No Place Like Home

Families push to keep The Homeschool Classroom open as founder and head teacher announces departure

In a four-room unit off Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe’s South Capitol neighborhood, a small group of students ages 5 through 13 sit together in pairs on a couch, chairs or the floor, reading books while surrounded by their own art projects hanging from the walls. One student occasionally pats Spirit—a black-and-white cat who roams the unit—as she turns the pages.

These students are all enrolled in The Homeschool Classroom, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has operated for 13 years to serve kids whom founder, head teacher and former public school teacher Rebecca Cohen describes as “not having their needs met” in a traditional school setting. Students attend for a variety of reasons, with individualized needs emphasized, from supplementing academic needs when being homeschooled by parents to specialized tutoring and social-emotional learning.

Donovan Kolesky, an 11-year-old reading the first book in Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series for middle-graders aloud to a younger fellow student, first began learning at the Homeschool Classroom this year after switching between homeschool and public school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s the best school I’ve ever been to,” he tells SFR. “The environment is just so much more kind than most other schools, and it doesn’t feel like a dank place where you go and you’re so sad—like, ‘Oh no, I have to go to school.’ It’s fun.”

His mother, Liz Foster, says the nonprofit’s flexible schedule factored significantly in her and her son’s decision to enroll. The nonprofit operates on a four-day week, and parents pay between $480 to $780 per month based on how many days per week their child attends. Kolesky attends two days out of the week, and his parents homeschool him for the remaining days of the week.

“My kid’s an only child, so homeschooling can be a little lonely,” Foster says. “It’s been amazing to have a social setting for him every week, and also, neither of us parents are educators. To know he’s getting some kind of instructed curriculum has been really reassuring. We’ve loved it.”

However, whether Kolesky and the other 16 students enrolled at The Homeschool Classroom will continue learning there next year is uncertain, as Cohen informed families in January that she and her daughter would be moving to New York to help care for her father.

“I’m definitely heartbroken,” Cohen says of her decision to leave. Two challenges for the nonprofit to continue include hiring a new head teacher and finding sufficient funding. The first has been addressed: Recently hired teaching assistant Catherine Hathaway will be The Homeschool Classroom’s next head teacher.

“It was miraculous that we discovered Catherine,” Cohen says. “She gets that we teach each child, meet their emotional needs first, without judgment or punishment…and the kids love her.”

Hathaway tells SFR while she only began teaching in January, the more time she spent at The Homeschool Classroom “made me realize how incredibly special it was, and how important it was to the kids…and that this is something I want to do.”

Hathaway, a special education-trained teacher who has 18 years of experience teaching in both private and public school settings, including the Santa Fe Girls’ School and The May Center, says the individualized academic and social teaching model of The Homeschool Classroom is challenging, but rewarding.

“For these particular students, who for some reason don’t thrive in [a traditional school] setting, it works for them,” Hathaway says. “We have students who are gifted and talented, or with autism, selective mutism, students who have been bullied and don’t feel safe at school—but they all feel safe here.”

When Hathaway takes over as head teacher, Cohen says she plans to continue working remotely as the nonprofit’s education director, meeting over Zoom, arranging field trips and writing grants—all of which she’s been doing in addition to serving as head teacher.

But the plan to continue depends on whether she and the parents can raise the $100,000 needed to support The Homeschool Classroom through the next year to cover salaries for one certified teacher and two teaching assistants, along with maintenance and bookkeeping costs.

According to The Homeschool Classroom’s website, fundraising has thus far brought in $6.671.

“I think if enrollment stays robust, and we’re able to rally the funds and make the plans necessary, that we’ll make it happen,” Foster says, noting that she and other parents have reached out to family and friends to donate; students have been selling sunglasses for the upcoming April 8 solar eclipse to raise money for the nonprofit as well.

“He’ll be going around in his dad’s neighborhood, door-to-door,” Foster says of Kolesky. “He usually gets more than the asking donation, which I think is $5. Commonly, people will throw a little extra money his way.”

In addition to all of this, the parents have helped to arrange a fundraising event for The Homeschool Classroom from 4:30 to 7 pm on April 12 featuring local country artist Bill Hearne. Students will give speeches and testimonials as well as a dance performance.

“It’s so heartwarming, and validating too,” Cohen says of the parents’ fundraising efforts. “We’ve continued to exist, despite the lack of a donor or funder for 13 years…it was 100% grassroots and community-supported.”

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