Shanon Sisson was surprised to find herself on the path to becoming a homeschooling mom — but today, after ten years, she and her husband Ty help others discover homeschooling in the Thousand Oaks area.
“I did not set out to homeschool my kids,” Shanon says with a laugh. “I thought I would send them off and have a little bit of my life back. I may have a job, a hobby — this is phenomenal! But I really felt led by the Holy Spirit to do this, and I was obedient, and the Lord provided in a mighty way with people and resources. … There are plenty of people who want to help, support, give and share because they know how good this is.”
“The Conejo Valley is an amazing place to homeschool. The whole spectrum is here. It’s amazing.”
Today, Shanon and Ty’s son Blaine, 21, who graduated in 2020, is spearheading Ty’s newest business venture in another state. LeeAnn, 19, who graduated in 2022, attends Moorpark College and is a self-employed piano teacher. The Sissons’ two youngest boys, Brody, 15, and Brent, 13, are in tenth and eighth grades, respectively, and excelling in math, Boy Scouts and their friend groups.
But when Shanon and Ty initially decided to leave public schools for a less traditional route, some relatives questioned their decision.
“I withstood their comments for some time,” Shanon says. But “the family members who thought I was a wacko — now that the truth is coming out and parents are seeing what’s going on in these [public] schools — they are singing my praises now. They no longer give me grief because they watch the news and see what’s going on.”
In the last three years, with scandals and the sexualization of classrooms in the Conejo Valley Unified School District, a flood of parents have sought the Sissons’ advice on leaving public schools.
“There’s a desperation in parents’ voices, and they’re done,” Sisson says. “In the eyes of the people I talk to, I see conviction. They say, ‘What do I do? I need out now. We’re done with the politics, the nonsense that doesn’t have to do with the three Rs.’”
Shanon has become “a mentor mom for a lot of people,” she says.
“The Conejo Valley is an amazing place to homeschool,” she says. “Any reason you want to homeschool, you can find a group to match your philosophy. I’ve met uber-religious people, hippies and everything in between. The whole spectrum is here. It’s amazing. I had no idea until I started.”
“I am such a better person for it. I have a confidence that I had to earn.”
In those early years, the Sissons sought out homeschooling families for advice.
“I listened to anybody I could find,” Shanon says. “It was like a mental survey I made until I had a picture of what can be.”
She chose to teach her kids through Classical Conversations’ Agoura campus because she likes having “a framework, a package deal” rather than picking and choosing classes from different sources. She also believes that the classical model of learning “is the best way for people to learn anything at any time, at any age.”
“When I came across it, it was like, yes, this makes so much sense,” she says. “Plus, there’s the community, which I love. It’s more like the body of Christ than anything I’ve experienced because we’re doing life together, like a giant small group. ‘How’s it going? Where are you struggling? Here’s what works for me.’”
On the day of her interview with the Guardian, Sisson was teaching Brody high school physical science by “messing with pressure” using balloons in water. Brody likes to plan out his week and work at his preferred pace, asking for help when he needs it. He has an advanced aptitude for math and has already surpassed the math levels of his two older siblings when they graduated high school.
Brent is the most social child and is thriving in a Classical Conversations group with eight other like-minded boys.
“It’s phenomenal,” says Shanon. “They’re good kids. We have game night monthly with all the families.”
Shanon says homeschooled kids don’t escape normal teenage problems, but “the difference is we’re in it with them, and we don’t have people speaking into their lives that I don’t know what’s being said,” she says. “We as parents get more time to speak truth into their lives.”
Parents considering homeschooling often harbor a few top fears and misconceptions, she observes.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘I could never homeschool my kids. I’m no teacher. I don’t know this stuff,’” Sisson says. “I say, if you can read, you can teach your student. With a little time and effort, you can understand it.”
Homeschool families get stereotyped plenty, she says.
“It’s a common misconception that we sit in our jammies all day. We’re ‘antisocial’ or ‘snobbish.’ ‘A little weird, lazy, not academically focused’ — I’ve heard it all,” she says. “‘Fearful’ is another one, which is funny because the scared ones are the ones who stay in the machine. Nobody pulls a child out of public school in order to homeschool him poorly. We are not the lazy people.”
She appreciates the structure, challenge and support her homeschool community provides.
“I’ve needed those things, for sure,” she says. “It’s hard to do this alone. We pick each other up.”
Employing their different areas of expertise, she and other moms “call each other when we’re stumped.” Each has come to believe they are the most appropriate teacher for their children because they know them better than anybody else.
“I know when they get it or don’t. I know when they’re having a bad day. I can gauge the speed, up or down, because I’m with them and I don’t have 20 others I’m doing that for,” says Sisson.
The biggest change of all, she says, has been in herself.
“I’m way more relaxed than I ever was … I am such a better person for it,” she says. “I have a confidence that I had to earn. There’s a learning curve, but I didn’t plow this ground. I reached out to people who had gone before me and pulled on the wisdom of those who had been there. I, in turn, am passing that on to other people.”