What is a Homeschool Co-op?

At its heart, a co-op is a support group. Parents come together to share the work and the benefits of classes and/or activities. While certainly not a new concept, COVID has brought homeschool into the conversation of every parent in the nation. And, for those making the home-ed dive for the first time, the support of a homeschool co-op eases that transition in the way no government program can: answering questions, sharing lunches, playing, learning and exploring together. 

 

What does a co-op look like?

Do we really need more co-ops in this area?

Without a doubt. As of April 2022 an average of 600 people moved into Florida daily.  The Florida Department of Education tells us that in 2020-2021 the number of Florida families homeschooling increased by 35%. And when schools opened up a few months ago, another 6.5% decided to make the switch. So the need for local co-ops becomes a bit more real when we consider that Tallahassee is the 9th largest city in the state. Zoom out a smitch to the neighboring counties, and the need is even greater.

Why start an Academic Co-op?

  • All the academic co-ops you want to join are full;
  • Your family’s worldviews, ages, interests, needs or expectations don’t mesh well;
  • Your availability and/or location don’t work with existing options;
  • You want to share a certain set of classes with other families.

While we have some of these types of co-op communities in the North Florida/South Georgia Area, some are still needed. And while next year seems oh-so-far-away, it is never too early to cast mental crumbs on the waters. New homeschool families are cropping up every week in and around Tallahassee. Add to that number the local parents who are taking the home ed dive for the first time, and you have a host of families looking for places to plug in for support. And that support is crucial not only to these families, but to the creation of a thriving homeschool community as well. The kind you want for grandchildren.

What are the benefits of an Academic C0-0p?

Aside from the obvious perk of social time, co-ops can help provide:

  • structure & accountability;
  • teachers who are excited about their particular class;
  • teachers who have a bevy of experience in a particular area;
  • support for answering questions, giving referrals and feedback;
  • a way to add desired subjects that never seem to make it into the day (think art and music);
  • student-teacher interaction;
  • a community of adults that often affirms family values and expectations;
  • a chance for parents to hone teaching skills and learn from others.
On a personal note, having other adults to speak into my children’s world was wonderful. I was not the only one asking for them to make use of all the punctuation, spelling and penmanship lessons. When your children realize that other worthy, respectable adults expect many of the same benchmarks in their academic work, they begin to value those lessons just a bit more. (Or at least they push back less!) Not to mention the appreciation that grew for “classroom manners” – they could only be heard when they took turns. Some of the most entertaining classes in my memory stemmed from discussions of rules student-class-leaders expected peers to follow. 

1. Start with Similar Families.

In an earlier post on starting up Play/Park Group Co-ops, seven things to consider were listed. Although these things will change with the different types of co-ops, there is a universal starting point for every group: a common worldview. By this, I don’t mean that you wear identical clothes or listen to the same music. Worldview is your family’s broad picture of the world as it was, is and hopefully will be. 

Why does this matter?

Young children can certainly enjoy playing together entirely oblivious of differences in their parent’s worldviews. There might be some topics that come up in discussions of biographies, history or art that may highlight family differences. As children grow older, worldview increasingly crops up in discussions on the playground and the classroom. Middle school and high school families will run into issues with acceptable dress, speech, behavior, expectations, etc. This happens in every co-op. It is normal. Having common worldview will help ease the group through differences. And, while there is no way to predict the path that a family (or its members) will take in the future, you can at least start on similar ground.  All said, you may find it easiest to start a co-op with a few families that you already know from a park playgroup, church or your friend’s “friend that homeschools.”

How do I find groups to connect with in Tallahassee and the surrounding areas?

Outside of social media, connecting to other groups can be a challenge, particularly for the introverts among us. If you find your kids playing with other kids in the park before public schools let out, you’ve likely found a homeschool family. And, while homeschool families are all places at all hours, parks are a pretty solid spot. Here is a list of some of the co-ops in our area. Keep in mind that there are a number of co-ops that are not listed on a public website like Tallyhops.com. Some prefer to be word-of-mouth, while others are already at maximum capacity. If you are new to an area and can not find any co-ops with openings, consider posting about an interest meeting on Facebook, a library or even at a place where parents of other children often congregate (gymnastics center, etc).If you would like to look at some of the local listings for other co-ops on Facebook, scroll down to see a list of local pages here. They may also have ideas of how to connect with other parents with similar needs. (The several homeschool associations listed on this page may also prove helpful)

2. Decide time, place & insurance.

When and where will you meet? This directly impacts the cost of your co-op, as most places now require either liability insurance or a rider on the facility’s existing insurance. And,  while some places will allow a non-member group to meet for free,  this is a tremendous risk for them. Accidents happen. Insurance companies begin looking for who will pay, and people can get upset very quickly. 
To get an idea of what kind of insurance your co-op needs, consider contacting a national homeschool co-op insurance specialist such as Tina Crawford of NCG Insurance. This is  particularly important if your co-op will be taking regular field trips and children will be swapping cars. And, as I learned earlier from Homeschol dad and State Farm Insurance Agent Keith Williams, co-op insurance helps protect hosts from financial disaster and ensure that medical needs can be paid for claimants.

3. Choose classes, curriculum & assign teachers.

Once you have secured a group, and a meeting place, the real fun can begin. 

What topics what topics would your group like to pursue?

