Building Our Airplane While We’re Flying: A History of Our Homeschool-school

By Nicole Engelke

The Charter Feature

Alliance Charter Academy (ACA) is a unique school for equally unique students and staff. It is a K-12 charter school created by parents that were dedicated to their children’s well-being and education. Lara Fabrycki, the founder and former director, principal, and “Queen Bee” of ACA, says, “We needed that choice…a choice for kids who didn’t want to go the regular, normal, traditional route, or needed something different and I knew we had to have that choice…that’s why I did it.” This is a feat replicated by few others.

Before the idea of ACA came about, there was another program which was the inspiration for ACA. This program was called Linkup. Linkup was a program that offered classes similar to those taught at public schools, but with the flexibility of the homeschooling lifestyle. It was run by Becky Taylor and founded by Larry Didway, now the superintendent of the Oregon City School District, until 2005 when state leaders decided to close all “extension” programs, including Linkup.  

Linkup was shut down because, as Jilene Modlin, an ES at ACA, put it in her article, If You Build it, They Will Come, the ruling was that the program was, “not-comprehensive, because we were not tracking immunizations…we did not know if the students receiving support through tax payers dollars were getting a full and complete education. Not comprehensive, not a school, not to receive funding.”

This ruling caused an uproar from parents with children involved in the program. There were hundreds of students enrolled in the program. They knew that the program was greatly beneficial for their children. They also pointed out that the program took some of the strain of being their child’s only teacher off of the parents. Fabrycki was one of those parents. She was determined to create a school that was a mix of public school and homeschooling.

Before Linkup and ACA, parents either had to send their children to a public school or bring their own lives to a halt and be their child’s teacher. The founders of both programs realized that and combined the two worlds to create what we now know as our lovely “homeschool-school,” as many students called it for the first few years.

It was an arduous process to get the school started. According to Fabrycki, the biggest hurdle in the beginning was getting a grant. They needed the grant to purchase all the supplies needed to start a school: textbooks, computers, tables, chairs, science equipment, and a space to rent, among other things. Their first grant application was denied, but their second application was successful and they were awarded $250,000, which was increased later that same year to $275,000, from the Oregon City School District (OCSD).

Following that, they had to find a suitable building. ACA’s first few years were held at the Eastham school building which they shared with another independent schooling program, Cascade Academy. The whole process started in 2005, when Linkup was officially closed, and ended in 2007, when ACA opened, totalling to just over two years from start to finish.

Fabrycki was influenced greatly by many people. One of them was Patty Wills who was starting charter schools in California. Her charters and ideas were appealing to the former Linkup members who were considering the charter school route to get their beloved program back. Fabrycki says that Wills was a huge part in the beginning because she helped with all of ACA’s documentation, nonprofit status, bylaws, and other such paperwork. “She just gave us everything she had used, for her other schools, and she even trained…our first ES’s, and she was just a constant source of information and inspiration.”

Another huge patron in the process was Shelly Smith, fellow local homeschool mom who was eager to contribute in any way she could. “Shelly was amazing,” says Fabrycki, “I’m pretty sure, little did she expect to become such a huge part of it…[but] neither one of us could have done it without the other…it was an amazing partnership.”

For Fabrycki, the most important thing was to know who the school was going to serve and what they wanted. Fabrycki said, “I felt like I knew what people wanted by the time that Linkup closed.” According to Fabrycki, they used the old emailing list from Linkup to get the word out about the new school. Other than that, Lara and the other people working on the project didn’t do any advertising online or around the district.

Although they didn’t advertise much, they still had a large number of students for the first year. Their first year they had 220 students with grades ranging from kindergarteners to seniors who wanted their last year of high school in a traditional high school setting. Now there are 395 students. Fabrycki says, “It was really important to me that I knew everybody walking down the hallway and I made sure I could talk to everybody…[that’s] hard to do with 395 [students]!”

Although the school has welcomed and said farewell to many truly extraordinary staff, some dedicated staff have been there since their days at Eastham and will continue to contribute to the school’s community for many years into the future.

