“Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge,” said Sherry Ballew, director of Home School Solutions, a support service for local families who choose to home-school their children.
“And so we take that to mean that learning apart from God, you can’t really have real learning,” she explained.
This is the core pedagogical philosophy driving the service, which utilizes the education building at Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax to provide enrolled students with daily structure, curriculum support, tutoring, auxiliary activities and of course field trip opportunities.
“We have 18 students. We have 10 middle and high school, and then eight elementary students,” said Rona Collins, a Beth Car member and volunteer with Home School Solutions who assists with STEM education.
“This is our third year, and we had our first graduation — a real graduation — last year,” Ballew noted.
Ballew began the service in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic turned the education system on its head, and many parents felt bombarded with additional daily challenges of monitoring their children’s distance-learning activities, despite work and other expected responsibilities.
“We had 47 kids the first year, but it was also public school kids,” Ballew revealed.
Ballew, who is herself a licensed teacher with over 20 years of experience in the education field, opened her home along with four others to meet the demand in that first year.
Many of the public-school students were able to return the following year, leaving the program, but some parents found that they preferred the home-based, values-focused approach offered by Home School Solutions. Some stayed for the second year, and Ballew reports that additional students have joined as well.
The program convenes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and students have lunch and recess time, just as they would in a standard school setting.
“This is a good option for the community, a very good option, because we operate very similarly to a school,” Ballew noted.
Although she does not attend Beth Car, Ballew is very active in North Fork Baptist Church in Virgilina, where her husband, Doug, serves as pastor. Pastor Doug Ballew volunteers with Home School Solutions, teaching the students Christian devotions.
“You’ve got parents who are not able to stay home with their children, but they want them to do this, so it offers them the best of both worlds, I think,” Doug Ballew stated, assessing the program’s appeal.
Giving families the power in education
Although the program serviced public school students during the pandemic because of parental need and demand, Ballew and others decided to focus on Christian-based, private home schooling options beginning in their second year. Parents can choose from a number of curricula based on the students’ needs, and Home School Solutions simply structures and facilitates the learning process for each student. The emphasis on parental choice makes a huge difference, in the mind of Sherry Ballew.
“Some people are confused because they think, OK, you meet in a building, how are you homeschooled? How are they homeschoolers?” she rhetorically queried.
“Well, they’re homeschoolers because it is parent-led curriculum, and it is a shared responsibility,” she answered.
The dual emphasis on parental choice and shared responsibility for the child’s education is, to her mind, the antidote to many of the ills and shortcomings that she observed while working in public education.
“You have to have a commitment from family and from others — and the student. It’s not just the facilitator here and mom and dad,” Sherry Ballew said.
She noted that the Monday-Thursday structure of the program serves to incentivize families to continue the home-schooling instruction on Fridays, keeping the students engaged and reinforcing important skills and lessons.
“We’re here Monday through Thursday, so on Friday mom and dad, grandma, whoever else, they will continue the support academically at home and through the weekend,” she said.
The program focuses heavily on instilling personal and cultural values that they perceive to be lacking in mainstream education, such as personal responsibility on the part of the child to learn and grow, and on developing a solid foundational work ethic.
Sherry Ballew sees this as essential to the educational process, stating simply, “If there’s no engagement, there’s no learning.”
This holistic approach of positioning educators, parents and the students themselves as allies working toward the same goal of the given child’s betterment and success is to them both more potent and more sustainable than the “blame the teacher” mantra so commonly expressed within oversaturated public schools — wherein parents and teachers can sometimes become natural adversaries.
“We also have a setup that is conducive to learning, and it’s individualized,” she highlighted.
The individualized approach to education allows for greater self-determination on the part of the student (with parental guidance, of course), and can encompass curriculum, learning style and even pace of learning. Home School Solutions enables individualized instruction not only by empowering families with curricular choice, but also by providing a high adult-to-student ratio throughout the day.
