coming to Tarla wanting to start a similar program at other churches, which work well because they’re usually empty during weekdays.

The program is designed to be held one day per week with each class meeting for an hour. For the younger kids, they offer very hands‐​on, activity‐​based, high‐​interest classes. They also do science experiments, which is a great help for homeschooling families. In the upper grades, Tarla says it can be a full program, including research papers, high school math, and science labs—the things that can be trickiest for homeschooling parents. The kids work at home for most of the week and then the weekly classes include discussions of what they’ve read and other group lessons and activities.

There are now in‐​person options at several churches in southeast Michigan. Depending on the location, classes are held on Monday, Tuesday, or Friday. There’s also an online distance learning option that includes pre‐​recorded lessons and a weekly virtual class session. Teachers and families can participate at more than one location to create a schedule that works for them. Classes are generally geared toward an age range, not a specific grade, which provides more flexibility in content and ability level.

“Some people come for one class. Others come for a whole day. And then there are others that might come for two or three days, depending upon what their schedule is and what they need,” says Tarla.

In addition to the more academic pursuits, there’s a strong social and community aspect to Homeschool Connections. They host coffee mornings for moms to help support them in their homeschooling journeys. They also provide opportunities for the students to get together for game nights, dances, bowling, and roller skating.

In 2017, Tarla co‐​founded High​PointHy​brid​.com which offers in‐​person support twice a week for students who attend Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan. There are locations throughout southeast Michigan for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

“What I’ve learned through all of this is I don’t really enjoy being the teacher,” Tarla admits. “But I love creating educational environments where people can learn.”

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