Lord, we are seeing the emergence of a homeschooling community that is mature, committed, and influential. We are thankful that today, the homeschooling community enjoys more freedom, more support and more respect than ever before.
NJHSA: A Blessed History 1986 - ?
Imagine a time when there were no curriculum fairs, no Teaching Home magazine, no Home School Legal Defense Association! When “homeschooling” was a word to be whispered. This was the climate in which six north Jersey families found themselves, in February of 1986.
“...They prayed for more homeschoolers.”
It all began when they individually attended a Raymond Moore seminar, and were grouped geographically. What a thrill to discover other homeschoolers living nearby - and rumor had it there were another nine homeschooling families out there somewhere! These six families began meeting around the kitchen table of the Marchetti household, thankful for the fellowship and support. And they prayed for more homeschoolers. Although it was only 1986, these early home educators were truly pioneers blazing new paths. The only laws on the books concerning home education in New Jersey were written in the 1960's in the Massa case. And in Alabama, a homeschooling family was recently embroiled in a case in which the parents were arrested, and their children whisked off to Tennessee for protection. Homeschoolers everywhere were wondering, “Will the authorities be at our doorstep next?” In this precarious climate, the only support available to NJHSA’s first families were a few “experts'', including Nancy Plente of the Unschoolers Network, who encouraged them that there would be longevity in this movement: homeschooling was here to stay!
“Homeschooling was here to stay!”
Even so, home educators had a difficult time finding resources and curricula. Marge Marchetti reports having explored William Paterson’s resource library, and inquired at Christian college libraries, with little success. No one was publishing materials for the homeschool. ABeka didn’t want anything to do with home educators at that time! One of the only resources, published in 1986, was Mary Pride’s Big Book of Home Learning. Her reviews of “Everything Educational for You and Your Children” fit into this one-inch volume. These early homeschoolers, together with growing numbers all over the country, were laboriously and effectively prying open what is literally a wellspring of resources for homeschoolers today. Though the original group of families kept low key, they were soon joined by another group, bringing their number to about 12 families. To those who had been teaching their children in isolation, it became clear that the support and encouragement they received from their association with one another was invaluable, and the North Jersey Home Schoolers Association was born.
Besides their “couples’ meetings” they began to hold monthly field trips and a simple end-of-year closing program which included food, fellowship and certificates for the children. A newsletter, written by various members, was sent out with news and announcements. The members continued to pray for God’s guidance and blessing on NJHSA.
“Okay! We can stop praying for more homeschoolers now!”
Growth came in waves, with groups of families joining NJHSA in overwhelming numbers, “which seemed to double every time we turned around”, Marge remembers. “We decided: Okay! We can stop praying for more homeschoolers now!” Each new wave of growth brought changes to the organization. With 50 - 60 families, the loosely coordinated group needed more cohesiveness, and that was largely provided through the Newsletter, which was started by Bob and Margie Reith in 1989. Through that publication, the members felt more connected, with their common goals clarified. To keep up with the growing administrative demands, a five-member Steering Committee was formed, among whom tasks were to be delegated, and decisions for the group’s direction made. An Opening Day Picnic, a Science Fair and Curriculum Night were added to NJHSA’s yearly calendar of events. A Questionnaire was sent to all members soliciting help in different areas.
Based on the response, in 1990 the Steering Committee was enlarged to include nine members. Carla Abrams accepted the role of Chairperson. The NJHSA Handbook was produced. Added to the list of NJHSA offerings were the New Members’ Dinner, the Children’s Newsletter, the Hotline, a Counseling Service, a Phone Chain and a Youth Group. The following year would see the first annual Fine Arts Festival, and the Closing Program blossomed into a musical performance, under Beth Prins’ guidance. The Lord was bringing - and continues to bring - many gifted and talented people to NJHSA to enrich the group. At this time, we were about 100 families strong.
The rapid growth of homeschooling here in northern New Jersey was of course only a slice of what was happening all over the country. Support groups were springing up nationwide. Publishers finally accepted the fact that homeschooling was here to stay, and the homeschooling market mushroomed. Mary Pride’s one Big Book of Home Learning of 1986 exploded into two, then four volumes in 1991, with the editor fairly gasping for breath as she tried to keep up with it all! Many organizations were formed to offer homeschoolers legal help, support, consulting, research, testing and networking.
Good - but scary - changes were on the horizon . . .
