Photo Caption: Group members on the Ferndale Family Connections Southwest U.S. Exploration Trip
Student driven, family directed, district and community supported. The mission of the Ferndale School District's Ferndale Family Connections program has been evident as the homeschool partnership approaches the completion of its first full year during the 2018-19 school year.
Following the establishment of a design team in November 2017 and a successful six-week pilot session during Spring 2018, the alternative learning experience (ALE) program was fully implemented for the 2018-19 school year. With a flexible and family-oriented focus, Ferndale Family Connections offers supplemental education courses for core subjects as well as electives to partner with homeschooling families. Classes are held at the district’s North Bellingham Learning Center campus.
Program Overview: Flexible, Family-Oriented, Community-Focused
"We are a program for homeschooling families," said Melissa Engels, 2018-19 Ferndale Family Connections program director. "If you are committed to homeschooling and want to come to us to pick a few classes to go along with home-based instruction, we are the program for you."
Ferndale Family Connections is a three-days-per-week program, with classes held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Classes are each an hour long and held once, twice or three times a week. Engels noted flexibility as a key feature of the program as the homeschool partnership works with families regarding the schedule and other program events by gathering feedback frequently.
"We are not a traditional comprehensive school, and we do not design the classes that parents and guardians teach at home," Engels said. "The classes we offer on campus depend on our teachers’ certification and areas of expertise, the enrollment of students and the age of those enrolled. We work to offer classes families would like to the greatest extent possible."
For classes offered at North Bellingham, Ferndale Family Connections staff work with families to establish written learning plans (WSLPs), which are one of the state’s requirements for ALE programs. Staff also meet with families each month. This begins with a meeting before enrollment starts and continues with monthly meetings during the school year.
This year, Ferndale Family Connections teachers Fred Moormeier (elementary focus) and Evan Ritchie (secondary focus) have been the two primary instructors. Classes taught during the past year have included social studies, Japanese, math, science, Lego Robotics, Game Design and physical education options such as biking and archery. A community volunteer also partners with school staff to offer a ceramics class as an art option.
Community is also an important value to the program. An emphasis is placed on building community among students and families, and serving the community through service projects. One class offered is a service class, which has included a project to clear trails on the North Bellingham campus.
"We work hard to focus on the people who are here, doing things to build community such as field trips and family fun nights," Engels said.
During class instruction, there are opportunities for families to volunteer with classes as well as a room available on the campus for families if they choose to stay at North Bellingham while students are in class. Families often help other families by watching young children so a parent or guardian can observe or assist a class. Doing so has helped to create a family atmosphere in which even young siblings not yet a part of the classes are still part of the community.
For families such as the Park family, Ferndale Family Connections courses and community have served well to complement the family's own homeschooling. Adriele Park currently has four children in the program.
"When the pilot program was starting up last spring, we got the flyer and one of my daughters asked if we could try the program," Park said. "The kids really enjoyed it. We did the ceramics class last year and they loved being a part of that."
Through Ferndale Family Connections, the Park family has found community, flexibility and convenience.
"My kids wanted to interact with other kids; it didn't so much matter the class subject," Park said. "For us, the location and flexibility are great. We love the teachers and staff."
Also of value to the Parks is the opportunity to take classes that might not otherwise have been possible to offer within their own homeschooling.
"They're doing classes such as Lego robotics, ceramics – classes and experiences that are more difficult to do at home," Park said of her children’s classes. "We also enjoy the community of people and connecting with other homeschooling families."
The Park family was among those that participated in a Southwest Exploration trip this spring, led by Mr. Ritchie, which took students to the Southwest U.S. for a week to explore many subjects through an emphasis on experiential learning.
An emphasis on experiential learning in Ferndale Family Connections is evident via monthly field trips. The year has included trips to a pumpkin patch, garden, cheese creamery and a theater art and music show among other trips.
Along with the monthly field trips, the Spring Break Southwest Exploration trip took students to Utah and Colorado. A group of 5th-9th graders learned about geography, architecture, history, religions and pottery among other topics during the weeklong Monday to Sunday trip. Camping, hiking and a trip to Mesa Verde National Park were among the highlights.
"We've done trips before, but going with other kids and seeing it through their eyes was a highlight," said Park, a trip chaperone. “One day, we got to hike to Delicate Arch in Utah and see the sunrise. Usually there are highs and lows in a day, but that particular day one student said there were no lows for him – only highs. The group loved it.”
Students were involved in every step of the planning process for the trip. Once a week for the semester, the group met and chose a topic or area the group would be going to see to study in a class setting. The group planning process also included considerations the trip including distance, fuel, food and water and locations to visit. The hope is to take a similar trip each year.
During the summer months, please direct inquiries about Ferndale Family Connections to Mark Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about Ferndale Family Connections is available on the Ferndale Family Connections web page, including answers to frequently asked questions.