Legacy Circle Member Biographies

Legacy Circle members were and are leaders, moving the organization to new levels through their many years of service and strong belief in the founding principles of the organization. They have served homeschoolers across the state as role models, by supporting and mentoring other homeschool families. They are an important part of VaHomeschoolers history. We honor their years of service and dedication to homeschooling.

Will Shaw

Will Shaw co-founded VaHomeschoolers in 1993, along with his friend Jay Phaup, beginning under the name Virginia Home Education Association (VHEA). Initially the members were various homeschooling groups and organizations, and Will served as president, editor, and lobbyist. He and Jay began to see the need for an inclusive statewide organization for individuals and families—one that could not be stereotyped as religious or anti-religious, conservative or liberal, and could not be associated with any partisan political interests. They planned an organization whose only agenda was homeschooling, and which would be self-sustaining and run on a volunteer basis. ”Homeschooling is an ideal way to inculcate values, but it is not a political party or tool thereof,” Will believes. “I have been angered by those who try to use homeschool organizations as instruments of political revolution, and in the process damage homeschool interests, the very interests they claim to protect. Such organizations have been impediments to progress, but we progress in spite of them.”

When asked about the benefits of homeschooling, Will joked that he had “more hands for more hours to help stack wood,” and added thoughtfully that he and his wife believe that their four children “had more time to be children, more time to play, to read, to explore, more time to interact with their siblings and with adults, with people of all ages, not just their K-12 age-mates for thirteen years.” Will described the benefits of having been involved with VaHomeschoolers as “the honor and pleasure of working so closely for so long with the leaders and volunteers of VaHomeschoolers, people who use their brains and talents and energy selflessly for other homeschoolers. I will always cherish my association with these fine people.” Will and his wife Margaret reside in Louisa County and work in Charlottesville, and both maintain their strong commitment to VaHomeschoolers.

Margaret Shaw

Margaret Shaw became involved with the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (then Virginia Home Education Association—VHEA) because she saw there was no place for “relaxed” homeschoolers or those that were not religiously motivated, and she believed that a statewide organization should be all inclusive. As the organization formed, the Shaw house became the home office for the organization, and she spent countless hours on the phone advocating for homeschooling and answering questions from new homeschoolers. Her patience and kindness are widely known and appreciated. She also helped with the first conferences sponsored by the organization, and she was especially proud of the diversity offered at these events. Shay Seaborne quotes her in a post on About.com’s homeschooling forum that there was “No lockstep mindset on the part of presenters,” who offered “something for everyone to disagree with!”

 Margaret successfully homeschooled four children and she is most satisfied with the experience because all of her children have become independent learners and thinkers. When their small daughter faced a three-hour bus ride each day while a new elementary school was being completed, the Shaws began their homeschooling adventure, and they became “infected.” They continued homeschooling all their children all the way through high school. More than two decades later, they have homeschooled four children. Leah is a professor of applied sciences at William & Mary. Benjamin was a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps but now lives in Charlottesville where he is completing EMT training. Elizabeth works for a family medical practice in Charlottesville. Mary Anna, works for the Albemarle County Police Department and does language translation on the side. In 2003, Margaret officially finished homeschooling her last daughter, and she returned to the workforce. She spends her time counseling for a nonprofit center in Charlottesville.

Jay Phaup

Jay Phaup was involved with VaHomeschoolers at its inception. He and Will Shaw knew each other because Will was the lobbyist for the organization, Christian Home Educators Association of Fluvanna (CHEAF), of which Jay was president. Because both men had a love for homeschooling advocacy and shared a keen sense of humor, there was a natural tendency toward many long conversations, which led to forming the then-VHEA. First formed as an association of local homeschool organizations, its purpose was purely economical in the beginning, but as the organization unfolded, the two men saw an additional need for more advocacy for individual families, one that included all homeschoolers, not just ones of a certain kind. As the group grew and became more organized, Jay served as a board member, treasurer, and vice president. Jay says that credit for forming the organization should rightly go to Will.

Jay retired from official organization duties when his seventh (and last) child was born. Jay and his wife, Bobbie Jo, chose to homeschool because they felt it their duty under God. Their children have gone on to pursue a variety of degrees and careers including military service and massage therapy. The Phaups find that the biggest benefits in homeschooling are the relationships they have with their children and the fact that they have preserved a lifelong love of learning in each of them. The flexibility in their schedule allowed them to capture those “teaching moments” in life, many of which occur outside of a formal instruction period.

In addition to his contribution as a homeschooling dad, Jay works as professional forester in land management and wood procurement, a career that spans 29 years. He is also involved with the 4-H Shooting Education Program as a local leader, state firearms instructor, and coach.

Mary Alissa Wilson

While homeschooling her children, Mary Wilson heard that Will Shaw, a man she knew to be a strong and positive voice for homeschooling, needed help with VHEA. She volunteered to lend a hand for fifteen years as a board member, secretary, and conference chair. She and her husband, Jack, began the publication of the organization’s newsletter in their home, taking it from its fledgling four-page length to twenty.

Mary also wrote a popular column called Happy Trails in which she described many of the field trips her family took during their homeschooling adventure. It is still read and enjoyed by many at www.trailz.org. Additionally, Mary was instrumental in helping the organization achieve its non-profit status. While her official roles were many, Mary is also well known for filling voids whenever a need arose—which has included rocking any baby in the vicinity. Mary and her husband homeschooled their three children and, like many others, she considers her “start of homeschooling date” as the day they each were born. When the kids reached school age, the Wilsons decided their children were “too much fun to put into an institution called ‘school’.” They developed a program centered on self-directed learning, volunteering, and mentoring. Their extra reward was witnessing their children grow into confident adults, capable of thinking “outside the box,” and having a sense of giving back to their community. The children have gone on to achieve success at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, Piedmont Virginia Community College and at Virginia Tech’s School of Natural Resources.

