A Hybrid Homeschool That Gives Control to Parents, Focuses on Tradition — and Includes God

(Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

Ten years ago, a visionary mom embarked on a homeschooling journey with a heartfelt admiration for traditional American values, a never-ending love of learning, and a mission to spread kindness. Many families came on board, one after another, and together they are creating a subtle yet significant difference in our society.

I know this woman and her family personally and feel honored to be one of the teachers at this hybrid homeschool. Let me take you on an educational adventure to this institute that embraces God and prioritizes families.

The American flag flies over the Family Lyceum building. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

Renae Zentz, the founder and director of Family Lyceum, with her husband, Harold Zentz. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

Originally from Texas, Renae Zentz met her husband, Harold Zentz, while attending Brigham Young University, and they settled down in Utah. When she became pregnant with their first daughter, Mrs. Zentz chose to be a stay-at-home mom, which led her to investigate different educational options.

Now, the mom of six and grandmother of four runs Family Lyceum, a private school that is a blend of homeschooling and a traditional classroom, where parents are given overall control of their child’s education. With its motto “We are a class that is kind,” the school is also dedicated to upholding the virtue of compassion.

Fifty-one-year-old Mrs. Zentz says Family Lyceum was chosen as the school’s name as a tip of the hat to the schools of ancient Greece and to the Lyceum schools that were created in the early days of the United States by Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. Just as in the early days of America and ancient Greece, Mrs. Zentz wanted her school to be dedicated to families who have a love and thirst for learning.

~ Choosing to Homeschool ~

Mrs. Zentz started thinking about homeschooling when her oldest daughter was a baby.

“My husband is a public school teacher,“ she says, ”and when I visited his junior high, I felt even more strongly about homeschooling.”

Naturally independent, Mrs. Zentz joyfully shouldered most of the responsibility of homeschooling her children and made up her own curriculum. She began to notice, however, that when she set up learning with two or three other families, there was a noticeable difference in her children.

“I found, over the years, that those days that we were together with friends were really the highlight of the week,” Mrs. Zentz says.

The Zentz family. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

~ Founding Family Lyceum ~

About 12 years ago, Mrs. Zentz had an opportunity to teach a class of homeschoolers—she had 18 students twice a week, and she was provided with a space and “given a lot of freedom.”

“My children were in those classes, and they absolutely loved it,” she says.

Unfortunately, over time the curriculum she was using shifted, becoming more in line with the government education system.

“That program that we were working with really shifted what they were doing and decided to start doing the standardized testing and Common Core and all the things that the homeschoolers had come to this group for didn’t really want to do. So from there, I decided to just start Family Lyceum and do my own thing,” she says.

“I believe that children are born with a desire to learn.”

And that desire and love of learning needs to be fed, which is why Mrs. Zentz carefully chose the names for each of the classes.

“We just named the classes names that had something to do with fire or light,” Mrs. Zentz says.

The youngest class is Firefly. The classes then move up from Spark to Flicker. Then they move to Ember, and finally, Flare.

The Spark classroom. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

(Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

Children playing during recess. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

The children enrolled in Family Lyceum go to school two or three days a week and homeschool the rest of the time. A love of learning is evident in the families and students of the school and each month, parents are assigned a book to read aloud to their children at home.

“I think something really magical happens when parents read aloud to their kids,” Mrs. Zentz says. “Our world is so busy. We’re all so busy that we stop reading aloud. But I noticed in my own family that our very favorite times, and most memorable times, are when we’re reading a great book together and reading it aloud.”

Some of the books used at Family Lyceum are Susan Wise Bauer’s four-volume history resource “Story of the World,“ Ji-li Jiang’s ”Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution,“ in which the author narrates her experiences during the decade-long Cultural Revolution launched by the Chinese Communist Party, and Ellen Raskin’s award-winning mystery book ”The Westing Game.”

~ The Experience ~

Cheryl Hendricks, a mother of two children at the school, says her family’s first year at Family Lyceum has made a difference in their lives.

