A perfect storm of school closures and a maternity leave changed Zoë Clement’s life.
A few years ago her career path took a bit of a left turn and it’s proven a benefit to not just her and her family but to the greater Cowichan Valley home-schooling community as well.
A teacher by trade, Clement had worked in both public and private schools and around the time she had her first child, a bevy of school closures had just taken place in the Cowichan Valley.
“I wasn’t really sure what to do,” she said of her return to work.
Her family lives on a farm and as a result she’d been working with some home-schoolers on farm-based projects.
It got her entrepreneurial wheels turning.
“I started to learn about home-schoolers and started to realize there were a lot of home-schoolers in the Cowichan Valley but very few resources for them,” Clement explained. “I thought well, it seems like an interesting opportunity, so I basically gathered up all of the stuff that was packed away in the basement — teachers collect a lot of stuff — and I opened a centre where everyone has access to it.”
The Learning Centre was born and the teacher morphed into a teaching-businesswoman.
Based in Cobble Hill, the alternative programs are for home-schooled children and children with difficulties in classroom settings. Clement works with students and their parents to figure out ways they learn best.
“We offer home school support that’s recreational, artistic and music classes,” Clement said.
The Learning Centre is based at Valleyview Centre but there’s also a classroom at Zoma Farm in Cobble Hill.
“Most of the students we have coming to work with us are really hands on, really creative learners, so we offer a lot of individualized learning plans. If students are more artistic they’re going to spend more time doing the art side of things, if students are strong readers and writers then they’re the ones who are helping others and leading in that way. Its very student-centred learning,” she said.
Depending on the day, the program hosts eight to 12 students and programs run five days a week.
“Some days are cooking and some days are art and science and two days a week we have a regular project-based learning program,” Clement said.
There’s also science equipment and math books and teacher guides and learning guides — basically anything that a family that was home-schooling would need access to.
“We have all of those resources for the families,” Clement said.
And slowly the parents started asking for different courses so she got to work building and expanding her programs by request.
This year, the desire for a French class has resulted in French Fridays. A cooking class was also put on the front burner and fun at the farm is a regular occurrence.
“What’s really interesting is because there’s so much flexibility, the students have such a genuine interest in what they’re learning. As a result, they are spending less time doing the book work but learning more,” she said.
Clement noted some of her students are seeking out information for their projects outside of school time because they just get so engaged in their topics.
“There’s just a genuine ownership and interest in the topics,”she said.
While it’s no doubt benefited the students she’s been able to reach, it’s also been life-altering for Clement.
“The last four years of my teaching were private school. I’ve been doing this for two years,” she said. “I started off really cerebral. Now I still have the same structure, I still want to go deep into subjects, but it’s more open ended questions. I feel liberated. I love it.”
The future looks bright for this teacher turned businesswoman.
“Homeschool is becoming more and more [common],” she said. “There’s so much freedom and flexibility.”