Homeschooling, from its beginning, spread primarily through word-of-mouth. One family found it to be a great source of joy in their situation and encouraged their friends to try it as well. Conferences were an invaluable means of spreading the message of Catholic homeschooling and encouraging new families to join the movement. Lafayette, Louisiana support group leader and conference organizer Mrs. Julie LaMotte says that conferences play an important role in Catholic homeschooling even today, “They [conferences] supply information, lend support, bring people together who might not have otherwise found each other. They help convince parents that they CAN do it, seeing so many who already are. They are a ‘shot in the arm’ for those who need a boost.”
Mrs. Julia Fogassy, co-founder of the Seattle, Washington based St. Thomas More Home Educators Support Group, and founder of the educational retailer Our Father’s House believes that conferences played an even more important role in the early years of homeschooling than they do now, “In the early years, no one had much experience and everyone was on a steep learning curve. There were a few mavericks who had no qualms about going against the tide; but there were also a good many sheep who really needed encouragement and support. Conferences provided that support when it was nowhere else to be found.”
The early conferences, many of which were hosted by Seton Home Study School and which were later handed over to the management of local families, played an essential role in uniting Catholic homeschoolers across the country and helping to strengthen their identity as distinct from the Protestant homeschooling movement. Conferences did not accomplish this task on their own. Support groups were needed to reach smaller communities of homeschoolers and provide a more permanent connection. Mrs. Catherine Mianecki of the Michigan Catholic Home-Educators says,
Support groups play a very important role! In addition to providing nuts and bolts type of information, they also often perform a mentoring function as well. They tend to initiate new families into a Catholic milieu and provide Catholic formation for many young parents who do not have a strong Catholic background from which to draw. They also provide a Catholic social context for families.
Dr. Mary Kay Clark, Director of Seton Home Study School, also emphasizes the role of support groups in the history of homeschooling,
Home schooling support groups are vital for most Catholic home schooling families. The reason is that home schooling is not easy; in fact, it is difficult to teach children at home and still have the duties and responsibilities for raising the babies, cleaning the house, fixing the meals, being organized, and continuing all the day by day duties. In a home schooling support group, mothers can get together and learn from each other, whether it is about teaching tips, or about discipline, or about home-making and organizational tips.
In some home schooling support groups, there are occasions for the children as well. This helps the home schooling situation as children learn that other children are being home schooled, and that home schooling is not weird. Children see other home schooled children having the same issues, or perhaps having the same struggles. Often, home schooled children will gather together for a subject in which they need help. A father might teach a science class for his son and for other home schoolers. Sometimes a group will go on a field trip to a museum.
Support groups serve the needs for an individual group, which is why each one is different, but also why each one is important in serving the particular needs of the families involved.
Catholic Homeschooling not only grew in numbers in this period from the late 1980’s to the mid 1990’s, but also gained two new Catholic home study programs incorporating the method of classical education. Kolbe Academy was a private Catholic school begun in Napa, California under the leadership of the Crotty, Muth, and Cortese Families. Just as with Seton Home Study School, the interest in the curriculum from families who didn’t live near the school encouraged the school to create a home study branch which Kolbe did in 1993. The Classical method used by Kolbe was by no means a new concept. Kolbe not only calls its method classical, but also Ignatian, because the classical model was widely used in Jesuit schools for years.
Mother of Divine Grace School was another Catholic home study program founded in Ojai, California in 1996. Ms. Marilyn Mosley, owner and director of the secular distance learning school, Laurel Springs School had read the book written by Mrs. Laura Berquist, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, entitled Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. In this book, Mrs. Berquist outlines her vision of a proper classical education and Ms. Mosley, although not a Catholic herself, wanted Mrs. Berquist to create a Catholic home study program that would follow the guidelines set down in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.
Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum was published in 1994 by Bethlehem Books (a later edition was published by Ignatius Press), but was only one of three important Catholic homeschooling books published during this period. The first Catholic homeschooling book was Dr. Mary Kay Clark’s Catholic Home Schooling: A Handbook for Parents published by Seton Home Study School Press (a later edition was published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc.) which for many homeschoolers became the preeminent text on the subject. Mrs. Berquist’s book followed this and then Mrs. Kimberly Hahn, wife of the famous Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn, co-authored a book with Mrs. Mary Hasson entitled Catholic Education: Homeward Bound which was published in 1996 by Ignatius Press. These texts allowed Catholic homeschooling to become even more widely known by making learning about the movement more accessible and not as dependent upon word-of-mouth.
Both Seton Home Study School and Mother of Divine Grace School had the benefit of being associated with the communities of two Catholic colleges which were also growing at this time. Seton Home Study School was founded by Mrs. Anne Carroll, whose husband was the founder of Christendom College. Both of these schools are located in Front Royal, Virginia and have had a great impact on each other. Seton has supplied Christendom with many undergraduate students. In one recent year, Seton students accounted for about 25% of the freshman class. Christendom, on the other hand, has supplied Seton with many skilled employees–well versed in the kind of Catholic educational training that Seton tries to instill in its students.
Mother of Divine Grace School has a similar relationship with Thomas Aquinas College also located in Ojai, California. Mrs. Berquist’s husband, Dr. Marcus Berquist was one of the founders of the college, and Mrs. Berquist has gone so far as to say, “There is a very real sense in which Thomas Aquinas College was a co-founder of my apostolate, since it was at Thomas Aquinas College that I learned what it was to be a Catholic.”