Woodville family’s home-school journey
Mandy Johnson never intended to be an educator. In fact, when she began her college career at Auburn University, she had her sights set on becoming a physical therapist.
But when she and Ryan married and started having children, everything changed. “We would talk about school and education, and then we realized that each of our children would be uniquely and wonderfully made. We knew they would have strengths and weaknesses,” she says.
So, the couple decided home-schooling was the best choice for the benefit of their children. “It’s our job to prepare them for when they leave home. We wanted to be able to nurture them, equip them for life and help them understand the world as God designed it,” she says. “It became our purpose.”
The Johnson family lives in Woodville, and Ryan is the pastor at Agape Baptist Church in Scottsboro. They have four school age daughters: Gracie, a senior; Ella, a sophomore; Lily, a seventh grader; and Maddie, a fifth grader. All of them have been home-schooled since kindergarten.
The family also recently adopted 1-year-old twins, Grady and Vivi. Although it wasn’t her intended career, teaching comes naturally to Mandy. She attended Pleasant Home School, a K-12 school in Andalusia, where her mother, Sandra Ralls, taught for 24 years.
“My mom was one of our biggest supporters when we first started this journey,” Mandy says. “She knew the desires of our heart and was never negative about us wanting to do this.”
Ralls died six years ago, but her love for teaching lives on through Mandy and her oldest, Gracie, who recently received a scholarship to Auburn University. She plans to study education.
One of the ways Ryan shows his support is by making Teacher of the Year certificates for his wife and hanging them on the family’s board where they keep a calendar and other important reminders. He’s even named their school The Johnson School of Life for Gifted Girls of Excellent Awesomeness.
“I couldn’t do what I do without the amazing support from my husband,” Mandy says. “He makes an excellent principal.”
A typical day for the Johnson kids means being up by 7:30 a.m. with their early-morning responsibilities complete, including making their beds, eating breakfast and doing their daily devotionals. They’re in their chairs by 8 a.m. at a large round table, each working on their own assignments.
A combination of laptops, tablets, textbooks and paper are spread out among them. With technology ever evolving, the Johnsons can keep up with their work online thanks to high-speed internet provided by North Alabama Electric Cooperative. Each day can look a little different.
“With babies, it changes things,” Mandy says. She might have to switch around the order of subjects, sometimes teaching while the twins are napping. “Math always comes first each day,” Mandy says, followed by writing, spelling, language and science. But, the Johnson girls know what they need to do when it comes to their studies and they are usually independent learners by seventh or eighth grade.
Gracie, has been dual-enrolled as a student at Northeast Alabama Community College for the last two years. Mandy says the biggest challenge of home-schooling is determining each child’s learning style.
“My oldest is one of those kids who just get it the first time and she’s a great memorizer,” she says.
Realizing each curriculum wasn’t going to be the right fit for each child, Mandy has adapted and tailored a teaching style to best accommodate each student’s unique way of learning. “Curriculums have come a long way since we first started. Even in just the last four years, so many companies have put out new curricula,” Mandy says.
Some can choose a curriculum with all the lessons planned out for them, and others choose different elements from several to tailor to the child’s needs.
“As the kids got older I realized maybe the science was a little too difficult for them to understand, or one needed more advanced math,” she says.
And when it comes to teaching four children different subjects? “We’ve got it down,” she says.
The Johnsons join like-minded families at a cooperative called Center Point Homeschool Fellowship every other Monday. The cooperative consists of 30 families with 76 children in total. The group eats lunch together, then the students attend three hours of classes. Two of the classes are academic and one is meant to be more fun and active.
“The classes are usually based on what is needed at the time,” Mandy says.
For example, this year, two older girls were learning Spanish, so a mother who is fluent in Spanish stepped in to teach a class. Johnson teaches geography and also has a love for Alabama history, a subject usually taught in public schools in fourth grade.
The ages of students range from nursery to high school seniors. They even began a National Beta Club for junior and senior students this year. National Beta Club is an organization that recognizes high academic achievement, character, leadership skills and service. Establishing a sense of community is a big factor to be successful with home-schooling.
“Having the cooperative involved helps with socialization. Between co-op and church activities, we often joke that we wish our kids were less social because they never meet a stranger,” Mandy says.
While the thought of home-schooling can seem really daunting to some, Mandy admits it’s not for everyone, but she says if anyone is on the fence about whether or not they should try home-schooling, they should just jump in.
“It’s hard. It’s definitely not an easy road, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s been such a blessing to our family,” she says.
When times get tough, Mandy suggests revisiting the reasons you began home-schooling.
“Go back to the calling of why you are doing it. Don’t give in to the lie that every tough moment is permanent. Don’t be afraid to admit where you are weak. Find online resources, ask other parents what they are doing and reach out to people who can give you further insight,” she says.