February 6, 2024

Meet Lighthouse - Interview with Amanda Escue

Meet Lighthouse - Interview with Amanda EscueMeet Lighthouse - Interview with Amanda Escue

Meet Lighthouse!


Can you introduce yourself and share details about your educational background? Also, tell us how you first discovered Charlotte Mason?

Amanda: I am a speech language pathologist and board certified behavior analyst and also a homeschooling mom. I stumbled upon Charlotte Mason's ideas through homeschooling blogs with my oldest children, who were just getting us started in homeschooling. I'm so thankful I found those early because it challenged me not to replicate my public school experience in our homeschool. However, I struggled for years to find the right book lists and resources. I dabbled in Ambleside Online some but still needed more guidance, especially since we had a growing family and the Lighthouse became a great focus in our lives. Time was in short supply, and I needed help. When we found Alveary, it was just the boost I needed. I tested it out with my own children for a few months and then realized that it had a lot to offer to our special needs cooperative.

Origins of the Lighthouse

What prompted you to start the Lighthouse? Were there specific goals or ideals that inspired the creation of this homeschool cooperative?

Amanda: Very early in my career as a speech pathologist I was given a wonderful opportunity to be trained to help children with autism succeed in public school preschool classrooms. I learned a great deal about autism and behavior. I had two preschool children of my own and saw that I wanted a different path for our own children. We started homeschooling them as I continued to work part-time in various settings that kept me treating more and more children with autism. During that time, we started noticing the presence of autism in our oldest son. 

By the time our fifth child was born in 2013, I was treating 6 children with autism in their homes in the afternoons and homeschooling my children in the mornings. I enjoyed becoming acquainted with these families and knew we were all facing similar struggles. They were all attempting to homeschool in some manner. Their children were isolated for much of the day. Their parents were overwhelmed.

My husband and I decided to create a small social group for them to receive therapy in our home, be around peers, and have a cooperative educational experience. We renovated our carport and created a classroom. We hired an occupational therapist and physical therapist and started experimenting with the different activities that our students could enjoy together. Before long, word got out, and our house was full of children and employees!

We realized we had the potential for a helpful community for families like ours but knew we would need more staff, training, and space. We have been running the Lighthouse now for 8 years and have a staff of about 60 employees and as many students spread across two locations in Bono and Pocahontas, Arkansas. God has provided us with some wonderful facilities for a beautiful learning atmosphere and an even more beautiful group of people who work very hard to bring great opportunities to our students in a safe and loving environment.

Differences from Traditional Homeschooling

How does the Lighthouse differ from a traditional homeschool cooperative? 

Amanda: The Lighthouse integrates speech, occupational, and ABA (applied behavior analysis) therapies to help our students engage and succeed in their cooperative. We have almost as many adults as we do children present. Our staff are trained in techniques to help our students attend, respond, and interact. Our students are assigned to groups led by an educator we call a guide. The guides present lessons, and the therapists help to individualize the lessons for each child to participate on their own ability level.

A Day at the Lighthouse

Could you describe what a typical day looks like at the Lighthouse? How is the learning experience structured for students?

We start our days with math, reading, and copywork for everyone. These lessons are generally taught in a one-on-one or in a small group (2-4 students per group).  We teach other lessons in larger groups as the day goes on. These include Bible, geography, science, history, art, poetry, composer study, picture study, and recitation. Most of our students attend five days per week and are with us from 8 to 3 each day, so we also have plenty of time for other fun activities. We play a lot of board and outside games, cook together, offer small groups for some handicrafts, and teach life skills.

Impact of Charlotte Mason's Principles

In your experience, how have you seen Charlotte Mason's educational principles enrich the lives of the students at the Lighthouse? Are there specific examples or outcomes that highlight this impact?

