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 further reaching: 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 Virginia. 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, the University of Virginia, and 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.