BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
After 16 years of working with homeschooled children, Clarkston resident Tarla Gernert realized that many people wanted to give their children a different kind of education but didn’t feel they could homeschool on their own.
They wanted more support, guidance, help, and community.
Gernert found the solution, partnering with Don and Lindsey VanDaele to create HighPoint Hybrid Academy, a two-day program that assigns guided home-based learning on the opposite days children are not in traditional school.
The program launched in 2017 in Rochester Hills with 103 students in grades K-12. This fall, there will be five locations across metro Detroit, including two in Rochester, with approximately 360 students. The location in Clarkston launched in 2018 and is also for grades K-12. The other campuses are in Clinton Township (launched 2018) and Wyandotte, which is launching this September. HighPoint boasts 33 teachers, 10 campus coordinators and five administrators.
“All of our parents in metro Detroit have to option to choose to partner with Clarkston Community Schools to receive funding to pay for the tuition for our two-day program,” said Lindsey VanDaele. “This is a brand-new partnership, and we are very excited for our families. I know there are local families that are looking for education options for their children that we could serve. Homeschooling intimidated me. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of trying to do it long term with all three kids. That’s why I was so excited when I discovered the concept of a hybrid school. HighPoint does the majority of the heavy lifting with their education, and it makes homeschooling completely doable. I get the blessings and benefits of homeschooling, without the stress of planning out everything and having to teach everything.
“At the very least, it has been exciting to see so many families impacted in a positive way. Tarla has had an enormous impact in the homeschooling community in metro Detroit. She loves education and her wisdom helped get the program off the ground and to where we are today.”
Billie Pambid, Clarkston’s shared services director and innovation officer, is elated to see the district partner with HighPoint.
“This is such a great benefit to everyone involved,” said Pambid. “We have received a great deal of positive feedback so far.”
HighPoint Hybrid Academy meets in church buildings across metro Detroit, as churches tend to be somewhat empty a few days during the week. The Clarkston campus meets at Clarkston Community Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. HighPoint covers all the subjects (math, language arts, science, social studies, and electives/ specials) just like a traditional school, yet the main difference is that the students attend class only two days a week. The teachers then assign homeschool work for the students to do on the opposite days.
“Another exciting development is that starting this school year parents can choose to sign up their child as a Renaissance virtual student through Clarkston Community Schools, and Clarkston Schools will pay the tuition to attend HighPoint Hybrid Academy,” said VanDaele.
There is still an on-site fee and curriculum costs, however.
“Clarkston’s HighPoint Hybrid is a delight for our entire family,” said Ruth Joslyn. “I get to partner with some amazing teachers there. It frees me up from having to figure out every detail for homeschooling and it gives my daughters a great opportunity to develop classmate relationships like I had when I was growing up. They get together outside of the classroom and enjoy each other’s friendships. Being around like-minded families, as it relates to education, provides a nice feeling of support and camaraderie to our entire family. The excellent teaching styles fit the very different learning styles of my two children. This education model is a perfect fit for us and has exceeded our expectations.”
Still, VanDaele said there are a few challenges to this endeavor, such as getting the word out to the community, helping new families who have a traditional school mindset, and the transition to homeschooling life.
“Our goal is to continue to expand in the metro Detroit area and to get better every year,” VanDaele said. “The world is changing, and education options need to change along with it. We have found that people want flexibility and more time for their children to discover and pursue their passions.”
Tuition without school district assistance is $4,800 per year.
For more information, visit www.highpointhybrid.com.