Friday, April 4, 2014

Foundations to Challenge - Bridging the Gap - Meet the Director Series #4

If you have been following along on this series with me, then you know that we have now met three Directors for Classical Conversations®, all in different stages and places with their journey as Directors. We've spoken with Andrea - Challenge B Director  who shared some terrific insights for how Foundations memory work ties into the Challenge levels, Michelle - Challenge A Director shared an inspiring glimpse into all the many hats she has worn in her journey with Classical Conversations® over the years and Christina - Challenge II Director shared some inspiring joys and a candid look at the time involved in being a Director.  

Today we are going to change things up a bit!  This next interview is with a Tutor instead of a Director.  What is unique about this Tutor, is that she went from a Classical Conversation's® rich area with many Communities to choose from nearby, to a starved area where there wasn't a Classical Conversations® to be found!  She then prayerfully helped start up the first Community there and she shares her journey with us today; from Mom in the back of the room watching, to Community start-up leader and now Tutor, back in a Community rich environment here in Cary, North Carolina again!  I hope you are inspired by her story today and consider starting a Community yourself, if you are reading from an area that doesn't have one near you!

Tell us about yourself, your background and your family?

My husband Eric and I have been married 20 years and we have 4 sons. Luke is 13 and is in Challenge A. Kyle, Jackson, and Zachary are 11, 8, and 5, respectively, and are all in Foundations. In my former, pre-mommy life I majored in Molecular Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina and did post-doctoral work in Neurotoxicology with the EPA in RTP.

Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with Classical Conversations® with your children to start with and your journey so far, with CC.

I decided to homeschool Luke when he was 5. He was already reading and far above traditional pre-K and kindergarten level work, so I could not imagine sending him off every day to not learn anything academically in a traditional school. I also think my educational background gave me the self-confidence to proceed.  Even though my background was not in education, my natural attitude was, “If I can get a PhD in Molecular Biology surely I can figure out this phonics program!” Once that decision was made I immediately began looking for a co-op so he could be “socialized.” I had to decide between a traditional co-op that met at my church and was filled with familiar faces, and an odd one called Classical Conversations® that chanted facts and was filled with strangers. I was greatly influenced by my dear friend, Amanda Chambers, and remember having a long conversation with her as she tried to explain to her very na├»ve friend the classical model.  My sister also attended a Classical Conversations® in Greenville, SC and she encouraged me to give Classical Conversations® in Cary a try. I remember her telling me she never would have known what her children were capable of memorizing without Classical Conversations®. After praying for weeks we stepped out of our comfort zone and signed up in the Cary Community. That was 8 years ago.

My journey with Classical Conversations® has a Chapter 2. In 2010 we suddenly had to move to Florence, SC. I remember the day I googled this small town and found out there was no Community there. I was so depressed! I had envisioned the boys and myself plugging into a Classical Conversations® Community group and making friends quickly without skipping an educational beat.  But that was not God's plan. The boys and I did Classical Conversations® alone for 2 years at home. Then I met another classically minded homeschool mom in Florence. She had never been in a Classical Conversations® Community but had heard great things about it and wanted that opportunity for her kids. After we met, things moved fast and in fall of 2012, the first Classical Conversations® Community began in Florence. The boys and I were only a part of that group for one semester before God moved us back to North Carolina. I rejoined the Cary Community and stepped into full time tutoring after only 2 weeks.  That journey God took me on, really allowed me to see the value in being a part of a Classical Conversations® Community!

Since you have both Foundations and Challenge level kids in your family, what do you see that applies from the memory work in Foundations, to your Challenge kids classes?

There are many specific examples of how the Foundations memory work has made Luke's Challenge A work easier. For instance, the Latin in Challenge A is difficult but since he has been drilling Latin for so many years through Foundations and taken elementary Latin at home, Latin has been one of his easiest subjects this year. More specifically, last week when Luke and I were working a tough algebra problem together, we discussed how the distributive law applied in the middle of it. In the next problem we were using the equations for the circumference of a circle and area of a square to solve a complicated surface area problem. Also the novels read in Challenge A cover many different time periods in history but this is not confusing for him, because he has two complete timelines in his head (thanks to being in Classical Conversations® prior to the timeline change) along with at least one history sentence for each book's time period. These types of examples are the norm. However, I think the greatest contribution Foundations has made to upper level schooling, has been how it has trained him to memorize effortlessly. The beauty of this as applied to Challenge A is that he has had easy success in subjects like Geography and Science, which are filled with facts to be memorized. This frees up his mind and time to focus on the new dialectic opportunities, rich literature discussions,  papers, and apologetics. If memorization was challenging for him I do not believe he would be able to mature as much in his dialectic skills.

