By Lee Rasizer, CCA Public Relations Coordinator
It's reality show material, all things considered.
A family of nine from Aurora. All seven children are, or have been, home-schooled by mom, a part-time model.
The first names of the Henderson clan alone are pitch ready to a cable network: Janelle, Jayde, Jeven, Jhia, Jarec, Jake, Jenna, Jordan. Only the family patriarch, Wayde, has averted the love affair with ‘J’ … but he proudly proclaims he has a “Jr.” punctuating his surname.
And, get this: every single Henderson is in the family band.
Here’s the story of a man named Brady? Heck, they had a live-in maid. This is dirt-under-the-fingernails stuff.
There’s only one problem that assuredly would prompt rejection from A and E to MTV: This is normalcy, efficiency and common sense at its finest.
You need a heavy dose of crazy to get face time these days on what has in many cases truly has become the boob tube. The Hendersons seemingly don’t have a lick of irrationality in them at first or even second glance.
Jordan, at 13 the youngest, once made Kool Aid with salt instead of sugar while making dinner as part of rotating family chores but that was an honest mistake, not an attention-grabbing stunt.
That’s not to say the Hendersons aren’t unique in their own fashion.
It’s just that they are real, not what has become ‘reality.’
Both parents agreed long ago that if they had any chance of putting their seven children through college that all of them would go the community college route, and would do so right in their backyard, which incidentally lies right between Community College of Aurora’s two campuses.
Dad worked three jobs to support the family in an effort to ensure those educational futures. In fact, he was the one who started the parade of Hendersons through CCA. Wayde took a couple of courses in the early 1990s before being shipped overseas for Desert Storm as part of the Army Reserves following a career in the Air Force.
Jayde (2008), Jeven (’11) and Jhia (’11) were the first three children to receive their associate degrees, with mom graduating cum laude from CCA in between. The latter three all are currently attending Metropolitan State University in Denver, while Jayde already has earned his diploma with a Communications degree.
That pipeline is bound to continue, with Jarec and Jake currently attending CCA, and 15-year-old Jenna and Jordan nearly ready to set foot on campus.
On second thought, perhaps The Learning Channel has an opening in its fall lineup.
“I just think it’s an easier way to ease into college and I like the idea that you can obtain a degree,” Janelle Henderson said about consistently choosing an educational bridge for her family on the path between home school and university studies.
“How many kids do you know who start at four-year schools but don’t finish? To me, the two-year degree provides that extra boost of confidence, where when you get to the four-year college, you’re like, ‘I’ve done it once, I can do it again “
At CCA, it also has continually exposed her children to a range of teaching methodologies and allowed them to discover (or confirm) their professional goals. At the same time, it’s saved thousands of dollars and racked up foundational credits that seamlessly transfer to four-year institutions.
“Jayde was kind of the guinea pig,” father Wayde said of his oldest son. “It was kind of like, ‘Let’s see how this goes, and what do we have to learn to make sure things go well?’ Once he got through CCA, it made it easier for everyone else to already know the steps and what needed to be done.”
Yet only a select few people on the college’s campuses have put together the fact that so many related Hendersons have filled the classrooms of Lowry and CentreTech.
“My ceramics teacher says all the time, ‘Your whole family’s going to be the President, CEO and all the teachers of CCA’ because we’ve had so many people through there,” Jeven said at one of the family’s usual Sunday gatherings.
A brief pause followed.
“He may be right,” big brother Jayde chimed in, eliciting laughter from this brood of parents and siblings.
Starting from scratch
As calculated as the Hendersons’ educational plan became relating to community college, the opposite was true regarding the foundational step of teaching the children at home.
Wayde and Janelle were married in 1987 and “decided to do the whole kid thing.” But there was no thought of the latter being a stay-at-home mother until she sent her first born to a preschool down the street and stopped at a school supply store, where she happened upon a conversation that would shift her thinking.
One of the owners was talking about how she’d completed high school at an early age, and at 19, was already in business with her husband. It wasn’t long before the home-schooling concept was broached and curriculum purchased.
By the time Jayde hit five years old, and second son Jeven was already three, that Janelle decided after diligent research to “just keep going” and see where this pathway led.
