Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center welcomes students on campus for socially distanced trunk or treat event
VISALIA – COVID-19 was not stopping kids from getting their Halloween candy. The Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center (ERCLC) offered students a safe way to get their sweets, while also serving as a good alternative schooling option for families.
ERCLC is a free, public charter school that supports homeschooling families in Tulare, Fresno, Kern, Kings and Inyo counties. On Friday Oct. 30, the school opened their seven-acre site to families for a socially distanced trunk or treat event. Of the 320 students enrolled, about 70% of their families came out. Some families traveled from as far as Bakersfield and Fresno to attend the event. In addition to offering programming that supports parents who are home-schooling their children, ERCLC prides themselves on offering additional activities such as field trips, fine arts, dance classes, extracurricular activities and STEM education.
“Part of why [families] attend our school is for enrichment and the extra activities they get compared to other home school programs,” Superintendent Heather Rocha said. “They kept asking to have opportunities to come on site and we felt we were able to have that opportunity for them and the children to connect again with the school.”
ERCLC offers a variety of curricula for kindergarten to 12th grade with over 30 different optional enrichment classes and multiple online learning options. Parents are offered frequent one-on-one meetings with a credentialed teacher to help guide their children’s education and this year the school added parent tutoring workshops. According to Rocha the school is a great option for parents seeking alternative methods of education that are different from traditional schools. She deems they were more prepared for the pandemic since the school has been helping parents home-school their children for about 20 years.
“Our staff and curriculum were set up to support parents teaching their child [at home] and giving them the tools to do that,” she said. “I’ve had folks from traditional school systems contact me to get advice on how to utilize some of the online programs for families and how to best support learning at home because they know myself and our school have done this for so long.”
Rocha became the school’s superintendent on July 1, but she is no stranger to the world of homeschool independent study. From 2007-2015 she helped build the Visalia Charter Independent Study Program from 70 to 700 students. She also spent time as a principal at Lindsay High School and Summit Charter Collegiate Academy.
Before she arrived as the superintendent of ERCLC, the school was very close to permanently closing its doors. They were lacking adequate systems and infrastructure which made it difficult for the school to successfully carry forward. The former superintendent was relieved of his duties back in March, and the entire school board stepped down from their posts. The Tulare County Office of Education put the school on notice to remedy the situation or they would be closed within two weeks. The former board stepped back into their positions to elect five new board members between April and June: Barbara Brydolf, James McDonnell, Carly Sears, Barbara Pilegard and Daryn Davis.
“ERCLC used to have a reputation of a friendly welcoming site, and I wanted to help the school get back to that place,” Rocha said. “I knew I needed to first create a strong foundation of trust, caring, and community.”
Within her first few months as new superintendent, Rocha is now dealing with the negative effects from state legislation SB 98 and SB 820, which were approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June and September respectively. Those bills will essentially deny funding for enrollment growth during the ongoing school year at non-classroom based charter schools. ERCLC falls in this category, but Rocha considers the term outdated since they would normally have students on campus if it weren’t for COVID-19 restrictions. As a result of the bill, there is a limit on the funding the school can receive despite the increase in enrollment they are experiencing. Therefore, they were not allowed to take on as many new families that opted against distance learning and wanted to transition to ERCLC. There are now several schools across California that are taking legal action against the state in response to these provisions. This isn’t a route that ERCLC has decided to take, although it may happen in the future.
For now, the school is focused on their next community event that will take place before winter break. Rocha is working towards getting the high school accredited so families can have more college and scholarship opportunities. Creating a diverse environment is another big part of her future vision for the school.
“As I listened to our families, I knew we needed to build more diverse and equitable opportunities for them. I want to ensure that we celebrate diversity and that our program supports every child and family no matter who they are or where they come from,” Rocha said.