Leigh Bortins was a brand-new mom in 1984, an aerospace engineer, recently graduated from the University of Michigan. She had the drive and the degree to become very successful, and she and her husband, Rob, both accepted lucrative positions with Boeing in Seattle. But the young couple decided they wanted something more than corporate daycare for their young son. As soon as her initial contract was up, Leigh resigned from Boeing to stay home and care for her son.

Not only did she want to care for her son herself, but she decided she wanted to educate him herself, as well. While Robert Jr. was still a toddler, Leigh began researching homeschooling, even though homeschooling was still considered illegal in some parts of the U.S. She read books, attended conferences and studied classical education.

She discovered that there weren’t many educational materials out there for the homeschooling parent and almost nothing based on the classical model of education. Leigh decided she could produce a better curriculum for her sons, so she did.

The growing Bortins family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1989 when Rob accepted a job with USAir. Then she began homeschooling in earnest.

Robert had plenty of homeschooling friends through elementary school, but as they got older, one by one their parents put them into public or private schools because their parents didn’t think they were competent to teach young adults. In the fall of 1997, at Rob’s encouragement, Leigh began teaching a once-a-week, classical-model program in Rhetoric in her home with 11 students. This was the beginning of Classical Conversations’ Challenge I program.

Just two years later, Leigh, along with some friends, began the Foundations program for 4-12-year-olds to give them a solid grounding in the Grammar level of classical education, by helping them memorize facts and definitions and the order and sequence of those facts.