In what ways and roles have you stepped up to help in your local Classical Conversations® Communities over the years and why?

In my first few years, I was very tentative and only volunteered when asked to help. In my third year, I stepped up as preschool director and kept that position until we moved away. Since moving back I have been a Journeyman and Masters tutor.

The reason I began tutoring was because I had been doing Classical Conversations® alone with my boys for two years in South Carolina and was willing to do whatever it took to get a Community started in Florence. As it turned out, what they needed most was someone with Classical Conversation's® experience, to lead the new tutors. I really did not believe I had the creativity it took to be the type of tutor my kids had in my previous Cary Community, but once I started I fell in love with the job!

What does Challenge look like at home for you with your Foundations children?  How do you juggle multiple levels in your home– can you give a snap shot of your school day?

My style has always been to get my boys reading as early as possible so they can be independent as early as possible. They are expected to read their own lessons and do most assignments on their own by the time they are in third grade. I create a printed schedule for each child that includes all their work for each subject every day, so no one has to ask me what they need to do when school begins. This was unintentionally great preparation for Luke in Challenge A, since the kids are expected to follow the Challenge A guide during the week. Much of my mornings are spent with my youngest, since he still needs me by his side reading and working on math and writing together. When I am not working with him, I float around as needed, grading the older boys' work and answering their questions.  By late afternoon when the younger boys have finished, Luke and I have more time to discuss his Challenge work in-depth.

One way I love to incorporate Foundations memory work into our daily routine is to give each child time alone in their room to listen to their memory work on cd. I custom burn each child their own cd so whatever they are weak in, can be repeated on the cd and they don't get bored with facts they know solidly. I have even added other things to their cds that they need to memorize like Bible verses, phonograms and phone numbers. It is a very productive way for me to keep the little ones occupied, while freeing up my time for older kids.

What are the key things you think prevent parents from feeling equipped to step up to serve as Tutors or Directors in their Communities?

First of all I think there is a time in the classical homeschooling journey where, by grace, the older women in the journey should step up and nurture those moms just starting the process. I am so thankful for the women who modeled Christ-like homeschooling to me and graciously let me sit in the back of the room and watch my little boys chant and march and clap their way to being Memory Masters. Those moms were heaping gifts upon my boys and me. The gift of service, the gift of knowledge, and the gift of love. But there came a time when God clearly told me to use those gifts given to me to bless others. It was time to get off the chair in the back of the room! Consider the words of God in 1 Peter 4:3 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” I do not believe in waiting until I feel fully equipped. If I feel completely ready in my own flesh God will not be glorified. Consider our Lord's words a few verses later in 1 Peter 4:11, “...If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” And so with the blessings I began receiving 8 years ago, I am moving forward in faith, believing God can move through me to pass on those blessings to other moms just beginning the journey. Hopefully if those moms are blessed through their participation in Classical Conversations® they will decide to faithfully share those blessings with newer moms, knowing that the equipping comes after the first step  of obedience.

What is one “myth” about being a Tutor you can debunk for us today?

It does not take a long time to prepare at home.  Now that I am in the routine of preparing for it, it only takes me about 30 min per week. It is also self-serving because it has made me a better teacher to my own kids. I know the material so much better myself which means I can confidently weave connections between our memory work and all the school work we do at home.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Dana! Your words are so encouraging, especially to those who may be on the edge about whether to tutor or not.

    1. Dana is an encouragement to our Community. Thank you for stopping by!

  2. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, Dana! You have a great story. I especially connected with your reference to 1 Peter 4:11 and relying on God's strength as we serve in our capacities as homeschool moms or CC tutors...or whatever God calls us to, in order to get us out of our comfort zones! ~Laura

  3. Thanks for the look into your CC experience, Dana!