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Omaha parents band together to form village co-op to teach children
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Omaha parents band together to form village co-op to teach children

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Jorden Brooks reads Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o to Tesla Badger, 4, bottom, Felix Clark, 5, and her son Luka Vanek, 5, at Crystal Badger’s home.

Sofia Jawed-Wessel and her family are dealing with remote learning and setting up a home school hub.

Playwright Beaufield Berry-Fisher put out the idea on Facebook earlier this summer.

Would anyone be interested in teaching their children at home instead of sending them to school?

“I’ve been vocal about wanting to do something like this, some alternative schooling, for the past five years,’’ Berry-Fisher said.

The mother of three had been watching families scrambling for child care and worrying about how to keep up with their children’s education because of the upheaval in the school system due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now is the time to turn to our village for a solution, she said to others in the close-knit parenting group. Who wants to do it?

Beaufield Berry-FIsher

Beaufield Berry-Fisher with children Shine, 5, Oscar, 3, and Georgia Pearl, 7 months. Shine will be attending the co-op and Berry-Fisher will teach every Monday.

“I think because of COVID, we have seen all of the cracks in our education system and the unfairness between districts,’’ Berry-Fisher said. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone to think about child education. To think outside of the box.’’

When Crystal Badger volunteered her home in exchange for child care, the idea took off. Now 10 families with kindergarten-aged children have formed a pod they are calling the village co-op.

School starts at Badger’s house next week with a different parent teacher each day.

After much remote discussion, they’ve come up with a curriculum and a schedule. Committees have been formed to handle things like finances, curriculum, health and safety, food, and protocol and policies.

Badger has been impressed by how it has all come together.

“Usually when I would have a group project, I was the one doing everything,’’ she said. “Everyone has skills and high competency in their skills. It seems like the perfect mix of people. It’s just working really well right now, and I’m really happy.’’

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Tesla Badger, 4, plays at home, which is also the village co-op. Her mom, Crystal Badger, volunteered use of her home in exchange for child care. Mary Ensz created this mural on the basement wall. 

Badger and her husband, Ryan Riskowski, are also relieved. They had been faced with the possibility that they could be paying a hefty school bill as well as day care costs if a COVID-19 outbreak occurred and classes would have to again go remote at Brownell Talbot, where they had planned to return daughter Tesla for preschool.

It was a mess last spring when Riskowski tried to work from home and care for Tesla when Brownell closed early because of the virus, so they were willing to do whatever it took to make the co-op work. Now their dining room has been set up as an art space and their living room for circle time.

That’s OK, Badger said. They’ve still got the kitchen, their bedrooms and a comfy couch in the sun room.

“I think we all really, really, really want it to work,’’ Badger said. “Everybody has a stake in it. We are really motivated.’’

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Jorden Brooks reads Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o to Tesla Badger, 4, bottom, Felix Clark, 5, and her son Luka Vanek, 5, at Crystal Badger's home.

Here’s how it will work:

The lead parent teacher each day will arrive at 8 a.m. and stay until 4 p.m. so that Tesla is cared for until her parents get home. Classes will go from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A monthly $50 contribution will cover food and guest speaker costs.

Each of the teaching parents will take a subject and a day. If they are unable to teach, they’ll contribute in other ways.

Monday is Berry-Fisher’s day. She’s also in charge of curriculum.

School will start with circle time, where she will teach about days, weeks, months and years. The next 90 minutes will focus on ABCs and numbers.

Following an hour for lunch and free play, they’ll finish the day with a focus on the teacher’s specialty.

For Berry-Fisher, that may be song, dance and theater.

The Tuesday teacher is an artist, so that will be the focus in the final hour. Wednesday is Spanish, Thursday is cooking, and on Friday they hope to bring in speakers.

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Teaching areas have been set up in the home.

They’ve chosen a curriculum called Blossom & Root, which puts an emphasis on nature and creativity. It was important to everyone that the children read books with a wide representation of characters, too.

“For the first six-week unit, we are doing ‘all about me,’ discovering about bodies and anatomy,’’ Berry-Fisher said. “We’re doing bugs, dinosaurs, rocks, and flora and fauna.’’

Both mothers agree the idea has worked well so far because they all share the same value system.

It’s important to know that no one is in this pandemic alone, Berry-Fisher said. With this plan, children can get a quality education, she said, with an amazing price tag that almost anyone can afford.

While Badger says it’s a life- saver for her, it’s helping out everyone in the group.

“I don’t have the patience in my soul to home-school my child five days a week, nor can I give him everything he needs,’’ Berry-Fisher said. “That’s why it’s important we can all come together this way.’’

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Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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