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Home-schoolers gather at local conference

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Home-schoolers assembled for talks, discussion and shared resources at a locally organized conference in King George July 30-31.

For the second year in a row, the national Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions. Many home-schoolers in the diocese depend on the annual conference, held in Fredericksburg since 2013, for networking, motivation, curriculum ideas and inspiration, said Stephanie Vendetti, a home-schooling mother from St. Anthony Church in King George.

The absence of the national conference, which usually attracts thousands of attendees every year, disappointed many home-schoolers, Vendetti said. 

So, she and Allyson Colombo, also a St. Anthony parishioner and home-schooling mother, organized the Our Lady of Good Counsel Homeschool Conference, a smaller, more localized conference at St. Anthony Church, which drew more than 50 people. 

While plans for the conference started on a parish level, it soon expanded to include other home-schoolers throughout the diocese.

"It started out being a meet and greet for some of the new home-schoolers in our parish to meet some of the more seasoned home-schoolers, to give them someone to talk to and answer some of the gazillion questions you come across as a home-schooler," said Vendetti. From there, the organizers began adding speakers and the event evolved into a two-day conference.

A religious bookstore was available during the conference and there was a silent auction, door prizes, and catalogs and curricula available. "This conference has truly been a group effort to put together," Vendetti said. Support came from St. Anthony and its home-school co-op, and various donors and speakers.

The conference included speakers from around the diocese, including Father Christopher Tipton, chaplain at St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores. Father Tipton was home-schooled and credits his education with helping him discern his vocation to the priesthood.

"Our goal is to form young men and women in the image and likeness of God, building that up in not only their intellectual, but their moral, human, psychological and social way of life," he said in his talk. "Every single child who is in school is seeking a vocation and that’s something that we should keep in our minds at all moments, especially when home-schooling. You’re molding saints. ... You’re giving them the tools by your way of life, of how they’re going to live a vocation for all eternity, not just for the rest of their life."

Other speakers were Father Thomas Vander Woude, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville; Father Jerome Magat, formerly a diocesan priest and now a Sulpician and an adviser and spiritual director at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas; Father Eric Shafer, parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach; and Kimberly Cook, author and parishioner of Holy Trinity.

Several local home-schooling mothers also shared resources and information on a range of topics, including motherhood, the importance of self-care, and practical tips on balancing science and the arts in a home-schooling curriculum.

Irene Shipley, a home-schooling mother from St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, made the trip to King George because she missed being able to go to the larger conference. Although it was smaller, she said she appreciated the home-grown aspect of the conference.

"It’s nice that it’s a small scale because people are more familiar with each other," Shipley said. "Having the smaller group can be less overwhelming. That appeals to me, seeing how people are coming together and making it work."

Markita Kim, a young mother planning to home-school, said she enjoyed being around the experienced home-schooling mothers at the conference. "I left feeling more motivated that I can do this because I was reminded that a solemn obligation of my vocation is to educate my children," she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021