The Harmony Learning Community Blog

News, Updates, Program Recaps, and Homeschooling Information

Talking Stick Needs Your Help

Support Talking Stick

Will You Support Us?

As our year of adventures winds down and we prepare for summer, we are asking you to please support Talking Stick Learning Center with a donation to our annual fundraising campaign. We currently face a $10,000 deficit -- a shortfall that unfortunately will come out of staff payroll unless we can raise the necessary funds through this campaign.

We have always covered the majority of our expenses through tuition, but in the absence of full year-round enrollment, tuition income can fall short of projections. In the past we have supplemented this income through fundraising and personal donations by Board Members. Some years we have had to delay or even forgo paying our staff, and one year a key staff person worked an entire year without a salary to help us make ends meet. Obviously that is not something we want to ask of our facilitators, whose skilled contributions we so deeply value.

If every Talking Stick family donated $150 to this campaign by June 15, we could close our current fiscal gap and have a stable start for next year.

However, because some families will not be able to make this level of contribution, we need to extend and expand our fundraising efforts. To those of you who can give more, we ask you to give more. If your children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends might be able to help us, we ask you to ask them. We hope to reach anyone who may see and appreciate the difference that homeschooling has made in your child’s life, and who would like to support our organization.

Another way to help is to prepay next year’s tuition by June 1st, and we have some incentives for families who can choose this option. We are also considering more fundraising efforts for next year and hope you will participate when that time comes.

And finally, please spread the good news of Talking Stick to everyone you know! If our membership remained steady and classes were full throughout the year, our budget would remain balanced throughout the year as well. Help us find more families who would benefit from what we offer, and everyone wins!

Our Story

We would like to share the story of Talking Stick -- about our commitment to financial and geographic accessibility, and about why it’s such a special place.

In 2013, Talking Stick moved back to our roots: the city of Philadelphia. We enjoyed our time in Fort Washington but wanted to return to the city where we could be accessible to more families. We searched for a way to balance cost with ample indoor and outdoor space, and finally found a new home in Awbury Arboretum, an oasis of green in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

By partnering with Awbury we have been able to get back into the city (with a Septa train stop on the grounds); we’re able to keep our costs down and therefore our tuition accessible; and our young people now have an amazing natural playground to explore. Our partnership with Awbury also helps the arboretum’s bottom line as well. They wanted to strengthen their tie with homeschoolers, and Talking Stick answered that call, joining organizations like Weavers Way and The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in sharing space at the arboretum. We have been at the arboretum for two years, and are pleased that both organizations are stronger because of this partnership.

Talking Stick continues to work with individual families to create a tuition payment program that is as affordable as possible. And we also do whatever we can to keep expenses low. Most of our supplies are donated, or culled inexpensively from thrift stores and garage sales. We would love to be a free resource for every family in Philadelphia that supports self-directed education, natural child development and experiential learning, but we haven’t yet found an avenue of funding that would allow us to stay true to our mission and philosophy while making sure that all our bills are paid.

Our Growth

Talking Stick has grown with our young people, sticking to our mission of self-directed learning while incorporating new information on best practice learning strategies, like Maker and DIY programs. At Awbury we have also expanded our Naturalist program, and made use of access to the train to take young people on field trips into the city.

The oldest of the Talking Stick kids have now become Talking Stick teens. In 2014 we worked with a graduate student from University of Arts, using design-based learning methods to envision a new program for homeschooled teens. Informed by that workshop, Talking Stick rolled out our first teen program in the fall of 2014. It has been very popular, and we’re using what worked this first year to create an even more exciting program for fall 2015.

Our volunteer Board of Directors has also grown considerably in the last few years. We have brought parents and members of the community on board, including an unschooling podcaster, a liaison for Outreach in the African American homeschooling community, experts in alternative economics and gifted education, and a teacher at The University of the Arts.

We’ve also worked hard to grow the Talking Stick community by hosting film screenings and parent discussion groups, building our natural playground, designing and carrying out our milkweed seed project, and connecting Talking Stick to the larger community of alternative education. Our board is committed to expanding these efforts in the coming year.

Our Staff

Because of our emphasis on self-directed learning, a high ratio of facilitators to young people is absolutely essential. We provide one facilitator for seven young people, enabling the young ones to engage in their own learning and exploration safely and with constructive supervision and support.

Each of our facilitators is hand-picked by our founder and co-director, Katie O’Connor. Many are highly credentialed professionals in their field, and are then trained to facilitate self-directed learning. Even the language our facilitators use is carefully chosen, and the activities offered are thoughtfully designed to encourage open-ended exploration.

Furthermore, our staff goes above and beyond for the young people and our community. Katie wrote The Homeschoolers Guide to the Galaxy, a resource for homeschooling families in Philadelphia. She is also presenting a workshop at the AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) Conference in New York this year. All staff pursues continuing education studies on their own time and dime, and bring their individual passions for birding, nature studies, poetry, engineering, cooking, film-making, history, and justice to our community. We want to retain our excellent facilitators, and want to pay them fairly as a matter of principle. And yet we want to make sure that our programs stay as affordable as possible.

What does Talking Stick mean to you and your family?

In considering how you can support Talking Stick, we ask you to think about what Talking Stick offers to you and your family:

  • + A community of families dedicated to nurturing their children’s home-based education
  • + A place that nourishes curiosity and exploration with other learners
  • + A variety of programming supporting a diverse range of skills and interests
  • + A continued focus on collaboration and partnership, rather than on competition and testing
  • + A safe place to take risks, which encourages the trial and error required for growth and learning
  • + Stimulation of complex and critical thinking through authentic interactions and experiences
  • + Facilitators modeling effective non-violent communication and problem-solving skills
  • + Access to materials, spaces and programs that provide a rich enviornment for learning

How You Can Help

Our board has donated the first $2,000 of our $10,000 goal. We ask for your partnership in raising the rest. Gifts can be made on our website, using the “donate” option under the main menu. Registration is already available for fall, and your agreement to monthly payment starting in June, helps stabilize our cash flow during the summer months. Finally, spreading the word to those who can contribute financially or become members of our community helps set the stage for a successful year ahead.

Talking Stick has always been an innovative, resourceful organization with staff, directors, and board members giving so much to create a space and community that is committed to self-directed, experiential learning. We thank you for helping us continue in our mission. Regardless of the amount of the donation, your contribution and support are very important and deeply appreciated.