Wednesday, July 23, 2014

So You Want to Start a Homeschool Cooperative

This time of the year everyone is getting organized and prepared for the new school year, unless like me you homeschool year round. If you homeschool year round you are still probably looking at new materials, etc. to start. With all the new planning going on I am also seeing many posts about families getting together and starting Cooperatives of all types. I thought after my vast experience (two year - so maybe not so vast) I could shed some light on what it takes to have a Cooperative run smoothly and what you are willing to give to make it work.

Most of my readers know the story but if you are new I will do a short recap. Two years ago me and a close friend started a fine arts Cooperative in our community, mostly for homeschoolers but we do also have a few public or private school kids that have attended. We meet August - December and January - May. Mostly we make available fine arts classes but occasionally throw in a light academic class to spice things up. For example this semester we have Keepers and Contenders of the Faith, Drama, Art, Choir, Current Events, Screenwriting, Mapping the World Through Art, Mock Trial, and Sign Language. Over the last two years I have made some mistakes and learned so much. I thought for those of you that are considering putting a Cooperative together I would give you a few pointers for things that might make it whole process easier.
  • Pick a co-director. Don't try to do this all alone. Even with the help of a co-director some times you will feel like your life is being taking over by said Cooperative. I have found that it does tend to creep into all aspects of your life. Share the responsibilities with someone else, preferably a close friend that you can bounce ideas off of and is willing to tell you the truth when you need it.
  • Like-minded families. Search out like-minded families that want to join a Cooperative. This might end up being two or three families or in my case 38! (Of course we didn't start with 38, but gradually reached that number for our upcoming semester)  Everyone should be interested in  working toward the same goal. Families who participate should also be willing to help out periodically when the need arises. This may be to teach a class, help with dismissals, costuming, refreshments, holiday parties, etc.
  • Location. You've decided to start a Cooperative - now where are we all going to meet. If you are starting with just a few families then maybe someone's house will be just fine. If you are looking at larger numbers of children and classes then it is time to secure a good location. This may be a community center, church, or building to rent. In our case we started with renting a huge event room at a local bowling alley, which we quickly outgrew. Now we meet at my church and we our bursting at the seams turning students away.
  • Raising Funds. Okay this one is tricky. In the beginning we didn't have any funds and worked with a very bare bones budget. Mostly we wanted our Cooperative to be a ministry but knew funds would still be needed for things like liability insurance, rent, and supplies. From the get go we decided to charge a small monthly fee that would include all classes that were available. Some Cooperatives may decide not to charge anything but rely on parent participation to pick up the slack. In our case we do have parent participation but funds are still needed for the above mentioned monthly needs.
  • Recruiting teachers. This one is really important. If you don't have teachers, you don't have classes available. Most times these classes will be taught by parents that have children attending classes, but occasionally you will need to go outside the Cooperative to find a teacher. If this occurs usually some type of fee will be charged by that teacher to teach which brings us back up to the previous section of raising funds.

This is just but a few of the items I feel are most important to discuss and consider before starting a Cooperative. It is a process and you must be willing to spend a large part of your life working on it. I do view this as a ministry and I love our kids and families that participate. Definitely you need to go into this with your eyes wide open, but it is so worth it in the end.




2 comments:

Jessica said...

I am so glad you wonderful ladies started this Cooperative. It has been such a great addition to enriching our homeschool experience. We are really looking forward to starting up again in August and great tips for those looking to start one in their own community.

Leslie said...

Sounds like you have a great (and popular) co-op. That's wonderful! I wish you much success in the coming year!