AYER -- What started as a conversation between two homeschooling moms turned into a full-fledged community called Ayer Resources for Kids. Lisa Arrigo of Ayer has been homeschooling her two children, ages 13 and 14, for seven years. The same goes for Laurl Matey of Andover and her two children.
"We met at a homeschool co-op -- there are many flavors of homeschooling styles and we share the same style, so we started sharing resources between each other," said Matey. "We realized that what we were really seeking for our kids was a homeschool community, not a co-op."
"ARK was born out of our interest in developing a family-like, small community feeling," said Arrigo. "The kids have academically challenging work plus socialization." Students at ARK participate in student council, dances, field trips and community-service projects in addition to academics.
According to the National Home Education Research institute, homeschooling may be the fastest growing form of education in the United States, with about 2 million home-educated students in the U.S.
"One thing Laurl and I have in common is that if you are given an assignment, you need to finish it and turn it in," said Arrigo. "These kids are going to enter the working world and need to learn that what they do affects everyone else." Arrigo said ARK gives the students a sense of responsibility while building confidence.
Both Matey and Arrigo stressed that ARK is not a school or a co-op, but rather, a community. ARK is intended for children ages 8 to 16 who are homeschooled as an enrichment opportunity to their education. Parents are required to attend ARK with their students and participate in their education. There is no grading and the students and parents help decide which courses will be offered.
ARK opened its doors in January 2013 for the spring semester with 10 students. Fall registration begins at an open house on April 21 from 4 to 6 p.m. and April 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. Any homeschooled children and parents from any town can become members. The cost is $275 per semester. ARK is a nonprofit organization located in the Peter Pan Center in Ayer, open every Friday.
Some of the areas of study include anatomy, current events, career choices, presentation skills, art history, Africa, drama, and nature/endangered species. ARK is also starting a book club and offers a lending library for its members. For April vacation week, ARK will host a reader's theater workshop with props. ARK's community service initiatives include supporting the Apple Valley Retirement Community in Ayer, with students visiting, reading and playing games with the residents. For St. Patrick's Day, ARK students hand-designed more than 100 Shamrocks for the residents. ARK also has a partnership with Winter Wyman's Northeast Animal Shelter Supply Drive.
Arrigo and Matey suggest that homeschooled students and their parents attend one of ARK's summer programs as a good way to test out if the ARK community is a good fit. The summer programs will occur every other week from June 18 to Aug. 27. The summer programs are not academically based and include improv, murder mystery, spa day, reader's theater, abstract art, Lego challenge, and yarn and fiber art. The school has complete information at arkhomeschool.com and is also on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
The duo also recommends that parents who are considering homeschooling as an educational option check with their local school district first. The requirements for homeschooling vary from district to district.
"This is a great time to do homeschooling because there are so many resources available," said Arrigo. "At ARK, it's both a community of the students and a community of the homeschool parents that blossoms and grows. It's this community we are building that makes us successful."