Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Academy Gives Homeschoolers Classroom Experience

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special Contributor | Published May 6, 2004

There is not a small car to be seen in the parking lot outside Regina Caeli Academy, which shares its property with St. Patrick’s Church.

Instead, the lot is full of large vans, many bearing pro-life bumper stickers and several with more than one child’s car seat visible in the back.

Inside the building, at exactly 12 noon, Kari Beckman walks throughout the halls ringing a large bell, signaling the beginning of their daily ritual—the praying of the “Angelus.”

Children, teachers and parents emerge from the classrooms and recite the prayer as Beckman leads.

It’s a lovely spring Georgia day, and all around the property are the sounds of children laughing and learning. Soon there is a mad frenzy to the commons area. The date is Thursday, April 29, but more importantly, it’s pizza day. The children scramble to the boxes of Papa John’s for a slice, the sounds of “Hi, Mommy!” echoing throughout the room.

It’s easy to tell which families are related—children with big blue eyes like their mothers, or curly blonde hair like their older sister. And seeing them together is a reflection of the mission of the academy. For at Regina Caeli, academics and formation are a family affair.

Regina Caeli opened its doors in September. Touted as a metro Atlanta homeschool assistance program, classes meet Mondays and Thursdays. It is a nonprofit business designed to offer assistance to homeschooling families of all sizes.

Course offerings include math, English, science, religion, history, professional development, foreign languages, music, art and physical education for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Having lessons in a traditional classroom setting allows homeschool students an opportunity to interact with others in a social and academic setting, said Beckman, coordinator of Regina Caeli.

“Here you get the best of both worlds. The goal when you homeschool your children is that the family gives the child the primary formation, rather than other kids forming them,” she said. “This isn’t just about academics, but it’s the formation of the heart and soul. However, they have to live in the world, and this allows them the opportunity to be exposed to different teaching styles, and a team approach in a classroom setting.”

The most unique thing about Regina Caeli’s approach to homeschooling is the involvement of the families. The mothers don’t just drop off their kids, but instead become teachers and caretakers, janitors and gardeners, performing tasks that range from teaching algebra to changing dirty diapers to cleaning the toilets to pulling weeds on the property.

Cyndy Furgiuele, administrator of Regina Caeli, said that the families go above and beyond the call of the average volunteer.

“The moms here are truly dedicated. They have to keep their children on track, but then come here and teach other children,” she said. “We have been blessed with the most wonderful, gifted people.”

The strong community ties at Regina Caeli are part of the reason the program has attracted 24 families from 13 different parishes, some driving from as far as Peachtree City twice a week, Beckman said.

“The families that are interested in Regina Caeli are families who are interested in a structured environment for their children, and they are families who want their children to learn the importance of community,” she said. “And we are here, side by side in community, all day long, twice a week as volunteers.”

The name “Regina Caeli” means “queen of heaven”—a name for the Blessed Mother. It was on a trip to Rome with a group of friends, including priests, when Beckman learned the beauty of the Regina Caeli prayer, which is prayed in place of the Angelus during the Easter season.

“The prayer was in Latin and I didn’t even know what they were singing, but it was so beautiful,” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes it was just so holy and beautiful, and I fell in love with the prayer.”

So when Beckman and a few other families decided to start Regina Caeli and were thinking of a name that would both honor Mary and be “distinctively Catholic,” the choice was an easy one.

The program is an attractive one for families who would like their kids to attend private Catholic school but cannot afford the tuition. It’s especially helpful for families with multiple children, as many of the Regina Caeli families have five, six or even seven children each. The tuition per family is only $125 a month, no matter how many children attend.

Furgiuele said that her two children, who are in eighth grade and fourth grade, have greatly benefited from their experiences at Regina Caeli.

“As wonderful as homeschooling is, I wanted them to join to have that classroom situation and the accountability that goes along with it,” she said. “There is, of course, the social aspect, but at the same time, it really helps with being able to get their school work done. Having the outside influence of the other kids and the teachers have made them more competitive, in a good way. They are really getting their work done.”

Terri Thomas, who is a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City, calls it “positive peer pressure,” and said that her daughter, Nicole, age 13, has had not only a strong academic experience from Regina Caeli, but a social one as well.

In the building, there is a nursery where babies and small toddlers spend their Mondays and Thursdays watching “Veggie Tales” movies and playing with toys, all under the watchful eye of a mother. Thomas works in the nursery, and teaches English and science.

“These are just really great families that I am so privileged to be around,” she said. “I can’t have any more children, and it’s great that Nicole can be around these little ones. But also, the seventh-grade girls her age really get along. There is positive peer pressure that inspires her and totally motivates her to do her personal best.”

Nicole said she likes being homeschooled, but enjoys her days at Regina Caeli.

“I like all the girls here, and I like being around the babies, and I like my teachers,” she said. “When I was always at home, I didn’t get to meet a lot of friends, so I like this a lot better than being totally homeschooled.”

Bonnie Rust, a parishioner at Mary Our Queen Church in Norcross, said that Regina Caeli was the “answer to (her) prayer.”

“My son was having a hard time in middle school with bullies, and I just couldn’t put him back in that environment. He’s a different person here,” she said. “He’s much happier.”

Tracy Stringer, a parishioner at St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell, has also seen the difference in her children. She had been homeschooling five children, from first grade to high school, for five years.

“It just got harder and harder to get to everyone,” she said. “I really wanted my son, who is a senior, to experience a classroom setting before he went off to college,” she said. “I was having a lot of trouble motivating them, and it often ended in punishment. But being here has prompted self-motivation rather than mom motivation.”

Stringer, who serves as a curriculum specialist for the program, said she has also found her own benefit.

“I studied education—I have a degree in early childhood education, but I never really taught in the classroom. I wanted to find out if I really loved it. And I found out I really do.”

For more information about admissions to Regina Caeli, contact Kari Beckman at (770) 253-3683.

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