Real Moms of the Metro—Robin Khoury - MetroFamily Magazine
MetroFamily Magazine

Where OKC parents find fun & resources

Real Moms of the Metro—Robin Khoury

by Hannah Schmitt

Reading Time: 6 minutes 

It was almost 20 years ago when Robin Khoury felt what she calls “a little tap on the shoulder” and a voice telling her she would someday start a school. 

“I could just hear God telling me I would be teaching underprivileged kids one day,” she said.

Today, Khoury is the founder and principal of Little Light Christian School, an Oklahoma City elementary school exclusively for kids whose parents are incarcerated. But back when she felt that little tap, she was just getting started homeschooling her own children and already feeling unqualified to even do that.

“When I started, there were very few people doing it,” she said of homeschooling. “We were on the leading edge, the pioneers of the homeschooling movement. People thought I was crazy and thought I should be either in a mental institute or a prison for doing that to my kids. Then the big snowball started to roll and now it’s totally mainstream, people don’t even raise an eyebrow.”

Although not mainstream when she started, her kids were none the wiser and loved being educated at home, she said. Although she felt challenged and tired at times, she always knew she was doing the right thing. But when she first felt the calling to someday educate other young children, she didn’t feel so confident.

“I said to myself, ‘Okay, you don’t even have an education degree. You’re already experiencing so much grief from everyone with homeschooling, why don’t you just keep this to yourself,’” she said. 

So Robin made a note of this calling in her journal. Over the next two decades, her children grew up and she successfully taught them through high school and sent them off to college. Along the way, she flagged her journal again every time she felt the voice reminding her of this future school. Today, her face lights up at the mention of what all those notes turned into.

Oklahoma has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the country. Most recent numbers from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reveal there are 26,194 incarcerated individuals in Oklahoma. Many of those people are parents, and their children are profoundly impacted by their incarceration. Robin started to have awareness of this before she started the school or even the ministry behind it. It was right after her two sons, 26-year-old Elijah and 29-year-old Chad, got off to college that Robin volunteered to mentor female inmates at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud. 

“God really worked on my heart, getting to know on a personal level women who had committed serious crimes,” she said. “It was very touching. God really, really worked on me during that time, making me grateful for things I was never exposed to and all the different blessings in my life. I went home from that prison every time saying, ‘Thank God I can walk out of here.’”

During her visits, she began to understand the burden the women behind bars feel toward their families on the outside, especially their own children. She began to see that all her years of homeschooling were preparing her to start a school where she would help meet the needs of the children whose parents could not. 

The 2014-2015 school year marks the third one for Little Light Christian School, which now has nine students between the ages of 6 and 11. She started Little Light Ministries before opening the school with the goal of breaking the cycle of incarceration in Oklahoma, she said. Now, the ministry still provides guidance to women behind bars, but the school specifically ministers to their children.

In addition to teaching the children, Robin’s ministry provides scholarships for women in prison to get college credit while they’re incarcerated. The hope is that women who are locked up will get an education that can help them stay on the right path after their release.

“Education is key,” Robin said. “That’s the key to keeping them out of prison and helping those in prison to get out and stay out.”

There are seven staff members at the school, Robin included. The staff is more equipped than what you’ll find at most other schools; even her office manager has a Ph.D. Her staff has dozens of degrees among them, and backgrounds ranging from missionaries and licensed counselors and military chaplains and school principals. 

“Our teachers are very highly trained, so the children are in very good hands,” Robin said. “But children like this really require this type of background.”

Most of the students at the school started there at least two years behind in classroom instruction, Robin said, and some of them were truant for long periods of time before enrolling at Little Light. In addition, children with incarcerated parents come from a variety of backgrounds many traditional students do not experience. Some may have post-traumatic stress disorder, Robin said, or are sensory deprived. They may never have learned to effectively communicate, which can lead to all kinds of behavioral issues. 

“If anyone is not loving, a volunteer or staff, they don’t last here very long,” Robin said. “We always treat the children with respect, even if they’re misbehaving. We always respect and love them, even with discipline.”

The Little Light staff usually starts working with new students by simply letting them play, a method that can help them build pathways in the brain before bringing on a full slate of academics. 

The student body is intentionally small right now, Robin said, as the facility space is limited and the students require a lot of attention. The school is currently located inside Lone Star Baptist Church, with hopes to eventually grow into a facility of its own. The staff at Little Light comes together to meet the students’ every need, who are transported to and from the school every day, fed two meals and a snack each day and provided school uniforms.

“Oh my goodness, they feel like my own children to me,” Robin said. “Everybody who knows me, I’m sure they get so tired of me whipping out my phone to show pictures of the latest cute things the kids are doing. I love them all dearly and I just talk about them constantly.”

Students new to the school are always a little standoffish, Robin said, probably because they’ve had negative experiences in learning environments before. Within a couple weeks, she notices a big change in their mood and behavior. Kids at the school learn in the classroom, but also learn through gardening, music and hands-on activities. The school emphasizes character development and spends time teaching communication, manners and even lessons on developing true grit.

All the lessons are provided with the goal to meet all needs of the child and break the cycle of incarceration in the family. For the most part, students at the school have a history of shame regarding the status of their parents. Their current caregivers are doing the best they can, Robin said, but any situation where the parent cannot raise the child is less than ideal.

“The thing about the caregivers,” she said, “these people are just stretched to their maximum limit. They have a family member incarcerated and that’s a financial pressure. Most are grandparents and they have normal issues of aging but they’re also caring for young children. They’ve raised kids already and now there’s this added pressure plus the shame factor.”

At Little Light, students and their families don’t need to feel ashamed about the incarceration because they are understood by their peers.

Because the school is provided at no cost to students, it is totally funded by donations and grants. The major funders have been the National Christian Foundation and Jasco Products Company in Edmond. With further funding, Robin hopes to see the school grow. They’re building a waiting list now and will be able to take on more students with a new facility. Her hope is to plant a church to accompany the school. Through the church, she would be able to provide more programs for the entire family, like classes in parenting, life skills, finances and 12-step programs. Growth would also allow her to provide summer camps and after-school programs to students. 

Until then, Robin will continue pouring her heart into the handful of students enrolled in the school now. 

“Whether I was homeschooling or teaching Sunday school or anything else, I have just loved every minute of having kids around,” she said. “When I’m with the students, it’s just like having my family around me. And that’s what they need. Children need to belong, they need to be part of the community. And I need to have a view of what this child can be, not what they’re like right now. We’re called to love them and teach them day by day so that’s just what I do.”

[Editor's Note: To see more photos and read a Q&A with Robin, see her story in our digital edition. To read about a special program hosted at Little Light Christian School by local veterinarian Dr. John Otto, click here.]

more stories

Verified by MonsterInsights