Through the years, Ceil Humphreys has learned that Skittles and her homemade chocolate-chip cookies have been great motivators for her students. Positive encouragement certainly is, too.
“One of the most beneficial things I learned in college was positive motivation,” Humphreys said. “I find it works better to praise them than to browbeat them. I encourage them to be their very best.”
Humphreys has operated Humphreys Junior High School for 20 years; she says it’s time to hand the reins to someone who matches her level of enthusiasm for the job but is much younger than her nearly 66 years.
The teacher and principal started her homeschooling program in southwest Orlando at a time when the idea was fairly new in this area. The nearest homeschool academies in Central Florida were in Longwood.
Pine Ridge Home Educators was located in MetroWest, and Humphreys and her team rented space at Pine Ridge Church on South Hiawassee Road.
ONCE A TEACHER…
Humphreys taught math in junior college and middle school before taking an 11-year hiatus to raise her sons, but she always had close ties to education, volunteering at her children’s schools. When the family moved to Orlando, she taught sixth grade for one year at Westridge Middle and another six at The First Academy.
When she made the decision to retire, she gave away all her teaching supplies. She was lured back into the educational setting when TFA asked her to return as the middle school principal. She prayed about it and talked to friends in her Bible study group.
One of those friends had a son in the eighth grade who wasn’t quite ready for high school and was considering holding him back. The boy said he wanted Humphreys to be his teacher.
“So he was my first student,” she said.
In her first year, she had seven students; by the spring, she had a waiting list. She has always believed in smaller class sizes for an enhanced learning environment.
One of Humphreys’s favorite success stories is of a student who graduated from the University of Central Florida and is now an engineer.
“He had gone to another private school and had to go to a class for learning disabilities, and children were making fun of him for going to a ‘dummy class,’” she said. “He pretty much shut down and was believing the things they said.”
After transferring to Pine Ridge, his family could see the changes in their son.
“His mom called, and she was crying because he came home and said, ‘Mrs. Humphreys thinks I’m smart.’ He just needed someone to believe in him. … A lot of my students who came through, they have shut down. They just need a place where they are loved and not made fun of.”
Humphreys has always accepted students of every ability level and admits that she enjoys working with the ones who sometimes struggle.
“When you can tell they just got it, that’s the best feeling,” she said.
Humphreys creates the curriculum, writing out all the lesson plans for parents to follow.
She said once people learned about her program, it became successful in West Orange County, and most of the local private schools and churches have their own homeschool program.
“I hear from my former students, and they say the things we do helped them,” she said. “They say the most important thing we did was learn how to write a research paper.”
She published a book a few years ago with 20 years’ worth of her writings, and students are given one to take to college with them.
“I just want to get them to love to learn,” Humphreys said. “If you can just light that spark in them and get them excited, then you’ve met your goal. People look back on middle school with not-happy memories. I want them to look back on middle school and smile. … It’s a hard time, life is hard, you’re kind of gawky. … I want them to feel confident in who they are and rejoice in the talents God gave them.”
… ALWAYS A TEACHER
Humphreys said she would know when it was time to retire when she knew of the perfect replacement. About 10 years ago, she hired Haley Gurr McAfee, who had been homeschooled; Haley’s mother, Gwen Gurr, also helped that first year, as did Becky Schultz.
Haley started Pine Ridge’s preschool program, and she and her mother and sister, Lauren, called it Keystone Academy.
Humphreys’s school is being absorbed into Keystone Academy, with Haley as administrator and Schultz as the teacher.
“I’m real excited about that,” Humphreys said. “It’s going to be a real smooth transition. … I feel like I’m leaving it in good hands.”
Humphreys is anxious to spend more time with her six grandchildren and to do volunteer work. Her passion is working with the Orlando Rescue Mission. She has also already signed up to tutor at Keystone.