Jill Mohr is a well known and loved ES and an assistant director at ACA, has two sons who attended Linkup before it was shut down. She has been working at ACA since the beginning and has seen its diverse community evolve over the years. “Our students have a wonderful opportunity for personalized learning with a lot of support from staff and family…It feels like a real community that we are a part of.”

Ann Heppner is a science teacher, ES, and special education case handler at ACA since it was located at Eastham. When asked about the advantages and disadvantages for students to learn in the diverse, family-orientated environment that has developed over the years, Heppner says, “The community is a lot tighter…and with having an ES…there’s a stronger connection between the whole family and the school…[which] sorts out a lot of problems.” There are also some downsides to the tight-knit, family-like community as well. Heppner said, “Sometimes I think there are aspects that students might not be ready for, [and] when they go out in the big wide world…there might be things that surprise them.”

Fabrycki has a different view on this. In response to Heppner, Fabrycki said, “Yeah, I don’t agree with that, because…I think that when you get to the real world you can learn about those problems…I believe that all options should be available for education, [and] some kids might get a better education going to work with their parents every day than they do in [a] school.”

Although the staff and students play an important part in helping the school run smoothly, the parents play an immensely important role. They are the ones who had the idea to bring back their program but forever this time. There is always a plethora of parents roaming the halls helping their younger children with homework and talking to teachers, ESs, and other parents. This may seem weird to students at public schools, but this aspect of ACA is what makes the school feel like a second home to many students.

Lexi Crawford is a mother of two and a new ACA parent. Her third grader began in September of 2016. This year both her sons are attending and they love it. “We like it at ACA,” she said, “I feel like they provide a lot of the things that I could not afford to provide on my own.” When asked why she chose ACA over online school, she stated that, “I felt like online school wouldn’t be different enough from public school to meet my son’s needs.”

Other parents feel the same as Crawford. A lot of students at ACA are there because their parents and guardians wanted to have a more flexible class schedule so that their children could go at their own pace while learning.

Cherish DiLoreto, another new ACA parent, enrolled her kids two years ago when her eldest, Danielle, was a senior in high school, and her youngest, Alyssa, was a freshman. When asked about why she chose the charter school over traditional homeschooling, public school, or online school, she said, “We had done regular homeschooling in the past, and loved it…but I knew that, as a teenager, Alyssa would learn best in a classroom setting, with friends and peers to interact with, as well as teachers that weren’t her parents.”

Fabrycki herself has three children, who had been homeschooled all their lives until Linkup and ACA came along. Her two older children were involved in Linkup before it was shut down, and her youngest is currently a junior at ACA. She says, “It was really hard to have a five year old, and a twelve year old, and a fifteen year old…who I had been homeschooling their whole lives, and then throwing myself into basically working full-time…that was really hard for me…it was a very dramatic change for our family.”

When asked how the school has changed over the years, Fabrycki responded, “Oh good gravy (laughter) it’s really changed a lot, that’s a really hard question for me…the kids have more opportunities now than they did…we didn’t have ACE, we didn’t have…I can’t remember all of the things that we have now that we didn’t have then.”

Although ACA has evolved from only a spark of an idea many years ago, it’s still not even close to being considered a perfect school. It’s definitely had its fair share of ups and downs over the ten years it’s been open.

Most public schools have a student council or student union as an after-school program or class which students can participate in to earn extra credits needed to graduate. ACA tried a program similar to this for about two years before it trickled out. According to Danelle Till, an ES and bookkeeper at ACA, who formerly ran the club, the first year was amazing and they did a lot of good work with the school; their second year, however, was not as successful. Till theorized that is was because the students participating were not going to earn any credits for the work they were doing. They tried changing it into a Leadership class to incentivise students to join, but this did not work out as well as they had hoped because no one signed up for the class. Although the club did not work out they way they expected, Till does not see this as a failure, just the “ebb-and-flow,” of the students’ wants and the school’s needs.