It was exhilarating in one sense, but pressure-filled in another.
“The whole shebang is on you, and if the kid doesn’t know it, it’s because of you,” she said. “I had to make sure they knew what they had to know.”
The train was rolling, though. There would be no stopping it.
Soon enough, Janelle was home-schooling all seven kids at the same time. She had the procedures down to a science and, at the same time, managed to keep sane.
“If there’s one thing I’d never change was that decision to home school,” Janelle said. “It’s the best stumble I’ve ever made.”
There were tense moments. Janelle is human after all. Daughter Jhia joked that sometimes her mother “sleeps for a long time,” but this was a woman who in her single days ran marathons and, before the children got accustomed to the daily routine and became more self-sufficient, woke up at 4:30 a.m. for some ‘me’ time that included her daily run.
Thus, she was accustomed to the notion of working towards the long haul – and experiencing bumps in the road.
“Obviously there were down times and not-so-happy moments and people getting frustrated,” Jayde, the eldest child, recalled. “But what we’ve been taught and reinforced is not to cry on knees or roll on the ground saying, ‘I can’t do it.’ It’s not allowed. But more so than it not being allowed, if anyone flipped out another would say, ‘What are you doing?’ So it’s a cultivated environment that keeps it from going over the edge.”
There were more practical reasons for the kids’ staying even-keeled.
“If we were fighting you didn’t have anyone else to talk to. So you had to be like, ‘Oh, we’re friends again,” Jeven explained.
That wasn’t entirely true. The Henderson children were hardly shut-ins and had plenty of friends. There was no peering out at the outside world through the windows of their home. They met and befriended kids all over town through a bevy of outside activities. It was a family rule that each child had a hobby, interest and a sport.
“My goal was to use their community to introduce them to their talent,” Janelle said.
That meant museum and theater visits, ceramics and dance classes. There was horseback riding and, starting at around nine years old, courses in electronics, architecture, computers, and mechanical engineering through a mentoring program. If it was local, available, cost-efficient, and kid friendly, the Hendersons were likely there.
They play or have played all manner of athletics at South Middle School and Aurora Central High School, intramurals at CCA and around town at recreation centers. There was hardly a sport that went untested. Basketball, ice hockey, roller skating, soccer, baseball, cross country, track and field, lacrosse, golf, even ultimate Frisbee are among the list of after-school activities on the Henderson kids’ dockets.
The directive to expand the children’s horizons also meant that they all attempt to play some sort of musical instrument, which planted the seeds for the family band.
Yet none of the fun could start unless work was done first.
No horsing around
The curriculum on which the children were weaned was structured and rigid in contrast to their noticeably laid-back demeanors. There are 10 books for each subject. One by one, the kids advanced a grade at a time, with tests measuring their competency along the way. A daily schedule also was employed to keep everything assembly-line smooth, ensuring only slight deviations from the public-school experience.
Jenna, who plans on attending CCA beginning next summer, explained a typical school day in the Henderson household, which hasn’t changed for years.
“Wake up at 7:30. Get ready. Wash our face, clean our ears, read our scripture and if we don’t get it done, we can’t eat breakfast – and I want to eat,” she said. “Start school at 8:30. Pledge of Allegiance, then everyone’s like, ‘OK, be quiet. I need to get this done.’ We all sit at the same table. A section of the table is yours. You claim your space with a book. Sometimes the books get mixed up and you’re like, ‘Is this mine?’
“We start with bible, math, language, science, all for like 45 minutes. We stop at 11:30 and do chores and whoever has kitchen makes lunch.”
Usual fare includes peanut butter, tuna, hot dogs or bologna. A fruit and vegetable are always part of the mix.
“Lunch ends at 1, then it’s history and science and school’s over,” Jenna continued.
Being in such close quarters all the time has developed a palpable closeness among family members. Jhia talks about the siblings all possessing an “unspoken wavelength” where with a glance, much information could be communicated, then later discussed. Not surprisingly, there are also few secrets.
“I don’t think there’s anything I don’t know about their personalities, mannerisms or habits,” added Jhia, who once worked in CCA’s Marketing and Communications Department.
