Cathy Barfield walked into the sanctuary at Community Bible Church in west Lawrence Wednesday, probably thinking it was just another day of working with home-schooled children, doing music and art activities and networking with home-school parents.
Instead, she was showered with cards, songs, hugs and plenty of thanks from the students and families she’s been supporting since she began home-schooling her three children, all of whom are now grown and out of college.
The biggest gift was a scrapbook full of photographs and other reminders of all the time she has spent coordinating The Learning Co-op, a resource and support network for local home-school families.
“Where did you get all these pictures?” she asked, leafing through the scrapbook.
The surprise reception Wednesday was held to thank Barfield for her service and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Learning Co-op, a group of about 15 local home-school families who gather at the church for arts, crafts and other group activities and to share ideas and resources with one another.
Barfield said she joined the home-school movement when her oldest daughter Betsy, now 29, was school age and she went to check out both the public schools and Christian schools in the area.
“They were both good options, but we just felt like by teaching at home, I could share our values and give them the one-on-one attention that they probably wouldn’t get in a group setting,” she said.
Long after her own daughters graduated, and then went on to graduate from college, Barfield has stayed active in helping other Lawrence home-school families through the Learning Co-op.
“This is a once-a-week get-together for families,” she said. “This doesn’t replace what they do at home. It’s just a chance to socialize with other home-schoolers who are like-minded, and to do fun activities you probably wouldn’t do at home."
While there are no reliable statistics about the number of home-schools nationally or in Kansas — where they are classified as “non-accredited private schools” — state officials say they’ve been growing in popularity in recent decades. And that has helped spawn a burgeoning industry for companies that supply home-schoolers with books, curricula and learning material to go along with their studies.
Barfield says that’s one of the biggest changes she’s seen in home-schooling in the 20 years she’s been active.
“I’ve got a catalog of this one company and it’s about this thick,” she said, holding her fingers about three inches apart. “Just stuff that you can order to supplement your home school.”