On any given “home-school day,” there are typically at least four adults present: Sherry Ballew herself, an instructional aide and various rotating tutors and volunteers. The facility at Beth Car allows for separate classrooms for elementary, middle and high school students, with one adult per room, leaving the director free to rotate between the three to assist and oversee.
With just 18 students currently, the adults can focus on four to five learners at a time — whereas some public school classrooms can see ratios of just one teacher for up to 30 students.
Abigail Mitchell has been with Home School Solutions since the beginning, currently working as an instructional aide, focusing on the elementary students. A home-school graduate herself, she notes that the small-school feel of the program gives students the best of both worlds—individualized attention, but also opportunities for socialization.
Reflecting on her own home-school days, she shared, “The only thing that I’d say would be a negative side, was not being with other kids all the time.
“So this kind of takes care of that … you’re homeschooled and you have all the benefits of that, but you also get to have a small group of friends that you hang out with,” she explained.
Education based on values
Both Mitchell and the Ballews especially value that they get to do education in a way that allows them to share their Christian worldview — an option not available within the secular public school system.
“The only kind of job I really want is one that I can actually freely tell other people about Jesus and share the gospel,” Mitchell revealed.
After seeing such dysfunction in the public school system firsthand, Sherry Ballew felt the calling toward Christian-based education, so that she could more fully live her values and share her faith through her profession.
“I understood that my worldview kept colliding with the secular worldview that I was a part of,” she revealed.
“I found myself every morning in prayer, crying with this burden, and I didn’t know what to do.
“But I knew that God had an answer,” she continued.
In this state, she began to envision a transition for herself into faith-based education, and this vision ultimately manifested as Home School Solutions, and the decision to pivot entirely in this direction after their first year.
Although parents who utilize the program have a number of Christian-based curricula from which to choose, this year for the first time, Home School Solutions has partnered with Bob Jones University through Heather Spencer, a HomeWorks consultant who represents the university’s secondary home schooling program.
Doug Ballew sees this as a good move, noting the positive attributes of BJU’s program: “I think one of the things they do here very well is worldview. Everyone is going to get a worldview, it just depends on which one.
“We do have a bias, and our bias is Biblically based,” he admitted, “however, they’re very good with true academics.”
Although neither the BJU nor the HSS programs shy away from promoting their Biblical worldview, including on politically controversial topics such as evolution and abortion, the Ballews do not see this as incompatible with the basics of learning, or with subjects such as science.
“I think, very easily, the Bible supports right science,” Sherry Ballew commented.
Additionally, families who enroll with the programs are not required to take subjects such as Bible and Christian apologetics — though they do have the option to do so.
For those who do opt for subjects that can deepen the student’s faith, the Ballews see these courses as a value-add.
Speaking specifically of the Christian apologetics course, Ballew stated, “I think they do a good job of being able to help the kids understand why we believe what we believe.”
She continued, “The saddest thing that I think about is, once they go to college, something’s changed, and they no longer hold the same views that mom and dad did Biblically, because they don’t know how to defend their faith.”
To her thinking, arming young Christian students with the theological knowledge of apologetics empowers them to stand their ground should they choose to attend secular universities after graduation, which she sees as hostile to religious worldviews.
Home School Solutions uses extra-curricular activities such as field trips to reinforce Biblical teachings and Christian morality. Last year, they took a trip to The Ark Encounter exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The exhibit features a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, using Biblical specifications from the famous tale to produce an awe-inspiring experience for faithful attendees.
To Sherry Ballew, experiences such as this give students a firmer foundation within their faith, which they can then carry forth into their lives post-graduation.
As part of their Christian values, Home School Solutions wants to make their services accessible to others, and so they have a scholarship program available for families that want to home-school but can’t afford it. This program is funded entirely by community members who value giving local students more educational options.
“Thank goodness for community members who see what we do, and they see it as a ministry, and they give to that scholarship fund,” Sherry Ballew stated.
