When my oldest was five years old and about to start kindergarten, the thought of sending my small daughter to school all day long made my stomach turn. In the tiny town we lived in at the time, there were no half-day kindergarten options, no charter schools, and no homeschool groups. My husband and I contemplated homeschooling our daughter for kindergarten full-time. But we wanted her to have the valuable life skills she would experience in traditional school–like how to learn in a group and get along with others.
When the time came, I just wasn’t comfortable enrolling her in our town’s kindergarten learning center.
I met with the school principal and was granted an exception so my daughter could attend kindergarten half day. I remember leaving that meeting with the principal feeling like I had conquered the world because I had successfully advocated for my child’s educational needs. We found a solution that would benefit her both academically and socially.
My daughter’s kindergarten year was wonderful. She had a phenomenal teacher and made great friends and even better memories. Because she spent much of her day at home with me, the half-day kindergarten option helped me become an active participant in her education. We had time to dive deeper into her personal interests and progress through lessons at her own pace. This experience became the ideal in my mind: a blend of traditional school and homeschool.
After moving to Albuquerque in 2015, we were thrilled to find the APS Family School Programs. Family School is a public Kindergarten through 8th grade school community based on this very model. There are two locations in Albuquerque, Desert Willow Family School on the east side and Coyote Willow Family School on the west side.
Over the years with all of our children, we have tried full-time homeschooling, regular public school, and charter schools. While all have their merits, none fit the needs and desires of our family’s educational goals as well as Family School.
Here are the main reasons why a part-time homeschool model best fits our family’s values:
After my oldest’s kindergarten year, our family moved to Albuquerque. When I researched homeschooling options, I found Family School. The very first thing that piqued my interest was the schedule.
My children attend school in person four days a week for 3.5 to 4.5 hours a day. After their morning classes, we eat lunch together as a family. Then they share with me both the academic and social highlights of their morning. Afternoons are spent doing homeschool work interspersed with movement breaks and snacks as needed.
When their homeschool work is finished, they have time for extracurriculars like church activities, sports, and music. We are able to avoid some of the stress associated with a tight schedule.
Most importantly, kids have time to be kids. Some days are busier than others, but most days, my kids ride their bikes around the neighborhood, bounce on the trampoline, play in the backyard, or walk our dog. They typically finish their homeschool work in the afternoon. In the evenings, they have time to relax and unwind by doing art or craft projects, watching TV, reading for pleasure, or playing games.
If the hours are what originally caught my eye about Family School, the environment is why we stay. All classrooms are small in size and multi-grade. The multi-grade model has so many benefits. Students are able to learn at their own level, unbound by what grade they are currently in. Younger students are exposed to advanced concepts early and older students naturally emerge as leaders in a multi-age setting.
The entire school is small and intimate, and the teachers and administrators love what they do. The staff know my children’s learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. Every child is considered an individual learner, so lessons and homework are differentiated in the classroom based on what each student is ready to learn next. The teachers recognize that together we are partners in teaching our children. They provide support for the parents so we can best guide our learners at home. I am invited to advocate for my child’s education through regular meetings with the classroom community and teacher.
Since the school serves kindergarten through 8th grade, my daughter didn’t have to switch schools for middle school. While other middle school students are starting to focus on what kids wear, the latest trends, or who the “cool” kid is, our eighth grader hasn’t encountered those less healthy social obsessions. Because of the school model, small classrooms, and teachers who know every student well, we have found Family School to be free of the gossip, politics, comparisons, and stereotypes typically associated with middle school.
The environment is also profoundly affected by the families that attend. The model of the school/curriculum attracts families that prioritize their children’s education and value time spent with their children. Family School students are nourished at home and come to school ready to learn. Parental involvement isn’t just encouraged–it is required.
I won’t be able to fully explain the curriculum in this post because there is simply too much. The unique evidence-based curriculum at Family School fosters the ability to think critically and independently. Students practice critical thinking skills daily in each area of learning: math, writing, science, social studies, art, performing arts, language, and research skills.
Each performance exam or test is only passed when the student proves proficiency of 85% or higher. This means content is truly learned and absorbed before moving on to the next level. I have seen my kids master concepts and truly understand what is being taught. Then they excitedly move on to the next challenge all at their own individualized pace.
I also love the emphasis on working in groups in the classroom. Students are expected to work independent of constant instruction from their teacher to complete projects collaboratively. There is a thread of ownership in everything that is learned.
The homeschool work that my children complete in the afternoons is typically a combination of homework, progress on larger long-term projects for school, and opportunities for my children to pursue their individual academic interests. I am available to guide them, provide additional lessons if needed, and review their work to address any misconceptions they have as they arise.
It is a time-intensive calling for both student and parent, but the rewards are tremendous. My oldest will graduate from Family School this spring, and I can attribute so much of her confidence in school and ownership of her own learning to our experience here at Family School.
Although the Family School program is not going to be the best fit for everyone, it has provided our children with an ideal blend of social interaction, individualized attention, and opportunities to explore areas of personal interest. Family School has helped my children grow in so many ways. They’ve developed the ability to work through problems, master concepts fully, and most importantly, keep trying until they succeed.
I know they are being cheered on every step of the way both at Family School and at home.
Desert Willow Family School and Coyote Willow Family School are tuition-free APS Schools of Choice serving kindergarten through 8th-grade students in multi-grade classrooms with small student to teacher ratios. The unique learning model of the Family Schools combines part-time classroom instruction with part-time homeschooling, with options for 50% or 80% in-school time. The schools’ unique curriculum, project-based learning models, and emphasis on critical thinking skills contribute to the high NM-MSSA standardized test scores achieved by students at both schools.
Now accepting applications for lottery admissions at both campuses, Desert Willow Family School on the east side and Coyote Willow Family School on the west side. Interested families are welcome to attend upcoming open houses.
Desert Willow (east side) Open House: 1/31 and 2/22
Coyote Willow (west side) Open House: 1/17, 1/24 and 1/31
Meet Our Guest Writer: Hi, I’m Katie Morgan, a Family School and homeschool parent. We have lived in Albuquerque for eight years. My husband and I have five beautiful children with whom we love to adventure whenever we can. I love old, classic books, cooking and eating, and a good math proof.