June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:32 PM
"Last week Johnny went to school. Monday he learned canoeing skills and water safety from a Red Cross instructor at Lake Pondilla. After lunch he hiked the lake trails and identified native plants. Tuesday morning in his math class he created a floor plan and figured out the area of each room in his future home, then learned how to write dialog in his writing workshop. That afternoon he attended a science class learned some principles of rocket propulsion from a physics professor and helped launch a rocket. All day Wednesday and Thursday morning he stayed home with his mother (his primary teacher), recited poetry, sat in her lap while she read to him, and while weeding the garden, found a cool worm to identify. He calculated fractions while making a dinner recipe, practiced piano, played with friends, showed his paintings to dad, and daydreamed. Thursday afternoon while he attended a sign language class, his mother picked up her Mountain Peoples food order at his school and used the shopping time saved to tutor him in geography. Friday morning he attended a swimming class followed by a photography class in the afternoon. Throughout the week he shared his classes with no more than 12 students, found time to do his homework, play with his friends, and be part of his family. What do his parents have to pay for such a rich education, and how far do they have to commute to attend this private school? Nothing, perhaps ten miles -- and its not private. In fact, his parents receive a hefty stipend to help pay costs associated with his education, and the school is public. Its called the Shared Schooling Co-op (SSCOOP) and is one of a burgeoning number of parent-partnered public schools in the state. Whats the catch? Johnnys parents have to commit to making a multitude of choices about what he will study, with whom, when, how, and where. They have to learn with him, find endless and innovative ways to motivate him, discuss deep or difficult subjects with him, learn how he thinks, and create a curriculum that works for him. They have to arrange his social interactions, know his friends, walk with him, talk with him, spend many daylight hours with him, reason with, plead with, succor, and know him -- in short; they have to be responsible for his life education. Is the effort worthwhile? Washington Assessment of Student Learning test results show that parent-partnered education definitely works, but SSCOOP parents prefer other measures. They value the self-esteem gained (or not lost) by children who, developmentally unable to learn to read until they are 10, need not suffer the shame of constant comparison with their peers. They value the scheduling flexibility and parental choice that allows young artists, musicians, and athletes to pursue their passions as a central and guiding focus, rather than something to frantically squeeze into the hour before dinner. Currently at SSCOOP are enrolled dancers with top roles in the Nutcracker, a professional artist with a long waiting list of commissions, a rider who competes in national dressage competitions, and one of the states top gymnasts. Certainly, many students are struggling to read and write, but sitting beside them in class are parents whose love and presence are part of the curriculum. SSCOOPs foundation is Superintendent Bjorks commitment to choice, and a genuine partnership among parents and professional teachers. Parents comprise a majority of the board that controls the budget and makes decisions. Parents also teach classes, suggest ideas for classes, and help hire teachers. Teachers consult with parents about individual learning plans, initiate and teach classes, and arrange enriching experiences. Another component of its success is its curricular diversity. Students have weekly opportunities to experience the outdoors (like the canoeing trip) or cultural events. Starting in November, SSCOOP will offer a Waldorf kindergarten class. Such curricular wealth attracts volunteers. Hundreds of hours have been donated most notably by AmeriCorps, but also by parents and members of environmental organizations. While institutional flexibility and parental involvement ensure its success, at the heart of SSCOOP is its director. Nancy Thompson devotes herself to the mission she articulated at the schools inception -- viz., to help homeschooling parents in whatever way she can. That devotion not only created a school which has attracted over eighty families back to the public school system (and hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding), but led to the creation of the Bayview School. As more parents realize that a childs ultimate happiness depends upon their active love and involvement, the school that Ms. Thompson created will continue to grow."