Speaking of her children, she says, “There’s an excitement about learning, about school, that I’ve never seen before.”

The previous year, Mrs. Hendricks says she had seen her oldest son was not happy in his current school, and she knew something had to change. She began looking for different options but had never considered homeschooling.

Mrs. Hendricks with her family. (Courtesy of Cheryl Hendricks)

While at her dance studio, she was venting about her struggles with other moms.

“I was kind of scrambling to find something to do,” Mrs. Hendricks says. “I was lucky enough that a lady in our dance studio overheard me talking to somebody about potentially getting my kid in an online school.”

The other mom told her about Family Lyceum, and the Hendricks family decided to check it out.

“We walked in that building, and … there was a happiness, a brightness about the people in there,” she says. “We were lucky enough to go in when actually school was being held, and we got to observe them, and we were just so impressed with the demeanor in the school.”

Mrs. Hendricks says the choice of literature is one of the things that stood out to her about Family Lyceum.

“I loved the fact that it went back to a lot of the traditional values,” she says.

~ Learning History ~

For Amanda Neilson, a mother of three children at the school, one of the things her children love is learning about history—a stark contrast to when they were in a public school. Her oldest son, who went through the public school system until third grade, told her the only history lesson he’d had was about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Things have changed now her children attend Family Lyceum.

“My kids come home, and they like to tell me about these stories from history,” Mrs. Neilson says.

Mrs. Neilson with her family. (Courtesy of Amanda Neilson)

Mrs. Zentz shares why she chose to emphasize history at the school: “Obviously, a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old are learning history on different levels, but at least that topic is the same, and then when they’re talking about it at home, they’re learning about those same things, and it can bring family learning and conversations together.

“We found that science links to history because the scientists and the development of science progress throughout history, and then of course, literature and so many other things can be linked to history.”

A Family Lyceum teacher with one of the students. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

~ Cultivating Kindness and Kinship ~

Mrs. Zentz takes great pride in the school motto, “We are a class that is kind.”

“A culture of kindness makes a safe place for kids to learn,” she says. “It’s okay to fail if you’re in a room with people who are kind. Whereas, if you’re in a room with people who are unkind, then anything you do is scary.”

The school has relatively few rules, but being kind with words and bodies is one of them, and Mrs. Zentz believes it’s had an impact on the students’ learning and happiness.

Standing for good old traditional values is another thing that stands out about this school.

“People think of us as kind of like your old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse,” Mrs. Zentz says. “We support what I consider the traditional American values that the Founding Fathers would have agreed on, and really everyone at one point, which I define simply as God, family, and country.”

Holding on to these traditional values resonates with Mrs. Neilson: “Family Lyceum includes God in school, where in regular schools He is being taken out. They start the day with prayer and then have the pledge of allegiance.”

A teacher holding a book discussion session with children. (Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

(Courtesy of Renae Zentz)

~ Giving Parents Control, Supporting Families ~

One of the traditional values that Family Lyceum promotes is giving the parents control over what their children learn about and do at school. Mrs. Neilson feels that when her children were in the public system, even little things were controlled by the school.

“Family Lyceum is family-centered,” Mrs. Neilson says. “I feel like even though they’re going to a school, I can still be in control of what happens with my kids.”

Sharing how she feels about parents and teachers, Mrs. Zentz says: “We really feel like the parent is the primary mentor. The family is more important than the teacher in the schoolroom.

“We want to support the parents in their family’s educational journey. I’ve had some of my own children that are in government or political science classes where the teachers are really opinionated, and they almost verbally slam or abuse students who have a different opinion than them. And so it becomes a toxic environment.”

She believes that no matter what educational setting a child is in, the teacher owes that to families.

“I think all education could do that,” she says. “I think teachers in the public school could support families and could support the parent more, and that teachers should be neutral on all sensitive topics.”

Written by Tyler Wilson for the Epoch Times ~ April 2, 2024

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