15 Apr 2015

It has been a busy season for the organization, and the busyness reinforces my belief that NCHE serves a critical need among North Carolinians. While the day-to-day work of homeschooling is done by parents and guardians, NCHE serves as an essential hub that links those who are curious about alternatives to the traditional classroom and are often struggling to learn exactly what it means to homeschool in North Carolina to resources that may answer their questions. Increasingly, I am convinced that NCHE serves a vital need of providing not only information but also the listening ear of an experienced home educator.

NCHE has several very visible activities including our legislative efforts and our annual conference, which clearly demonstrate our commitment to those who are interested in the practice of home education in the state of North Carolina and beyond. But in addition to these activities, NCHE has several ongoing information-sharing outlets. The organization is over thirty years old, and for that entire time, NCHE has had a print publication. From what was originally a publication of just few pages, the periodical Greenhouse Report has developed into a quarterly magazine called GREENHOUSE. This publication continues to be a major outlet for the organization to share information and encourage home educators. You may, or may not, be holding the publication as you read. As electronic publishing and the Internet have brought significant change to information access, NCHE has changed as well. We now publish GREENHOUSE articles on our website nche.com. So, you may be reading my column online. The organization spends significant time and energy maintaining a website that is packed with useful information. We repeatedly get emails from people telling us just how appreciative they are for the website. I think I can confidently (but humbly) say it provides the most comprehensive information about homeschooling in North Carolina of any single website. A large number of the emails thanking us for the website come from experienced homeschoolers moving into NC from other states where homeschooling laws differ. It is important to recognize that while many organizations exist to aid home educators, and some of these organizations produce vast amounts of information, NCHE stands for North Carolinians for Home Education. The board of NCHE, its directors and liaisons and staff are, quite literally, your neighbors, and almost all are volunteers. We are North Carolinians, and therefore, we’ve experienced the conditions of homeschooling in the jurisdiction of the state of North Carolina. We have to complete the same paperwork as you do. We visit the same places for field trips. We carefully consider the ramifications of potential changes to North Carolina society and its laws because these changes directly impact us also. We continue to seek and keep abreast of information on the issues concerning home education in North Carolina, including: attendance, immunizations, diplomas, transcripts, resources, driver’s education, athletics and virtual-charter schools. We seek to share what we know and what we are learning on any issues of importance to home educators.

In addition to providing the annual conference, the GREENHOUSE and the website (an enormous undertaking!), the organization also maintains a strong social media presence. Just before the New Year, the NCHE Facebook page surpassed 10,000 fans. We are discovering that this is a major source of information sharing and encouragement for many. If you are not a fan, let me encourage you to become one. When the organization has announcements, we post on Facebook. Its interactive nature allows people to ask and get questions answered. If you are not on Facebook, but are more of a “tweeter,” the organization also has a Twitter account that echoes the Facebook posting.

Recently, I have gained new appreciation for how the telephone continues to be a major service the organization provides. As a product of my age, I’m more in the habit of searching the Internet for answers. However, as we’ve made recent changes, the organization is now better capturing the number and nature of the calls coming into the office. The simple fact is that for many, especially those who are on the edge contemplating exiting the traditional classroom and embarking on the journey of homeschooling, what is needed is the reassuring voice of an experienced person offering advice and explaining complex issues. For most of you, it may be hard to remember what it was like when you were contemplating bucking the system. I think you will admit that it was a bewildering time. And while it is likely that there was less information available, fewer books and websites, you probably knew a person or two of a similar mind and with whom you could work through the decision. The odd reality is that, even though today we have sophisticated technological devices like smart phones and social media, many are disconnected from those outside their immediate circle. Many have commented that our society’s social fabric is increasingly thin: children don’t play in the streets like they used to, and neighbors often don’t know each other’s names. My impression is that for many who are now frustrated with the traditional classroom, they struggle to find others with whom to talk through the ramifications of the decision to homeschool. The NCHE office, with a phone number and a friendly voice, provides this connection. The frequency of calls to the office and emails we’ve recently received expressing gratitude convince me that NCHE serves the state well through a staff member who is there to answer the phone.

But the organization is more than just a board of directors and staff. One important component is our regional liaisons. I mentioned earlier that many don’t have a group of neighbors they can rely on in their homeschooling journey. Part of that may be that they just yet haven’t found a local homeschool group that fits them. NCHE continues to believe that local homeschool groups are an important and vital part of the homeschool experience. Finding groups, however, can be challenging. One role of NCHE is providing of a number of regional liaisons, each in a different area of the state, who work to build relationships with local homeschool group leaders. As noted earlier, the social fabric of society does seem to be growing thinner, but homeschoolers have a history of developing strong local groups who provide mutual support. NCHE wants this tradition to continue, and we continue to question how best to be advocates for and partners with local groups. As part of our annual conference we offer a free luncheon and seminar to local group leaders. This helps connect them with each other and provides them with helpful up-to-date information. The nche.com website lists dozens of groups because our goal is to link people together. We want local groups to flourish because we believe that homeschoolers, parent-educators and students, have a better chance of flourishing when actively engaged in a community of mutual support.

I started this column by saying it is a busy season for the organization, but honestly, we are always busy. We are constantly working to serve. “Many hands make light work” is an often-quoted saying, and it rings true for NCHE. We are always looking for fellow workers. Most in the organization work long hours volunteering to help their neighbors. If you are passionate about home education, please consider partnering with us. Whether you give time, talent or your treasure in the form of a (tax deductible) financial donation, please know that NCHE will put it to good use in the task of developing and protecting a strong community of parent-educators.

Kevin McClain and his wife, Brea, started homeschooling in 2002. Kevin has a master’s in education, instructional technology, from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in educational studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he works as an educational technologist. In 2010, he joined NCHE's board as education vice president. He served as NCHE president from 2012-2016.