The main difference between the Henderson’s experience and the rest of the neighborhood kids has been that while most children go to school then go home, for them, it was the opposite.
What also varied at times was the way the home-schooling experience was at first perceived by others, before outsiders got to know the family members. The stereotypical expectation was that they would be with drawn and socially stunted. People have asked if they do school work in their pajamas or whether they get to eat whenever they want. One widely held assumption was that they were held against their will more than willing participants.
“The perspective that they have is of the kid who sat home all day, every day and never saw the outside,” Jayde said. “I’ll get asked, “What did you do, graduate in your living room? That’s the perspective they have. And people always say, ‘You don’t seem like a home-schooled person.’”
In truth, having so many people striving toward the same goal of a college diploma at the Hendersons begins at an early age and is fueled by each successful sibling before the next. The kids all have tested into CCA at around age 16 and have departed by their 18th birthday. That two-year span culminates, not begins, with them taking their GED tests, since it allows for continued participation in high school athletics.
“A lot of kids lose excitement about education by the time college comes. They don’t,” Janelle said. “I like that they can’t wait to get there. I’d be concerned if they didn’t feel that way.”
Off to community college
The underlying message that the children receive once they head to CCA is one of academic exploration and the acquisition of self-knowledge, along with degree completion.
The Hendersons arrive on campus already equipped with nuggets of information that were harped upon constantly. Things like never letting fear get in the way of what’s right and responsible for their success; that crying was OK, but after the tears, the problem remains and still must be addressed; that there’s nothing wrong with not succeeding the first time.
But in the big picture, it’s about using small classes and a less intimidating and quiet environment than many schools at CCA to fill any pockets of information they may have missed in their educations while prepping for the future in the workforce.
“I was a little nervous to begin trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I didn’t have my mom there to help me do things,” Jeven said about his CCA arrival. “I had to contact teachers through e-mail, phone or asking and try to figure how I fit in and get along with people I’d never seen in my life. But it was natural to me, since I’d done it before. And it made me more independent.”
The kids’ CCA experience has been filled with bus rides to campus and numerous work-study jobs. Mom and dad purchase no cellphones or cars. That responsibility is on each child, who get jobs as teenagers,
The financial ramifications of choosing the community-college route for the family have been substantial, saving them thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of dollars over choosing a four-year school to start each child’s post-secondary education.
A Noel-Levitz study for 2012-13 listed the national averages for a single-semester, full-time student (considered 12 credit hours) at $8, 655 for a four-year institution; $29,056 for private school; $3,131 for community colleges.
CCA costs $2,097 after the Colorado Opportunity Fund stipend. And with help from FAFSA, dad Wayde said the Hendersons have managed to stretch their dollars even further. By comparison, single-semester costs for in-state tuition for a dozen credits are, according to each respective college’s website, $12,888 at University of Colorado-Boulder; at least $25,488 at University of Denver; a minimum $11,700 at Regis University; and $3,437.40 at Colorado State. All those figures are from the individual college’s websites and include COF credits.
Such potential monetary outlays can go down like a fresh batch of salt Kool Aid for a family of nine in what’s currently become,but hasn’t always been, a single-earner household.
“I wouldn’t say it would have been impossible without CCA but it made it easier,” noted Wayde, the family patriarch, whose primary job is as a coordinator at Denver Rescue Mission. “We were going to do it anyway, so whatever it took, we were going to do. But being at CCA made it a lot easier because when you look at how much education is at some places, it’s kind of like, ‘Really, are you kidding?’ And with CCA being so close, really in our neighborhood, made it the right thing to do.”
Jayde is expected to receive his master’s degree this summer at Metro State. Janelle, Jhia and Jeven are on track for their bachelor’s degrees.Jarec has been at CCA since summer 2011 and was joined by 16-year-old Jake in January. That leaves only Jordan and Jenna to complete what has to be the first family of CCA, in one sense.
“I’m really looking forward to walking there, catching the bus and having the books,” Jenna said. “They’ll be heavy, but I’ll be excited.”
Strike up the band
It’s Sunday at the Henderson house off Sixth Ave. in early February and the gang’s all here. That’s typical, as the family has made it a point to reconvene weekly. It’s time for food, fun and music.