Another similar situation was the Green Team. The Green Team was a class that focused on keeping ACA as “green,” or environmentally friendly as possible by encouraging recycling in the classrooms and composting in the cafeteria. Lavender Duff, a former ACA senior, wrote an article last year about the Green Team’s efforts to reduce garbage and increase recycling and composting which helped the school lower the costs of garbage pick up. After a few years of incredible clean up, the teacher of the class moved and was no longer able to teach at ACA. Although there were so many people involved in the class and programs surrounding the class, no one stepped up to take over and keep the process going. Till commented on the class by saying, “It worked…but then [after the teacher left] the driving force behind it stopped.”

Even though some of the classes and programs have not worked out, there are still plenty that did such as the Arrowsmith Program, ACA’s Preschool and Kindergarten Enrichment program, and the Alliance College Experience program (ACE).  

The Arrowsmith Program is a program was developed in 1987, in Canada, to help students overcome their learning disabilities. Their tactics are based on neuroscience research showing that these disabilities can be helped by identifying and strengthening the weaker cognitive capabilities. Their goal is that through the program, the students can become effective, confident, self-directed learners for the rest of their life. ACA was very excited to bring the program to the United States and into a public school setting in September of 2014. More about the program and how to enroll can be viewed on ACA’s webpage.

The ACA Preschool and Kindergarten Enrichment programs were also introduced several years ago along with the Early Childhood Development program. Their goal is to give the kids the chance to explore things that the world has to offer and to broaden their imagination and learning abilities in the safe and welcoming environment that is provided at ACA. This welcoming atmosphere is not only for the younger grades, but the rest of the teachers and staff strive to create that feeling throughout the rest of the community.  

The Alliance College Experience (ACE) is a program that allows high school students to take classes at the Clackamas Community College (CCC). This allows students to take part in classes that can’t be offered at ACA, due to space and budget restrictions, and earn college credits in the process.

Last school year, 2016-2017, was the school’s 10-year anniversary. Although this was a cause for celebration, according to Heppner and other teachers, there was not much of a party to celebrate this milestone for the school. There was a valid reason for this. The whole school was transitioning to having a new director. Fabrycki expressed that she was not worried or sad about leaving the director position and that she felt confident leaving the future of ACA in the hands of the the new director, Nic Chapin.

Nic Chapin, ACA’s current director and principal, has been a teacher and ES at ACA for seven years but has only been the director since Fabrycki stepped down in 2016. “I always wanted to potentially get into school administration,” Chapin says, “It was…a unique opportunity for me and I think…that the hope was that I was a good fit…and [it] seemed like the right transition for Lara and the board.”

Although he is passionate about his work at ACA, some students believe that the changes he is making will come at a cost. “He’s really concerned with student relations…[but] he is making changes that I think will be very divisive among students and faculty,” said Olivia Silbernagel, a senior at ACA.

ACA is a school of extraordinary students, started by parents who wanted the best for their children, even if that meant creating a school to call their own. They started out with nothing but an idea, and ended up with a unique school for anyone daring enough to delve into the hilarious, talented, and all-around wonderful family that has been forged over the last eleven years and hope to keep expanding for long into the future.

Sources:

Fabrycki, Lara. Personal interview. Nov 21, 2017.

Heppner, Ann. Personal interview. Nov 20, 2017.

Modlin, Jilene. If You Build It, They Will Come: Tribute to Alliance Charter Academy founder and director, Lara Fabrycki. By Jilene Modlin, December 2015. https://drive.google.com/a/aca.k12.or.us/file/d/0B5_bF4VDAJYmT1ZLX2ZKUjlyZDFIZjVrOXo1VzBXR01paFFF/view?usp=sharing

Mohr, Jill. Email interview. Nov 27, 2017.

DiLoreto, Cherish. Email interview. Nov 28, 2017.

Crawford, Lexi. Email interview. Nov 27, 2017.

Till, Danelle. Personal interview. Dec 7, 2017.

Duff, Lavender. How ACA students and staff can make our school greener – The Charter. Jan 30, 2016. https://theacacharter.com/2017/01/30/how-aca-students-and-staff-can-make-our-school-greener/

Chapin, Nic. Personal interview. Dec 6, 2017. Email interview. Dec 20, 2017.

Silbernagel, Olivia. Personal interview. Dec 6, 2017.

Wright, Kerry. Email interview. Dec 13, 2017.

McHone, Michelle. Email interview. Dec 13, 2017.

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