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Friday Feature: Learn Beyond The Book

Colleen Hroncich

“I feel like I fell into my mission in life without really knowing that I was going to be doing it. I don’t ever think of it as work,” says Elmarie Hyman, creator of Learn Beyond The Book, a homeschool and hybrid school resource center in California.

Elmarie grew up in South Africa, where she says schools were very militaristic with strict teachers. “It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I even knew that there was such a thing as homeschooling,” she recalls. Then she met some friends who were homeschooling, and she noticed their children seemed really happy, engaged, and excited about learning. Her children were young at the time, but she knew she wanted to eventually homeschool them.

“I have four kids. The older two would do school while the younger two were taking naps and were occupied. It was working fine until the younger ones started school,” Elmarie says. Then it was hard and she thought, “We need some help here. We need some friends and some extra teachers.”

They joined a small homeschool co‐​op that kept growing. “Eventually I ended up being the person who made up the schedule every semester. At the same time, I also had a co‐​op in my own house. So we had two co‐​ops going for the two different age groups. And it was a busy life because I was driving all around the town,” she says. So they decided to find a place where they could all meet at the same time and save a lot of driving.

At first, Learn Beyond The Book started in just two rooms of a church in Elmarie’s town. “As it grew, we just kept on renting more and more rooms, getting more and more teachers,” she says. Eventually, they started up a new location in the San Fernando Valley. And this fall, they’re opening a third location. They offer Zoom classes, which started during COVID-19. Depending on location, classes are offered three, four, or five days a week. There’s a lot of flexibility built into it, as Elmarie explains:

Classes are à la carte and parents just pick and choose what they want or need. Like if they don’t really want to teach science, they sign up for science class. But we have all the classes. So we have math and English and science and history. But then we also have cooking and art and theater and music. There’s even the Sword Fighter Society, which teaches historical fencing, so learning about history and then learning fencing techniques.

Learn Beyond The Book’s teachers function like independent contractors although California law requires them to be on payroll. “They tell me when they want to teach and what they want to teach. They have a lot of autonomy over the material, though we obviously talk about it,” says Elmarie.

Around 500 students participate each semester between all of the locations. Elmarie says 80–90 percent of them homeschool through a charter school, which allows them to get funding to pay for educational expenses like Learn Beyond The Book classes. She likens it to education savings accounts that many states have adopted.

“Homeschoolers usually have one income, so it’s really helpful if there’s some assistance because they don’t have a lot of money lying around for extra things. If they didn’t have the charter school, they’d probably sign up for one or two classes. But if they have it, they can sign up for more. So it’s really helpful,” she adds.

Learn Beyond The Book continues to expand. “The latest thing that we’ve started doing is making custom classes for microschools and hybrid schools,” Elmarie explains. “If they don’t have, for example, a coding teacher, we have a great coding teacher so we can make up a class that’s just for them. It can be either just via Zoom, or they could potentially project it on the wall and the teacher could be interacting with students as a group as if he’s there, but he’s just not physically there. And then someone else is in the room to help them keep order.”

According to Elmarie, the community that grew out of Learn Beyond The Book is even more amazing than she ever hoped it would be. While she started it primarily to help her own children and ensure they had a place to make friends, the benefits have grown beyond that. “I just kind of fell in love with education,” she says. “And because we were getting all the casualties from public schools and private schools, I would just see the brokenness of that system. So I’m trying to figure out how we can make this more sustainable.” As part of this effort, she’s gotten involved with the National Microschooling Center and the Kennesaw State University Hybrid Schools Society.

Elmarie wants people who are thinking about homeschooling to know that they can do it. “There are resources that you can employ. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You don’t have to know everything, even if you’re doing it yourself. You can look things up. You can tell your kid, ‘I’m not actually sure,’ and you can learn with them. I loved homeschooling because I learned so much. I feel like I finally got educated. You’ll learn so much while homeschooling your own kids—just for that, it’s worth it. And you’ll have a great time bonding with your kids. And they bond with each other more,” she says. “It pretty much changed my world.”

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