Imagine kids counting down the days during summer until school starts again. 

It happens every year for sisters Abby and Hailey Addison, middle and high school students at Pathways School from Sinking Spring, Berks County.

"I love our school. We have hands-on learning with adventurous projects," says Hailey.  

Pathways is a Christian homeschool offering a hybrid educational alternative for grades three through 12. Based on homeschool principles, the school’s leadership believes earlier primary age students benefit best through parent-taught learning at home. 

Wanda Swarr’s vision sparked the school’s creation. For 27 years, the mother of six homeschooled her children. She says she dreamt about having a small school to give students a Christ-centered education. 

The Penn State University graduate with a B.S. in elementary education taught seven years in public school districts — five in Pequea Valley School District, and two in Eastern Lancaster County School Districts. But her belief in the value of homeschool education drew her to teach for various homeschool cooperatives. She also worked as an evaluator assessing homeschool students on their educational progress for 36 years, as required by Pennsylvania law. 

In March 2018, she took a leap of faith and invited like-minded parents, educators and friends to her home to share her vision for a new type of school.

School board member Bob Wenger says Swarr’s excitement about the school was contagious. From the group's initial kitchen table discussion, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) school officially opened five months later at the end of August.  

"We saw God's hand of provision each step of the way," says Wenger. 

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Students are pictured in the fall garden they are responsible for at Pathways Home School, a micro-hybrid educational alternative with two locations in Lancaster County that is focused on the teachings of the Bible on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

Project-based learning

The school model is based on project-based, multi-age learning. Swarr likens it to a one-room school where students of different ages learn together. She wanted the focal point to be on environmental stewardship and living history, with a Christ-centered academic program.

"Environmental studies give students hands-on projects which takes them outdoors to enjoy fresh air and sunshine," says Swarr. 

The school operates on a two-week cycle.  Week A students attend three days on campus (Tuesday through Thursday); Week B has four days on campus (Monday through Thursday). Assignments and projects are worked on at home on off days. 

There are two campuses: Pathways Elementary/Middle School Campus is located at Red Run Mennonite Church, 982 Martin Church Road,  Denver, and Pathways Senior High Campus is at the Brubaker House, 414 Long Lane, East Earl. 

Current enrollment is 20 elementary, 25 middle school and 32 high school students. There's a waiting list for students wanting to attend the school. Students come from all over Lancaster and Berks counties. 

Parents complete an application for children to attend the school and must agree to follow the Parent Covenant based on Christian faith principles. Upon acceptance, there's a yearly fee. 

Caleb Myers, of East Earl, attended public school for eight years. After a daylong visit to Pathways, he told his parents, Heather and Todd Myers, "I want to go to that school." Now, he’s a 10th grader at Pathways.  

"It feels like a family environment and hands-on learning makes school exciting and fun,” says Caleb’s mother, Heather Myers. “But the students really work hard.”

Those hands-on projects include woodcarving, photography, auto maintenance, cooking, sewing, flyfishing and blacksmithing. 

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Pathways Home School, a micro-hybrid educational alternative with two locations in Lancaster County that is focused on the teachings of the Bible on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

A ‘no-brainer’

Mike and Antonia Addison, Abby and Hailey’s parents, knew Swarr as the homeschool evaluator for their daughters. They say it was a "no-brainer" to support the Christian school from the meeting at her house. 

"The school is unique from any other schooling and instills passion for learning," says Mike Addison, who serves as chair of the 13-member school board.   

The high school’s location in Brecknock Township’s Brubaker Park provides numerous opportunities for students to work on projects that benefit the broader community. 

"We appreciate the students' help with environmental projects at the park," says Gary Messner, township park maintenance manager. He says students helped build handicap picnic tables and bluebird houses, stock fish in the pond,  trim brush,  plant trees and created a pollinator garden.

Swarr says her vision for the school has become a reality. 

“My goal is for every student to be prepared to follow the path God has for them and be the best person they can be,” Swarr says. 

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