For the many local families who choose to homeschool their children, the Bellingham Family Partnership Program (BFPP) is there to help. The program emphasizes learning over schooling, honoring that education often occurs outside the realms of traditional academia. Another one of the program’s core ideas is that families are a child’s primary educators, and schools exist to support families.
The program works with homeschooled students from kindergarten through eighth grade, although the program prefers to group students by grade bands rather than hard grade levels.
Families may seek out homeschooling for a variety of reasons, whether a philosophical view of education, a family emergency, or because the students weren’t thriving in a traditional classroom setting. Whatever the reason, BFPP offers support and guidance during the homeschooling process.
Catering to Community Needs
Dr. Kate Baehr, formerly principal of Larrabee Elementary, began developing the program seven years ago. She and a committee began by visiting family partnership programs across Washington state, gleaning information about what made them successful. She noticed an emphasis on matching the program to the community’s specific needs, which is why the BFPP held, and still holds, surveys and information nights to determine what area families are seeking in terms of support. As a result, the program has evolved over the years, changing to meet the needs of local families.
The program is governed by Washington state and is part of the Bellingham school district, but operates under different laws. All teachers hold certifications, and while teachers help develop the learning plan, all lessons and coursework are delivered at home, by the parent.
The program has three core requirements:
- Create a learning plan. Each learning plan is tailored and paced for the individual learner. No two students have the same learning plan, since no two students learn in the same way — not even siblings. The plan covers curriculum, activities, goals, and timelines, and is developed jointly between the parent, child, and teacher.
- Make weekly contact. Although there’s no daily attendance, parents and students make weekly contact with the program either through a phone call, email, or Zoom. Since the pandemic, these meetings have often focused on social-emotional support.
- Hold a monthly review. Each month, students, parents, and teachers discuss the student’s progress. Families might review what books the student read and what concepts they covered in core subjects like math, science, and language arts.
Homeschooling During COVID-19
Surprisingly little has changed since the pandemic, in terms of BFPP’s mission and operations. Students still learn at home, relying on their learning plan, making weekly contact, and undergoing monthly reviews.
“For the most part, we are doing just what we have been,” says. Dr. Baehr.
One aspect has changed, however: enrollment numbers. During the program’s first spring, it had 16 families, and grew to 60 families the next fall. Last March, when schools went virtual, the partnership expanded to 240 students. Now, the roster hovers above 500 students. Most of these families are from Whatcom County, but around 30% live outside of the Bellingham School District.
“It’s the year of unusual, so why not try something you’re not expecting to try?” says. Dr. Baehr.
While the surge in enrollment is the result of the pandemic, Dr. Baehr expects to retain some of these new families even once restrictions lift.
“I expect some of the families will get a taste of it and stay for a little longer,” she says.
Another difference is that enrichment classes — formerly a setting where kids could learn in a group environment — are now held over Zoom rather than in-person. These enrichment classes, always optional, focus on extracurricular or supplemental skills such as drama or a foreign language.
Other online resources include workshops to support families, such as Homeschool 101, Making Math Manageable, and How to Organize Your Day and Week. There’s also Circles of Care, which focuses on social and emotional wellbeing. The first topic was on hope.
An Opportunity for Lasting Change
“How we approach the current situation really does affect the outcome,” says Dr. Baehr. “I truly believe that there isn’t learning loss with this, that there’s an opportunity to learn different things in different ways.”
She views this moment as an opportunity to amplify the role of families in education, and for school systems to explore how to partner with families in meaningful and authentic ways, including those related to racial and social justice.
“It doesn’t have to be homeschool,” says. Dr. Baehr of the emphasis on family participation in learning. “It feels like magic…it truly does…but everything we do can be done in other schools.”
Although unique, BFPP is not the only alternative learning program in the area. There’s also Mount Baker Academy, Meridian Family Partnership Program (MP3), Lynden Academy, and Home Connections in Blaine. Each one is distinct, with a slightly different delivery model, but they all work together and are reciprocal. 1409 18th St., Bellingham, 360, 676, 6424, bellinghamschools.org
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