Culturally Centered: A conversation with Alycia Wright, Cultural Roots Homeschool Co-op
Today I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Alycia Wright, founder of Cultural Roots Homeschool Co-op. We started chatting about the increase in homeschoolers and more importantly, the increase in diversity in homeschooling. The percentage of Black students homeschooled, rose from just 3% prior to 2020, to it’s current 16%! We’re very excited to see such an increase in the diversity of the homeschool population.
Alycia’s co-op, Cultural Roots Homeschool Co-op, is doing great things to embrace, celebrate, and continue to grow this diversity. This co-op is dedicated to providing a culturally centered and liberated educational space for families, focused on the cultural attributes, traditions, and history of Black and Brown communities.
Not only is it a welcoming place for BIPOC children to be themselves, but also a place to see themselves reflected in their education. Cultural Roots is intentional in their lesson planning, with field trips centered on the history of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples: Visiting the Great Dismal Swamp to learn about freedom seeking Maroon Colonies and meeting a descendent of Moses Grandy, making tinctures and salves from ancestral recipes, and visiting local farms to learn African farming practices, to name a few.
Alycia, a former public-school teacher, started homeschooling 9 years ago. At the time she had two children in Montessori School, a preschooler, and one on the way.
“We were going to be making negative dollars and had to figure something out,” she said.
It is a conversation known to many families.
Their solution was simple: Homeschooling.
She says, though she found many different areas of challenge, her biggest challenge is one we all know too well.
“Juggling between the cool, fun things, and the things I know they would need to be competitive candidates for higher education.” She clarified, “not to say you can’t have both, but there feels there are boxes you have to check for certain fields.”
Alycia says her background in education both helped and hindered her in the process. It “helped in choosing curriculum and sorting through textbooks, knowing the language … but it hindered because my mindset was schooly and organized as it would be in a group educational setting.”
She discovered quickly that home education is not the formal education setting she was accustomed to, and that homeschooling becomes part of your life.
It was early in her homeschooling journey, that she joined a local co-op. She says she enjoyed it and didn’t have any negative situations, but never truly felt it was for her and her children, adding that it’s “hard to explain until you’re in a space like that.” After a pause, she continued, “We felt like we were visitors in the space and we could never fully be ourselves in it.”
At the time, she had met several other homeschool families she was at ease with, and felt it was time to try to build something for themselves and their children.
“In the act of creating something, your voice is included, so it feels a lot more comfortable,” she explained.
Reminiscing on those early days, she said, “It took some work, I don’t want anyone to believe they can start a co-op and it just falls together perfectly.” She warns that new additions add their own voices and can start to muddy the vision and experience.
Cultural Roots has grown to 80 children and counting, adding a High School program this year. As we chatted about her own vision for the co-op, you could hear the joy and excitement in her voice.
“We invite families of all backgrounds to share their cultures and really have a say and really feel celebrated.” She continues by saying that she doesn’t want these celebrations to be a one-time event, but “an ongoing intentional space where these diverse families can come as they are and bring with them their customs and histories and all those things that make them unique and have it feel like a normal day.”
When asked what she would do with unlimited resources, her answer was quick: A larger facility! This highlights the growing need for more diverse, inter and multi-racial, inclusive spaces.
Her ultimate goal? “To create something radically inclusive!” While she recognizes she has not met this end goal yet, her work towards it is inspiring. I have no doubt it will one day be the space she dreams to have, “a little microcosm of what we hope Virginia to look like…where we’re not separated by income, who we choose to love, or skin color, but honor all of humanity.”
Cultural Roots is currently the home away from home for children and families of all backgrounds, races, and gender identities, it’s a “space where people can be themselves and be respected for who they are.” And isn’t that what we all want in our homeschool spaces, and our everyday lives?
As more families turn to homeschooling, we need more resources available and certainly need more culturally centered, liberated spaces; in our homeschool community, as well as our community at large.
When asked what advice she has for others starting out, building their own communities, joining co-ops, and becoming a community, Alycia advised: “Create a vision of what it is they ultimately want to see, write it down, and be as specific as they can about who they want in the space or what it is they want the space focused on; let it drive everything.”
She continued by explaining if you aim for a religiously diverse space, but fill it with your close friends, who all happen to be Christian, then you’ve lost the real vision of the group. Instead, consider a two-for-one method, so to speak, adding two diverse families for every similar one.
“[Your group] may end up smaller, but it will be what you want in the future,” she said, again cautioning on allowing people to come in and change it to their vision: “Stay true to what you need for YOUR family.”
What would Alycia like to see for the future of the homeschool community to better support BIPOC homeschoolers? “I would like to see more curriculum choices in all content areas created by Black and Brown people. I would like to see a celebration of Virginia’s history that includes the contributions of precolonial through present day Indigenous, Black, Brown and other diverse peoples. I would like to see Virginia highlight, in particular, those who stood up against the evils of colonization, slavery and Jim Crow laws, and today’s leaders who stand for righteousness; build learning opportunities around them.”
Without missing a beat, she added, “I would like to see more free or low cost physical spaces for our families to use for cooperatives, gatherings, etc. I would like to see a state-wide support for homeschoolers with specialized supports for those most in need.”
She also had a wink, wink for VaHomeschoolers: “I would love to see a conference that specifically talks to diverse homeschoolers, speakers of different backgrounds, workshops in Spanish, translators, curriculum from a diverse mix… I would love to see a new type of conference that is secular as well.”
I guess the VaHomeschoolers board has some work to do.
In closing, she included, “there has been a large increase in the number of black and brown homeschoolers since the pandemic, we are finding it to be an option for our families, we are trying to build a space where we can be seen and a space where we can have access to resources that celebrate our children. I am committed to encouraging people to create their own space, whatever that looks like; there’s such a need. I feel like there’s such a need for inclusive space because just as we’re building a space for the type of world we want to live in, there are others building a space for the type of world they want and it may not be inclusive, and that can be dangerous.”
Cultural Roots is actively looking for partners who share their vision and hope they can become home to even more families in the future, growing their own community, and reaching out to help the homeschool community in anyway way she can.
For now, when Alycia isn’t spending time at her co-op, homeschooling her 4 children, or many of the other activities that take up her time, you can find her at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens among the plants or taking a herbalism class. Her future includes a farm she hopes to turn into a food forest and forest school space. We have clearly not seen the limits of Alycia Wright in her quest to create a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse homeschool spaces.
You can join Alycia’s journey and her co-op, Cultural Roots Homeschool Co-op. She also offers a Patreon Community, friends of the co-op receive access to specific field trips and events. You can also check out her curated bookstore here, for works celebrating all children.
We hope to hear from and see a lot more of Alycia and Cultural Roots Homeschool Co-op in the future! For now, we thank her immensely for taking the time to chat with us!
Interview and writing conducted by Jess Koller. Opinions expressed by individual writers in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers. Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.