And by the sound of it, the edict to learn an instrument has hardly been wasted.
The entire lot of them has pooled talents to start a band two years ago that now plays monthly gigs and hopes to expand their appearances in the future.
The eclectic mix of musical tastes is evident, encompassing Neo soul, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, rock, pop, and dub step. The cover songs they attempt are a reflection of that array of genres, featuring Bruno Mars, Common, Michael Buble, Aerosmith, One Direction, Frank Sinatra and assorted jazz.
Jhia named the band “No. 7,” after a short-lived Chanel perfume from the 1920s.
The name was chosen because it is neutral to any type of music. But it seemingly leaves out the parents, even though Janelle sings and Wayde plays bongos.
“I thought it should be the No. 9,” Wayde said.
“But,” Jhia responded, “there’s no Chanel No. 9.”
Just as there are probably no other home-schooled, CCA-trained, family bands.
“We’re pretty good as far as osmosis and knowing what the other is doing,” Jeven said. “It’s having a connection that takes other artists a long time to discover.”
All that time together studying side-by-side has heightened the unspoken language and transferred it to the musical realm.
“We’ve developed an adaptability to different sounds,” Jayde said. “Somebody starts and we see what happens.”
Jhia, Jenna and Jarec play the guitar. Jordan plays bass and Jeven the drums. Jayde and Jake are pianists.
“It can start one way and end another way. Some of the jam sessions have been like, ‘What can we come up with?’” Jayde said.
Most of the time they play at their local church or practice in their basement. Janelle is a gospel and jazz singer and will use No. 7 as her backing band. Or the group will mesh itself into the church choir’s performance.
“They’re very good,” Janelle said. “I know when they make a mistake. But they’re actually very good.”
Yet nothing figures to sound as sweet as hearing Jordan’s name called and seeing him grab his diploma from a four-year institution in about seven years. It will mean that all seven Henderson children will have finished college, even if it does seem like yesterday that the first set of flash cards was being purchased.
“I think back at the times when some people would ask me how are you going to do college and I would always say, ‘I’ve done the research, trust me,’” said Janelle, who currently is working towards her Mechanical Engineering degree. “And that in a lot of ways was a real motivator because every so often, I’d get a look of, ‘Yeah, right.’ Not too often. But in my mind it was, ‘You just wait and see.’ So now that a few of my kids have graduated from there, it’s rewarding.
“I cried when my first son graduated from CCA. I didn’t when he did with his bachelor’s degree,” Janelle added. “I did at CCA because even though I knew what I was doing and what my kids were learning, that piece of paper showed everyone else that they didn’t have to take my word for their abilities. It provided a little bit of proof.”
The evidence has since just kept piling up. Jayde majored in Communications with a minor in Industrial design and his masters thesis is on the Business of Computer Design. Jeven is working towards a Business degree. Jhia is on track for a Mechanical Engineering degree, like her mom.
Of the two current CCA students, Jarec plans on transferring to CU to pursue an Electrical Engineering degree. Jake has designs on becoming an Architectural Engineer.
All this academia has the makings of the Henderson Engineering Co. if that whole CCA president, CEO and teacher thing doesn’t pan out.
“It’s kind of been my secret plan,” Jeven said with a laugh.
And if anyone knows about making plans work, it’s the Hendersons.
“You kind of think about what the story will be like 10 years from now and thinking where we started from,” Jayde mused.
No doubt, everything that will be accomplished -- no matter how many years down the line -- will have stemmed from the unity that is a family hallmark along with a positive outlook, encouragement from both parents and, of course, hard work.
“On the one hand I’m like, ‘I’m going to Europe, I can’t wait,’” Janelle said, adding with a chuckle, “I might go before then. But the thing that drives me the most is I want them to not need me. I’m not raising them for them to need me. I want them to know I’m always there for them.
“But I tell them the biggest disappointment is if they’re not able to take care of yourself. It’s really about me getting them to not need me and fly on their own.”
Jarec has more modest goals when it’s all over and everyone returns to the roost to visit. "I want tot see the cars parked together in one place, just to see how many we can fit in."