NJHSA was now 10 years old. As with all 10-year-olds, with adolescence right around the corner, growing pains were beginning to be felt. Good - but scary - changes were on the horizon. By 1995, with NJHSA’s membership in the 200's, it became clear that the organization had outgrown its original structure: no longer could a Steering Committee of homeschooling mothers handle the increasing demands of leading and serving such a large number of families - and simultaneously homeschool their own children! Serious thought was given to restructuring. The Committee, together with their husbands, attended meetings and workshops to learn what solutions other growing organizations were finding. The ensuing two-year period was filled with meetings, debate, planning and prayer. The goal was to accept and deal with the fact that NJHSA was now a “large support group,” and yet maintain a cohesiveness and a level of intimacy which was particularly important to new homeschooling families.
By 1997, the leaders who had long grappled with the vision of restructuring held a meeting to announce: NJHSA was about to be a Grandmother! No longer would she be “mother” to 200+ families. She would be giving birth to a number of smaller, local support groups, which would then “mother” smaller numbers of homeschooling families. These local groups, each with its own leadership team, would manage and meet families’ needs on a more local, intimate level. By September, NJHSA was ready to operate with its new structure in place. In answer to prayer, the Lord provided a solid, capable and godly executive Board, headed by Rev. Dan Bratt, to oversee the newly formed organization. With the blessing of the Board from the “Grandmother Ship”, ten local support groups were launched out on the Sea of Leadership and Support. A bit wobbly at first, they learned how to keep afloat while casting their nets, gathering in new families, training new leaders, organizing their own support meetings, group classes, field trips and special events. Some of those “small” groups quickly grew to include nearly 50 homeschooling families!
... the kitchen table finally regained its place of honor.
As a result of the new structure, many capable leaders emerged, many gifted and talented mothers and fathers found a place to actively serve one another, and strengthen their local homeschooling communities. Members were finally finding the fellowship and support they needed - without having to drive to a “central” location 25 miles away from home! And the “Kitchen Table” finally regained its place of honor. Though operating independently to “mother” homeschooling families in their own communities, the local groups were also given the responsibility of strengthening and being actively involved at the “grandmother” level of NJHSA. NJHSA would maintain its unity, identity and focus through the Board: an Executive Board made up of a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer, and also a Representative from each Local Support Group (LSG). Meeting regularly around the board table located at Franklin Lakes Reformed Bible Church, this large group of servant-leaders helped stop the “leaks” and work out the “kinks'' of NJHSA’s new beginning. Just as NJHSA began to experience “smooth sailing” with its new structure, another issue finally needed to be dealt with: Who IS NJHSA - legally speaking? WE knew who we were - looking back on a rich and exciting history, thankful for all we’d accomplished together, anticipating many more years of homeschooling leadership and support.
We’d long seen ourselves as “a bunch of moms with babies on our knees, eating brownies together”, but we had also earned the nicknames “A Group of People Who Write Checks to One Another”, and “A Group of Families that Rent Out Large Buildings”. Our many activities and enterprises increasingly required funds to be collected and disbursed, and this demanded financial integrity. We also needed larger and larger facilities to house our special events, and this inevitably brought up insurance questions. How should NJHSA responsibly deal with these issues brought about by her phenomenal growth and vitality? Another major change now became the subject of much investigation, prayer and debate: incorporation. Through the hard work of several committees, it was decided that NJHSA would benefit from incorporating, and corporate documents were drawn up, as well as a Constitution and By-laws. On July 8th, 1999, NJHSA officially became the North Jersey Home schoolers Association, Incorporated.
...Homeschooling is not just an educational phenomenon, but a spiritual one.
It is the dawn of a new millennium - an exciting, awe-inspiring, prayer-inspiring time for everyone. We are convinced that homeschooling is not just an educational phenomenon, but a spiritual one. It is clear that God has been at work in the hearts of tens of thousands of American parents, drawing them to a closer, more committed walk with Him. As Christian families in our declining culture determine to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord, we are seeing the emergence of a homeschooling community that is mature, committed, and influential. We are thankful that today, the homeschooling community enjoys more freedom, more support and more respect than ever before. Having received many blessings from God, and having undergone many changes, NJHSA, Inc. remains a group of families supporting and encouraging one another in home education. Through answered prayer and the leading of God, we now stand ready to face the challenges of the future, together, with all of our confidence in the God Who brought us “safe thus far.” No doubt we will continue to adapt to the group’s growth and changing needs. Our simple goal, however, remains the same as it was back in 1986, around a humble kitchen table: to provide a way for homeschoolers to meet, share ideas and learning experiences, and support one another, all in a way that brings glory to God.