The cost for the Home School Solutions service is $3,400 per year, which parents can choose to pay in 10-month or 12-month billing cycles. Program costs vary based on the specific curriculum, with the BJU cost being around $900 to $1,000 per grade. Ballew shared, however, that working with a HomeWorks consultant like Spencer can produce savings for families, lowering the fee to as little as $500 to $700 per grade. These costs, as well, can be divided into monthly payments.
Sherry Ballew believes in the value of her program, describing the fees as “comparable and even less than some private schools.”
The home-school difference
As home schooling proponents, the program facilitators believe and observe that empowering families to lead their children’s education while providing that individualized attention that students both need and crave yields astounding results.
“If you have a student here who goes through this and you put them beside a public school student, generally that student is going to outperform them at every level,” Doug Ballew indicated.
Sherry Ballew shared research-based specifics: “If you start a child in homeschool, and then that same public school child, by the time they get to eighth grade, your homeschooler outperforms them by four years.”
Additionally, the curricular control that the program asserts on behalf of themselves and the families they serve allows for a more holistic and well-rounded approach to education.
“Each day, we’re doing what we call a specialty,” Sherry Ballew explained.
“We have four days a week: one day a week we will do library, one day will be games, so we have games, library, music and art,” she expounded.
Whereas some public school systems focus so heavily on standardized testing that the arts fall by the wayside, Home School Solutions wishes to produce students who value the creative side of life as much as academics.
This year, the program will hold its first Christmas play, originally written based on the Biblical nativity story, to highlight the creative aspect of its mission.
Another feature of home schooling through the program is an emphasis on what they call “know-how skills,” everyday skills that support stable adult living such as cooking, cleaning, sewing and the like.
When the program was held in homes, breakfast became a daily lesson in cooking real food, and sharing the responsibility of cleaning afterwards.
Sherry Ballew notes that cooking classes paused with the relocation to Beth Car, though she anticipates that they will resume, as the church has granted access to their kitchen.
The program also hopes to impart a spirit of volunteerism in its students. This year, they packed 58 boxes with Christmas goodies for disadvantaged youths oversees through Operation Shoebox.
Facilitators are hopeful that students will carry forth this value of community service into their adult lives.
Regardless of their choices, Home School Solutions graduates — such as Cody Shelton Nester, their first graduate who walked in a ceremony at the end of the 2021-22 academic year — will have advantages over some public school students as they pursue their dreams.
“Employers, according to research, are more apt to hire a homeschool student, and I think it’s primarily because of attitude,” Sherry Ballew informed, and then opined.
Doug Ballew added that home-schooled students are more “grounded” and said, “They’re able to think for themselves.”
Sherry Ballew believes that values-based academics and the individualized investment of care and attention make all of the difference when it comes to evidenced-based metrics that predict better outcomes across the board for home-schoolers.
“Across the board, there’s a nice difference,” she said. “It shows up in attitude, it shows up in academics, it shows up in integrity and responsibility and accountability.”
She sums up her heartfelt goals for the students in her care: “I want our graduates to be responsible citizens, that they know how to give, they know how to serve, they’re accountable to others and more importantly they’re accountable to God.”
Looking at her students, she feels successful in her mission, and deeply accomplished.
Contrasting to tearful days in public education, she says now, “I can’t tell you how often I smile.”
She continued, “I’m smiling and I’m looking at them, and it brings me such great joy because I realize that, probably for the first time in their life, they are hearing truth, and they’re receiving some things that you wouldn’t get in another setting.”
True to her faith, she gives all of the credit to God.
“Anything good that you might see going on at Home School Solutions, the reality is that it didn’t come from me—it came from God,” she related with passionate conviction. “I’m convinced that it is a gift birthed by the spirit of God.”
Parents interested in learning more about Home School Solutions are encouraged to contact the program at 540-250-8326 or HomeWorks consultant Heather Spencer at 540- 256-5362.