Skip To Main Content

Ferndale Family Partnership: An Effective School Alternative for Local Kids

The Ferndale Family Partnership classrooms were buzzing one November morning as students prepared for their upcoming stage production of Treasure Island. 

In one room, students were hard at work on cardboard sets and props: a pirate ship complete with sails and a steer, cardboard signs for locations, and so on. A couple students paused their project for a pirate sword fight with their hunks of cardboard, shouting “en garde!” and “shiver me timbers!” In the classroom next door, students practiced their lines with FFP Coordinator Amy Neverdahl, working through the giggles as they read their scripts.

The students snapped into focus when FFP Co-Coordinator Sulamita Derkach asked students to tidy up the space and get ready for P.E. Students briskly moved their cardboard projects to the side, grabbed their water bottles, and lined up to go to the gym. 

This is just one fun in-person day among many for Ferndale Family Partnership’s students. These optional weekly enrichment days are a lively, friendly version of school for these students, who primarily learn at home with their families. 

“I think what’s really cool is that these kids have a place that’s safe and comfortable and where they belong,” Neverdahl said. “They’re not afraid to come in, there’s not the anxiety that a lot of them had experienced (in a traditional school setting).” 

Ferndale Family Partnership began during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some families realized their students were thriving without having to attend in-person traditional school every day, Neverdahl said. Students in the K-8 program learn their core curriculum at home, but there are also optional weekly enrichment days at North Bellingham Learning Center, where the focus is more on group activities and socializing. 

“Group interaction is really important for these kids, so we made that a goal to make sure they’re growing along with their peers,” said Derkach.

Unlike many homeschool programs, at-home curriculum for students in Ferndale Family Partnership is completely funded by Ferndale School District. And many decisions, from the themes of the science experiments during in-person days, or the curriculum available at home, are made with family input. 

“One of the coolest things is the feedback from families,” said Neverdahl. “They say, ‘Thank you for listening and being accommodating.’” 

Today, there are about 40 students in the program, many of whom participate in the in-person enrichment days. These students thrive in this alternative learning setting, and some have come out of their shell socially, Neverdahl said. 

“It’s absolutely surprising – there are kids that were super nervous before they came, and now they’re volunteering to be a lead role in the play,” she said. “It’s like, you didn’t speak when we met first! It gives me goosebumps.” 

Many students in the program said they love FFP’s balance between in-person activities and at-home school. 

“I like that I get to come on Thursdays and hang out with friends, and then I get to do school work with my mom and little brother,” said sixth grader Phynix Jensen. 

“In just homeschool, you stay at home or you go somewhere and get ‘part-time friends’ … you see them once, and then see them again two months later,” said fifth grader Bryson Snow. “Here, we actually get to meet other kids.”