Just outside of Visalia, a relic of decades past continues its legacy of education.
Venice Hill School is an historic one-room schoolhouse located off Road 180 that is still being used today. The building is operating as a library and study space for the rural Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center (ERCLC). Every day, homeschooled students use its resources to their benefit.
“It’s always been a school, even back to the 1890s,” said Daniel Huecker, Superintendent of the ERCLC. Tulare County has records of students attending in the early 1910s and has evidence about the historic building. Huecker recalled the original school closedthe mid-20th century, but he says the grounds must always be used for education.
According to the California Department of Education, the schoolhouse was used as a private school from July 1980 to August 2004. The charter for the ERCLC started forming in 2002 and took over the schoolhouse when the private school shut down.
“We’re a charter school that’s set up for families that homeschool their kids,” said Huecker. “There’s certain things you can do at home, but kids still like to get together and play and parents still like to get together and talk, so we offer different opportunities for that.”
The ERCLC doesn’t operate as a traditional school, but instead offers enrichment classes for children to build their social relationships with peers. These classes include Drama, Fencing, Robotics, Archery, and Woodshop among others. Huecker boasts around 50 different classes for varying age levels.
The Center just opened its new facilities and expanded the campus to include a workshop and a makers’ studio complete with 3-D printers. Administrators look forward to using the full extent of the campus as a permanent home for the program.
“We bring together a community of homeschoolers so it’s not just the responsibilities of that parent, but they work together with our paid staff and other parents, so it’s a more collaborative learning experience,” said Huecker. Instead of teaching rooms of students, the ERCLC provides resources for parents to teach their kids and for kids to teach themselves.
Choice seems to be the main theme at Eleanor Roosevelt. “It was a great place for kids. It was very free and creative. The teachers really care about the students and are deeply interested in their goals and interests,” said Logan Schuman, an alumni of the program. “It fostered a great environment to help me become more confident and to forge my own path later in life.”
Even in 2012, a promotional video made by the school includes student testimony lauding the Center’s academic freedom.
According to the ERCLC website, parents are also very happy with the environment at Eleanor Roosevelt. “ERCLC is more than just a place to learn or get a diploma; it’s hands-on preparing students for life and their future, with a well-rounded education staff willing to help the students achieve their hopes and dreams out of life,” says Ashlie Standlee on the Center’s website. “Every student gets a tailored education to their needs and abilities.”
Funding for Eleanor Roosevelt comes from the state and, like traditional schools, depends on attendance. The school gets paid a proportional amount for the resources used per student, though it appears they also make use of a Booster Club described as “supplemental support by a parent-led organization,” according to the ERCLC website.
California charter schools were recently confronted with a proposed law introducing mandatory transparency. Senate Bill 126 aims to require charter schools and the entities operating them to be compliant with the Ralph M. Brown Open Meeting Act and the California Public Records Act. While not an existential threat to charter schools, it allows for average citizens to know if local charter schools comply with their oversight committees.
In ERCLC’s case, the Tulare County Office of Education oversees its conduct. Chris Reed is the District 6 Trustee on the Tulare County Board of Education. She’s directly involved with the oversight of charter schools and she has been a big proponent of different learning opportunities.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that parents want more and more choices and lots of parents are homeschooling. For that, I think Eleanor Roosevelt is the perfect solution,” said Reed. She has helped the ERCLC flourish within the California charter system since the beginning.
Reed remembered the conception of the Eleanor Roosevelt charter. “Charter law was new and we had never had a charter school let alone a homeschooling center,” said Reed. She sees charter schools as a necessary alternative to traditional schools.
“Every charter school fulfills a need,” said Reed. “La Sierra fills a need for a military boot camp school, Valley Life focuses on Stephen Covey’s work and performing arts, and Eleanor Roosevelt fills the need of providing homeschooling resources.”
The Office of Education helps out where it’s needed, Reed says. She mentioned one time early on in Eleanor Roosevelt’s operation, the staff needed a gardener and the Board of Education was able to assist with that.
“When a parent decides to homeschool their children, it could be very beneficial to the family if it’s done correctly,” said Reed.
As a charter, the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center finds itself in a unique position. While not being solely a community-driven education source, it still finds balance with its supporters and parents. The ERCLC fills a need in Tulare County for homeschool resources and parents are happy with their choices.
Eleanor Roosevelt is currently accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year at www.erclc.org/enrollment.