  • Is there a small extracurricular sort of topic that no one ever gets to, but everyone would like to do? Things like nature study, art, and music often fall into this category. 
  • Is there a subject that no one really wants to teach, but everyone agrees is needed? Subjects that fall into this category would include math, middle school or high school science, grammar, and writing. 
  • Are there some subjects that are just more fun with a group? Think drama, Science labs, And foreign language classes. 
  • Is there a member of your group that might be willing to teach something they are passionate about or have special expertise in? Think Higher level science and math, Web design, entrepreneurship, Coding, and foreign language. 

4. Discuss social & educational outings for students and adults.

Are there some social or educational outings you would like to do together?

  •  Are there field trips which would benefit everybody, or you might get a great group discount for? Think Legoland.
  • Are special field trips that require a certain size group to access the educational programs?
  • Does your group want to have a monthly parents’ night for social time or educational development?. You might do a book study, or you may simply discuss different parenting topics. This has been extremely encouraging in my own journey and always refreshes my perspective.

5. Discuss parameters on hiring a teacher.

Does your group need to hire outside teachers?

  •  An agreement on teacher pay, distribution, duties and what the teacher can expect needs to be outlined in a contract.. For tax reasons having each pay the teacher directly works best in a small co-op.
  • If this is a middle or high school class, will you ask the teacher to grade test, homework, or both? And will you ask the teacher to provide parents with an updated grade report periodically?
  • How will class supplies be paid for? If they are reusable supplies, how will they be accounted for and stored?
  • Will the teacher be given a curriculum or free to choose their own?

6. Decide on communication channels and expectations.

Your co-op will want to address:

  • communication channels – a private FB group? GroupMe? etc; that works on everyone’s phones;
  •  sharing pictures of other’s children – not all parents want their children’s pictures posted publicly;
  • cell phones – can kids have them in classroom? or should phones stay home?

In past co-ops I have taken phones up to help with distractions. I have never regretted it.
However, some parents were not in favor of this at all. More discussions! In hindsight, this would have been much easier if we had decided before co-op began. Which brings us to:

7. Decide on expectations for students and adult behaviors.

Here is where finding like-minded families pays off. Some topics to discuss before the first class:

  1. What does respect for the teacher/student/facility look like?
  2. How should kids share their thoughts?
  3. How should teachers encourage/remind students about appropriate behavior? When should they ask a parent to intervene? When should a family be asked to leave the co-op?
  4. How should students and adults deal with disputes?
  5. What other rules do students need to understand? (No roughhousing? Stay in sight? etc)
This area is probably the toughest for a co-op. No one wants to confront a parent or a teacher when there is an issue. Having a set of guidelines for discussing differing opinions will help move both parties towards a resolution – or at least minimize the damage. Ignoring the need for this will open the door to increasingly friction and discord.

8. Discuss payment.

Asking one person to collect all the monies needed to run the co-op and then pay them out not only has the ability to change the legal status of the group in a dispute, but also to change the tax bracket of the collector. When possible, the easiest solution is to have each family pay teachers directly. This is, of course, not always possible. On her website homeschoolcpa.com, Carol Tapp shares a wealth of articles and forms for By-Laws, Articles of Incorporation, writing a Mission Statement and more. These are extremely helpful in co-op finance and startup.

9. Discuss sick policy and needful medical issues.

  • When should people stay home?
  • How are teachers to get coverage for classes?
  • If a teacher is being paid, will their sick leave be paid?
  • Are there any medical issues that all adults need to be aware of? How shold htey be handled in an emergency?

10. Decide on whether to apply for tax-exempt status.

I thought that a tax-exempt status was needed to purchase co-op insurance. Not necessarily. While you can purchase general liability insurance through NCG without having a special tax-exempt status, it may be difficult to create other contracts such as facility rentals or applying for grants (yes, homeschool co-ops can apply for grants – think HSLDA or Lego Robotics. This article and others on the homeschoolcpa.com website are very helpful in this area.

Does every family need to be in a co-op?

While every homeschool family needs a community, they do not necessarily need a co-op. Sometimes:

  • children have plenty to do without a co-op and don’t miss it;
  • children feel that they are growing apart from their peers (esp. 6th grade & up);
  • your family is just too busy;
  • you have no desire to pour into another family’s life;
  • you (or your child) really wants another curriculum.
 Many homeschool kids are not in a co-op – and they grow up to be wonderful adults just the same. Sometimes, it is just not the season for a co-op. In my own life, seasons of hurricane recovery (Michael) -and the resulting remodel- made co-ops impossible some years. We missed the affirmation, the games, and the challenge that went with it. We look forward to sharing life with more friends in and out of co-ops in the years to come. May this article encourage you to reach out to do the same.

1. Gather a group of like-minded people. Smaller is easier.
2. Find a meeting time and place. Consider liability insurance.
3. Choose classes, curriculum and assign teachers.
4. Discuss social gatherings for kids and parents.
5. Decide on parameters for hiring teachers, if needed.
6. Decide on communication channels & expectations.
7. Decide on expectations for kids, teachers/adult behaviors.
8. Decide how rent, teacher fees, supply fees, & possibly taxes etc will be paid.
9. Discuss sick policy and any needful medical issues.
10. Decide whether the co-op will file for tax-exempt status.

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