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Reflections on Community

2020 Homeschool Convention Keynote Speaker and veteran homeschooler, Cassandra Shepherd shares her thoughts and reflections on the homeschool community here in Singapore.

As I write this, Jessi and I are counting down our last 10 days of our nine years in Singapore before we return to New Zealand. Nine years is almost half Jessi’s life! With COVID-19, Circuit Breaker, and travel restrictions in place, our exit feels very different from what I had imagined…it is so strange to be leaving without the opportunity to see people and say goodbye in person.

But it does make me truly appreciate the value of community, and how a community is not just about being in the same location, but about the relationships you build and the shared life experiences you have over time.

The Homeschool community in Singapore has been a significant part of our life here – and we take those precious memories and shared experiences with us as we transition back to New Zealand.

In Singapore we have experienced such a vibrant tapestry of cultures, art, music, sport, drama, exhibitions, co-ops, and cohorts. We have built connections with other homeschooling families in Malaysia, USA, UK and Canada…and actually that list could get quite long if I counted every friendship made here with people who have since left Singapore – I think we could travel around the world and have friends to stay with in every continent, almost every country! My girls have had the privilege of caring mentors who have empowered them to discover their potential, and explore opportunities. They have, in turn, been able to mentor others and learn what it means to nurture the abilities of another, so they can reach their full potential as well.

It brings to mind this quote from Charlotte Mason,

“Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking—the strain would be too great—but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest…. The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” (School Education, p. 170, 171).

Our time in Singapore has indeed been ‘full of life’ and a ‘large room’ in which to spend these last and significant years of our homeschooling journey.

Some highlights:

  • PSLE Science with Cath Tan
  • Puppet Making at Littly’s
  • Badminton Lessons at Bedok
  • Participating in the annual homeschool concerts from 2012
  • Rock Climbing lessons
  • Public Speaking with ICC (Institute for Cultural Communicators)
  • Teen Girl’s Book Club
  • Not Back to School Picnics
  • Sports Days
  • Media Training
  • Cross-Cultural connections
  • Intergenerational mentoring
  • Jane Austen High Teas and Jane Austen Balls
  • Annual ICCFS tournaments with Malaysia and Singapore participants
  • Cantus Novus Music Academy and Choir
  • Keynote Speaker at SHSC 2018 and online for 2020, and Jessi at HSD in 2019
  • Hosting residential leadership training for youth at our home 2018, 2019 and preparing to host it online in 2020
  • Opportunity to speak at Philippine Homeschool Convention in 2018
  • Abi and Jessi’s graduation in May 2019

One of the things I missed most when we moved to Singapore, was the Home Educators’ Annual Retreat, or HEART. It has been inspiring to see the Singapore Homeschool Group develop the annual Homeschool Convention, and Dawn has mentored groups of local keynote speakers, to deliver meaningful Ted Talk-style presentations for the last 4 years. Empowering local home educators to share their message is so valuable for the Homeschool community. Firstly local home educators are empowered. Public speaking is one of the most feared activities, and many people will never overcome that fear. Many also struggle to believe they have anything to offer, and so their voice will never be heard.

Secondly, their messages are empowering for the local community. It is one thing to listen to a polished speaker from far away, whose life is nothing like yours, but it is incredibly powerful to hear a message from someone who lives in your world, home educates within your environment and whose story is so relatable.

C. S. Lewis, in the Four Loves said, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”

I believe that empowering local home educators to share their message does this for the homeschool community in Singapore. We hear the personal stories of other parents, benefit from the experience they have acquired on their learning journeys, and are encouraged that we too can do this. The struggle is real, but we are not alone.

Adding High School Day to the convention was such a valuable addition! Hearing our teens speak, with such honesty and eloquence about their journeys, their challenges, their successes – just wow! And so helpful for parents who do not yet have teens to have an opportunity to hear from teenagers, to see for themselves that homeschooling is not only a valid option for the high school years but an excellent option.

This year, with COVID-19 and Circuit Breaker limitations, I saw inspiring innovation as the various teams came together to completely redesign the convention so it could be delivered on an online platform. This took an incredible amount of work! But the quality of the presentations, the video editing, workshops, and the Village speak for the talent, determination, and spirit of excellence within our homeschool community.

Other positive developments I see is the growing interest local media have in homeschooling, and the connections developing between homeschool representatives and the MOE. To be able to sit at the table with those who have influence in this nation, decision-makers and policymakers in the field of education, to have our perspective heard, to be recognized as a valid educational choice for parents and students is a significant milestone which will provide advantages in the years to come.

So, as I say farewell, I also say thank you! Thank you for including us in this community. Thank you for the friendships, the shared experiences, the opportunities for both me and my girls. We are all richer for the time we have journeyed with you, and we will treasure the memories always.

Cassandra Shepherd.

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