Amanda: I most often quote, “Children are born persons," and "Education is an atmosphere." My background in therapy and mainstream educational and healthcare settings revealed to me how easily we can forget the obvious truth that children are persons. The funding requirements from insurance and state educational agencies create a data-driven approach to instruction. Unfortunately, this often shifts the focus from the personhood of the student to the measure of progress of the students. We do not enjoy talking about our students by these standards, nor do we want parents to hear their children being referred to in these ways. However, since we are dependent on insurance payments for our staff, we are challenged to meet the requirements in our paperwork, but we strive to keep our focus centered on the persons we get to teach. I enjoy talking with our staff about how we can prioritize our goals for our students according to their interests, their family needs, their strengths, and their own life goals. Using a Charlotte Mason approach to education has given us freedom from state-mandated educational standards and allows us to give them a feast of opportunities that are tailored to them as individuals with God-given uniqueness.

I most often quote, “Children are born persons," and "Education is an atmosphere."

Clinics often have a sterile and institutional feel. We wanted to avoid that. We knew we wanted our students to have a natural and nourishing childhood even though they have disabilities that create a need for a great deal of time spent in a therapeutic setting. Starting the Lighthouse in our home set the stage for a very naturalistic atmosphere. We wanted to maintain that familial feel even when we found more suitable facilities for our growing group. We have a running joke about shoes being optional at the Lighthouse because we have always sought to keep our interactions with our students fun and exciting, which means we get messy, play in the dirt, jump on trampolines with them, have shaving cream parties, and more. We once had a pretty epic food fight with them. We have found that whatever it takes to connect with our students and bring joy to our day of learning we want to be willing and prepared to do. This is why I hold tight to education being an atmosphere. Being willing to get outside of our comfort zones, being flexible with our schedules and lesson plans, and being available to meet our students where they are is what help us create our unique Lighthouse atmosphere.

Teacher Perspectives

Can you share any insights or thoughts from your teachers regarding their experiences implementing Charlotte Mason's principles in the classroom? How do they perceive the benefits for students?

Amanda: Our teachers enjoy the brief lessons and the balance between books and things. Our teachers are experts in our students. They know what makes them look forward to coming to the Lighthouse every day. They weave in special experiences for students that incorporate their interests. For example, one of our students loves game shows, especially Cash Cab. He has an incredible memory and can beat us all at Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. His teacher created a version of class Jeopardy for Term 1 exams. This particular student struggles to be conversational with others, but he thrives in a game show-like setting. Our teachers can identify their students' needs and adapt the lessons without feeling the need to busy students with worksheets and the drilling of facts.

One of our particular challenges with children with autism is narrations. We find the art of narrations even more valuable since children with autism typically struggle with retelling events or information to others. Some of our students have severe communication challenges, so we have had to adapt how we allow our students to provide narrations. We keep small whiteboards near students at all times. Our therapists assist these students with narrations of what they just heard or observed by providing sentence starters and allowing them to choose from options or fill in the blank to introduce them to narrations. As time goes on, we are able to fade out that approach to allow our students to provide narrations more independently. 

Final Thoughts

As we wrap up, do you have any final thoughts or reflections you would like to share about the Lighthouse, its journey, or the impact of Charlotte Mason's philosophy on the work that you do?

Mason spoke of an education for all regardless of social class, but this idea extends beyond class to ability. We believe there isn't any child that should be denied a generous education, regardless of the challenges they bring developmentally and behaviorally. We have sought for ways to overcome the obstacles to give all students access to a richer educational atmosphere.  The Lighthouse has been a unique experience that is first a ministry and second an educational cooperative. It has not been an easy journey, but God has been sufficient to provide abundantly more than we ever dreamed it would become. We realize that not every cooperative will be able to provide the same level of accommodations to students with autism, however, every cooperative can provide some accommodations to some students with autism and other disabilities simply by applying the principles of Charlotte Mason, seeking specialized expertise in children with autism, and trusting God to help them through the obstacles that arise. He is a great navigator for our journeys with our unique students.

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