In October of 2004, a twist of fate brought Dr. Lee Reinert into my life. I was leading a group of women on a backpacking trip under the “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” Program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Lee had signed up late and had nine women ahead of her on the waiting list. She never dreamed all nine would opt out of their spot and she would come to hike right behind me and start a conversation on homeschooling, of all topics. Fate brought her to me.
Lee was a home-schooling educator and evaluator. I shared my thoughts and concerns about the decision to pull our kids out of public school- my doubts on whether I was intelligent enough to handle “teaching;” fearful that I would lose my life, never have a minute for myself or the chance to pursue my own work. As the miles clicked by, every fear she squashed and every question she had a positive answer for. She shared one inspirational story after another of students who excelled at home schooling, then went on to study at prestigious universities after being awarded hefty scholarships and then went on to change the world with their vision and passion. By the time, the backpacking trip was over, I was convinced we could do it.
Dr. Lynn Williams, another local home school evaluator, cheered me on too. “You’re already doing it, by traveling and presenting experiential learning to your children, you are home-schooling without making it official (signing an affidavit and logging hours) so why not make the kids do double-duty?”
This was the start of involving our friends in the raising and educating of our children.
Frank & Lila Fretz are perhaps our life’s greatest mentors. They taught us how to do many jobs related to building our home- how to mix mortar and lay block, how to remove slate, recycle, and roof with the salvaged material. They taught us how to garden, graft fruit trees, raise berries, grapes and chickens. So when it came time to raise and educate our children, they were all over it too.
Frank is a natural history illustrator and a fine artist. He gave us lessons in on-the-spot plein air painting, taught wood cutting, and helped Bryce write, illustrate and bound a book when he was thirteen. Lila taught the children how to marble, rug hook, and when Sierra became involved in politics her senior year of high school and Obama was campaigning, Lila shared articles with her, had discussions and broadened my child’s mind.
When I brought my children along on assignment for Scouting Magazine up in Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness, they met Venture Crew Adviser, Tim Minnich of Alleghenyville, PA. He encouraged my kids to join the crew, made Sierra trip planner and leader and launched them onto a new way of adventuring in the outdoors- away and apart from mom and dad. The crew offered the opportunity to explore the outdoors all over the country and taught Sierra how to be a leader on wilderness adventures. The experiences learned here help launch Sierra into a summer job as a wilderness guide in the Boy Scout’s remote Double H Ranch, where she led teams of scouts and their leaders cross-country through the desert. This knowledge later gave her the tools to begin her own Outdoor Club at Temple University, Philadelphia, a 300-member strong organization that thrives years even after she graduated. Tim most importantly loved them as a mentor and friend for many years afterwards.
The advisers at the Unitarian Universalist Church that we attended- Barry & Joanna Groebel and Walt Axsmith broadened their minds and showed them that all religions have something to offer and learn from. From the Buddhist’s way to meditate, to the Native American way to sweat, to learning to see the value and worth in all religious teachings, take what you can use for yourself and never pass judgment. These teachers showed them the importance of service and volunteering and how to work towards equality and acceptance of all peoples’ truths and principles that Unitarian Universalist Churches are founded on.
Tom Davidock served an incalculable role as advisor to Sierra’s Schuylkill County Student Conservation Association that she founded and spear-headed for two years in high school. Then there was Dr. Karen Alexy, a wildlife biologist in Kentucky who welcomed and embraced both my children. She incorporated them into her field research in Kentucky’s elk range on the reclaimed mine lands. Every spring they both traveled to help out in the spring calf catch, and helped monitor the herd. Dr. Alexy was hugely instrumental in helping Sierra make decisions in the occupational path she chose in life.
These friends always treated our children as though they were their friends too, never a less-than, unknowing child. They took them fly fishing and hunting and flying in little Cessnas and canoeing down rivers and climbing peaks, without the watchful eye of their parents. They gave them the opportunity to begin to be adults, to think for themselves, make decisions, practice being leaders. These things can only begin to happen when children are away from their parents, but we parents have to make sure we are being replaced by QUALITY. I don’t pass my children on to just anybody.
Every adult friend contributed immense and unique knowledge to my children. The kind of experience and knowledge they could have never gleaned from a textbook. I have learned that this is very typical for home-schooled children. One of the lessons they learn is that ALL people, all ages, have much to offer. And they learn how to be a friend across all boundaries, not just in a small segregated peer group as in school. These are important lessons to learn in life at a young age for this is much closer to the way real life operates. I believe home-schooled children are better set up for adulthood because of experiences and opportunities like these- just one more gift of homeschooling.
What these adult friends also showed my children was their value and their worth. With the gift of their time and their knowledge, they held a mirror up to my children’s eyes and showed them inside, a glimpse of their true potential. Support. It means everything. It comes with love- that goes without saying. With these two, children can go on to do anything.