In addition to her work with VaHomeschoolers, Mary is Vice President of Scientific Software Solutions, an international medical software business that started about the same time the family’s homeschooling journey began. This company (www.pedheart.com) provides teaching and cath lab materials relating to congenital heart disease to doctors, nurses, patients, parents and others. She also serves her community by volunteering with Meals on Wheels, and continues to enjoy gardening, her adult kids, and plenty of field trips with her husband.

Ellen Neal

Ellen and Mike Neal began their homeschooling journey in 1991 for “a limited period of time.” The idea was to homeschool for a couple of years and then go back to public school, but that never happened because the family was having too much fun. Ellen became involved with VaHomeschoolers (then VHEA) in 1995, as Will Shaw and Jay Phaup were working overtime to grow the organization and spread the workload to a broader base of volunteers. She rolled up her sleeves and went to work. Officially, she was the treasurer, but her contributions were much farther reaching as she wrote the constitution and bylaws, chaired the membership committee, worked on the brochure committee, and folded the newsletter to which she sometimes contributed. She became a lobbyist and influenced legislation that has affected the lives of homeschoolers across the state. The most notable legislation she worked on made it possible, though not mandatory, for school districts to allow part-time access to public education for homeschooled students. The homeschool statute language was modified to not require teaching to occur “in the home” and to allow filing of the Notice of Intent to homeschool after the start of the school year. She was also instrumental in helping defeat several bills that would have had negative effects on homeschooling including denying part-time non-public school students access to all extracurricular public school activities, imposing a daytime curfew for minors, and the raising of the GED age for homeschoolers.

In homeschooling her children, Ellen used a variety of approaches beginning with a very structured setting and curriculum and evolving into a more hands-on, experiential, project learning, unit study style. In the end, her three boys were allowed to choose their own educational paths with Ellen and her husband acting more as mentors/coaches rather than teachers. The boys graduated with honors from colleges around the state (Virginia Tech, UVA & Piedmont) After her involvement with VaHomeschoolers, Ellen went on to found the Rockfish Valley Community Center in Nelson County. She is currently the Vice President/CFO and owner of Arboristry Associates, Inc., a tree care and maintenance program that serves central Virginia. In her very limited spare time, Ellen does some historical reenacting in the James River Batteau Festival. She also enjoys spending time with her sons, to whom she still feels very close. Although the boys are independent adults, all three continue to include their parents and each other in their lives—one of the commonly quoted benefits of homeschooling.

Shay Seaborne

It is hard to find a part of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers that did not benefit from Shay Seaborne’s energy, commitment, expertise, and sense of humor during the decade she served as a key volunteer. Seaborne became involved with VaHomeschoolers in 1998 after asking for a representative to speak at the local homeschool support group she founded in Prince William County. She was so impressed that she began to volunteer almost immediately. She quickly became the group’s “PR Committee.” In 2002, Seaborne began the first of her 3 terms on the VaHomeschoolers board of directors. She served for six years, including as president from 2004 to 2007. Intent on dispelling the myth that homeschoolers are all of one mind, she also began to advocate for homeschooling by speaking to the media, candidates for public office and elected officials at both the state and local levels.

Shay began homeschooling in 1995, having chosen this educational option after reading a brief article about it in The Mother Earth News about ten years before the birth of her first child. She so enjoyed being with and learning from her young daughters that she “saw no reason to turn them over to someone else for most of the day, just because they had reached ‘school age.’” Homeschooling afforded her and her daughters “the ability to live a hand-made lifestyle,” and provided her children “the luxury of learning what interests them, always free to respond to their heart’s yearning for truth and knowledge, whenever they felt the spark of desire to learn.”

Since leaving the VaHomeschoolers board, Shay has re-entered the workforce. Like most who volunteer, Shay joined the ranks of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers in order to help others; however, she said she never imagined what she would receive. “I believe this ‘unpaid’ work actually paid me back in numerous ways, by offering me the opportunity to find and create my own place in the homeschool community, through providing contact with people who became great friends and supporters, by strengthening my ability to stand up for myself, and in giving me the chance to cultivate job skills and community contacts that lead me into the next phase of my life. VaHomeschoolers gave me life-changing opportunities, and for that I am ever grateful.”

Celeste Land

Celeste and her husband, Kent Giles, have homeschooled their two children Leila and Adam from the start. What began as an alternative to attending preschool blossomed into a complete, enriching homeschool experience.

In 1998, after a call to then VHEA simply looking for contact information, Celeste learned of the organization’s need for volunteers. Will Shaw recruited her as a Legislative Monitor for the Government Affairs Committee in 1999 and by 2001 found herself as the Director of Government Affairs. She became a board member in 2002. Though she spent time as a conference speaker and planner, article writer and presenter on homeschool advocacy issues, her greatest contribution was in maneuvering within the General Assembly. She built and sustained positive relationships with government officials, legislators and families throughout the state. In addition, her articles on various homeschooling topics have been published in Growing Without Schooling and Home Education Magazine. Co-Legacy Circle member Shay Seaborne says of Celeste, “Her dedication is unrivaled. As the Government Affairs Chair, Celeste had more insights into the legislative “sausage factory” than most people could stomach, yet she kept her interest and enthusiasm high. Her warm demeanor and ability to speak to the heart, balance Celeste’s reasoned perspective and encyclopedic knowledge.”

Now that she has “retired,” Celeste enjoys reading, playing piano, studying tae kwon do with her family and volunteering as a Girl Scout leader.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) status; your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by law. A financial statement is available from the Virginia Division of Consumer Affairs upon request.

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