MANSFIELD -- Rebekah Beasley and Kristin Herzberger each homeschooled their children for over a decade when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When schools went remote in March 2020, other families began to ask them about the process.
"So many people were looking on how to homeschool and didn't know what to do," Beasley recalled. "We saw a need."
The two homeschool moms now serve as co-directors of the Mansfield Classical Academy, a semi-homeschooled community program that offers two days of in-person classes each week. The school is located inside the ARC Empowerment Center at 378 Park Avenue West.
The program is designed to create a structure of academic support while still giving parents the final say over their child's education. Students receive instruction from a staff of teachers who are passionate about the subject matter. Those teachers provide take-home assignments based on MCA's curriculum.
"We wanted to give the parents the tools to still be able to do this at home those three days," Beasley said.
Parents are still encouraged to play an active role in their child's education. Parents give grades as is typical of a traditional homeschooling program. Parents of younger children are required to attend class with them.
“We only meet twice a week and that's where they get a lot of the instruction throughout the day, but then they still have the authority at home to do what they think is best for their family," Beasley said.
Some parents became interested in homeschooling due to concerns of government overreach in public schools after the pandemic. Others simply wanted a different option.
“We want to help them see life with a Christian worldview," said Dana Sinchok, a teacher whose 10-year-old son is enrolled at MCA.
Another teacher, Deshanna Kennard, enrolled her 13-year-old at MCA at his request.
“He ended up asking to be homeschooled the last quarter of school because of COVID. He had been on six weeks of remote, two quarantines and it was just hard," she recalled. "He had not wanted to homeschool before -- he is real social.”
MCA offers a classical education, meaning students are broken into three learning stages -- grammar, logic and dialectic/rhetoric.
Each stage focuses on learning methods that best correspond with a child's developmental stage. Young children are enthusiastic explorers adept at memorization. Children in the intermediary logic stage are ready to question and analyze. High school age students are in the rhetoric stage -- they are ready to combine knowledge and critical thinking to apply and communicate what they've learned.
Students at MCA are not put into grade levels, rather they are assigned to one of the three stages based on their academic and emotional achievement.
Herzberger and Beasley say this approach allows students to advance more quickly in subjects that interest them. Some of MCA's high school students are taking AP and dual-enrollment college courses.
“In public school, it’s a lot of classroom management and trying to get everybody on the exact same page. And here, we're trying to do the opposite. We're like, what page are you on? Let's work with that," said Herzberger, a former second grade teacher.
“The education I can give my own kids is leaps and bounds ahead of what I can do with 30 kids at one time trying to get everybody to do this cookie-cutter thing.”
Students at MCA learn all of the traditional subjects -- math, science, English language arts and history -- but they also study the Bible along with languages, Spanish and Latin.
“I would say the program tends to draw what you call advanced students. They want to excel, they want to do harder things," Herzberger said. "We think Latin is an important base for law, for sciences, for just language in general. All the kids begrudgingly start it and then love it by the end.”
Traditional homeschooling can become difficult once students reach high school age and courses become more advanced.
Herzberger said her older children have benefitted from teachers with more precise expertise.
"As our kids were getting older and having more advanced math and sciences. we saw the need for more in-person labs and more experienced people in certain fields," she said. "My older kids are getting more support so they're moving much faster.”
Beasley said one advantage of the program is that each teacher is passionate about their subject matter.
"Not everybody loves Latin. But if you're getting it from someone who does love it, nine times out of 10, you appreciate it more," she said. "If you hate it, your kid is going to hate it.”
Proponents of classical education say it better prepares students to be critical thinkers.
"The world is getting less and less based on fact and a lot more based on opinion," Herzberger said. "There are still are facts under all of this chaos and all these opinions and all the fighting and drama, there are facts and we can find them.
“We're trying to get to truth and true understanding of something, so that they're able to be really leaders. That's our goal, is that they're logical, calm, effective leaders that are able to be a contribution to society.”
There are currently 17 students enrolled in the MCA, with ages ranging from 6 to 18. Beasley and Herzberger hope to expand the program in the years to come.
“We want to share this with people that want to do this that you can do this," Beasley said. "It's not as scary as maybe it seems.”