When Kelline Webster felt that the Lord was directing her to homeschool her daughter, Brandi, a year ago, she was at first overwhelmed at the prospect.
"I kept feeling like God was telling me to do this, so I felt at peace, but at the same time, I was scared to death," Webster said. "I didn't know that anybody else existed out there (who was homeschooling) or that there was any association. So, I kinda stepped out in faith not knowing anyone."
Webster said that she began searching the Internet for help, and found the Web site for the Citrus Christian Home Educators Association, which provided the information she was seeking.
"I came across the Web site and I thought, "No way, not right in Citrus County.' Finding CCHEA meant everything to us. They have done so many things for us, and they gave us such unbelievable support."
Webster said that CCHEA helped her learn about the homeschooling laws for Florida and helped with curriculum and materials. They offered a variety of classes and extra curricular activities.
CCHEA was formed in 1993 by a handful of Christian homeschooling families for the purpose of offering support to Christians who were schooling their children at home. While there are other support groups in Citrus County, CCHEA currently has more than 100 members from the 500-plus homeschoolers registered here.
Angie Rushton has schooled her two daughters at home for the past four years. She is on the steering committee of CCHEA and handles its public relations.
"Our mission statement lets people know what we're all about," said Rushton. "Part of it reads: "CCHEA members seek to offer support and encouragement to each other and pray for the needs of new and experienced homeschooling parents. We support the spiritual and academic excellence of our children by striving to provide a variety of educational and social activities.'
"We want our children to have a good education," she said, "to have a good Bible understanding, and a variety of educational and social activities. The needs of new homeschoolers are very huge, and it's overwhelming with all the information that's out there.
"The first year is so crucial and sometimes even the second. They need somebody to tell them, "Yeah, I've experienced that and maybe here's something you could do,' or "Here's some resources you can use.' We're great at lending each other books or ideas or help."
One of the events that CCHEA is sponsoring is an "Introduction to Homeschooling Seminar" at 6:30 p.m. on July 31 at the Central Ridge Library's Community Room in Beverly Hills. The seminar is open to anyone interested in homeschooling regardless of their religious affiliation.
At the seminar, CCHEA members will go over the Florida Parent Educator Association's "Guide to Homeschooling" to explain the following topics: The Florida Law, Methods of Homeschooling, Homeschooling through High School, and Support Groups. This will be followed by a question and answer session, and those attending will receive a copy of the FPEA guide.
Joan Lozier homeschools her three children and said that when her family moved to Citrus County from Canada three years ago, she was happy to learn about CCHEA.
"This is our 10th year, so we were seven years into it when we came here," said Lozier. "We were moved in just a few days and Steve Hasel came with a CCHEA newsletter and welcomed us. We went, and I was able to find out what the regulations and requirements are here and what my options were as far as evaluation or testing, so that we could do what was legally right and find people who knew the ropes already that could show us. I also wanted my children to have friends in their new community. If we did half of what CCHEA offered, it would be too much for our family. There's so much out there."
One of the classes that CCHEA offers is sign language. Ellen Thelen was particularly happy about this class.
"I homeschool my two daughters," said Thelen, "and my older daughter, Kelly (16), wants to be an interpreter for the deaf. She teaches the beginning and intermediate sign language class. Her mentor has been Tanya Peaster who's been teaching the advanced classes."
Thelen said her daughter has also been taking "dual enrollment" classes at Central Florida Community College, which enables her to receive college credit for classes taken there while she is still completing her high school classes at home. Both of her daughters take music classes at the public school.
CCHEA has offered a variety of classes including sign, drama, music, sewing, cooking, and even gun classes. They take field trips as a group, which permits them to receiving group discounts, and they sponsor year-end programs where parents talk about their children's accomplishments and children demonstrate their achievements. Throughout the year, the children participate in talent shows, plays and banquets as well as in many public school activities such as Math Field Day and the science fair.
Membership in CCHEA costs $30 a year and members are asked to sign a statement of faith.
According to the CCHEA brochure: Small "cell groups" are formed for the purpose of providing fellowship, encouragement, and support to families on a more intimate level than the large group is able to provide. Small groups may form for a variety of different reasons and purposes such as proximity (same neighborhood, same church, same town), ages of children, Bible study, 4-H group, play group, topical study group, mother's group, or common curriculum.
There is no reason, say the homeschool moms, that anyone should have to try to take on the task of homeschooling alone.
"Right at the beginning," said Webster, "I felt I could do this on my own, but I found out that I do need other people. I was willing to give up at one time, and I didn't have to do that because CCHEA gave me the support I needed. They give you the feeling that you're one big family."
Benefits of CCHEA membership
Monthly support meetings
Monthly newsletter & CCHEA Web site access
Group discount into FPEA (Florida Parent Educators Association) and Home School Legal Defense Association
Mentoring and guidance from experienced home educators
Variety of classes, activities, field trips, and special events
Promotion, awards and year-end ceremonies
Legislative support from the Home Education Foundation (state lobbyist)
Information concerning year-end testing sites, and certified evaluators
A sense of belonging, knowing you are not alone in homeschooling
The Citrus Christian Home Educators offers information and support for the area's faith-based homeschoolers.