High School

My last two years of high school I attended Bethel Regional High School in Bethel, Alaska. It’s a bush town out on the tundra. The only way to get there is by plane, boat, or in winter, via snowmachine or the ice road. When I was living there the population was somewhere around six thousand. I moved from tropical Haiti to frozen Alaska and it was quite a shock to the system. I walked around in a heavy coat the first summer, but eventually I got used to it. It was the first time in my life that I did not have any tan lines. I’m sure my skin appreciated the break. 

I remember my senior year a girl I knew called me and asked me if I would be willing to tutor her in geometry. I was surprised and a little confused. Umm. I’ve never tutored before, I’m not sure how helpful I would be. Then the girl assured me that our math teacher, Mr. Guffin, had been the one who told her to call me. Oh. Ok. (Mr. Guffin thinks I can tutor someone??) Well, sure, I guess I could tutor you. 

The tutoring went well, she was able to get her grade where it needed to be, and the next semester another girl called and asked me to tutor her for Alegebra 2, also saying Mr Guffin had suggested she call me. I tutored her as well and she was able to pass her class too. 

I would have never thought that I could tutor someone in math. I would never have volunteered to do it. I would have never thought myself qualified to do it. But my teacher saw that I could, pushed me in that direction, and my confidence grew and I learned how to tutor math. 

I ended up writing for the school newspaper. Another thing I had no previous interest in and didn’t really think of it as something I would be capable of doing. A teacher pushed me in that direction and I ended up learning how to conduct interviews, and do layout on a computer. 

My gym teacher declared that everyone in his class would do calisthenics and running and become competent in a long list of sports. I did not think these were things I could do. But, it was required so I did it. And learned that I was actually capable of these things and could even semi-enjoy them. (Ok, maybe I didn’t quite become competent in all the sports, but I definitely made improvements!) 

I was not signed up for band class because I did not play any band instruments. But the band teacher learned very early on that I could play piano. He volunteered (voluntold) me to be the band accompanist. I accompanied several ensembles for their competitions and performances and I ended up accompanying every single student who performed a solo for band competition. And one time, when they were short somebody, I played the timpani. All things I did not think I could do. But the teacher said yes, you can do this, here’s the music, get busy. 

My best friend pushed me to be a class officer. Did I want to do this? No. Did I do it anyway? Yes. Did I learn a lot in the process? Yes. 

When I look back, I think of these last two years of high school as the golden years. I was learning who I was and what I was capable of doing. I made some great friends. My teachers were supportive and involved. My classmates were friendly enough. I was good friends with some, acquaintances with others, slightly nodding recognition with a handful. But no bullies. No kids that I felt the need to avoid at all costs. 

This is what I want for my own children. I want school to be a place where they are pushed to try new things, pushed to excel. Pushed to be more, do more. A safe environment with at least a handful of friends. 

We are looking at making some changes for next school year when we have a junior and freshman in high school. While our local high school was a great experience for our oldest daughter, a reasonable experience for our son and a decent experience for our other daughter, we’ve reached a place where it is not meeting the needs of our fourth daughter and we have concerns for our upcoming freshman. And while I struggle because I want to support our neighborhood school and I believe in their vision and I applaud the efforts of many of their staff, I can’t help wanting my kids to have the same thing I did. And right now it looks like we will have to branch out to find it. 

I’ll write more about this later. 

I’m Celebrating!

I’m going to break one of my personal rules, and write about one of my kids. My eleven year old is not on social media. And none of his friends are on social media. And I’m saying nice things for the most part. And if he discovers this somehow in a couple years, I don’t think it’s too embarrassing, and I’m not betraying any confidences…Ok, now that I’ve justified this to myself, I will continue…

So, this particular child has always struggled with education. I homeschooled him for three years. Two of those years was just doing kindergarten. Twice. Because he hated it and wouldn’t do it. And no matter how I tried, I could not convince him that school was something worth putting any effort into. 

This child was actually a big part of why I put my kids in public school. We did three years of school and he still couldn’t read. I didn’t have the energy to solve this problem. Enter Public School, stage right. 

When I enrolled him I explained that he was significantly behind his peers. They said, don’t worry, we will help him. And they did. They put him in an intervention program. We had a couple meetings with administrators who all assured me they had the problem under control. 

By the end of our first year of public school, he was reading! Yay! All of his teachers loved him. He always worked hard, was kind to others, participated. ( Apparently working hard for teachers and working hard for mom are two very different things.)

I would get reports every couple months telling me about his progress. Lots of charts with little dots. Your child is here: dot. The rest of the class is here: dot. This is how far we are hoping to move his dot in the next couple months: dot. 

I attended all the parent teacher conferences and all his teachers assured me that he was working hard, giving his best, and they were all pleased with his progress. And so, we did three years of intensive intervention.

Last night I was going through his school folder and found a stapled pack of papers addressed to me. The front page was a letter addressed to all parents of 5th grade students. In the letter the teachers explained that, as a result of school getting out in March, our students were struggling with a bigger than normal gap. They were also having a harder time adjusting back to a school routine. No one’s fault. We just have to face these challenges head on. Etc etc. 

I went to flip to the next page, and I was fully expecting it to be an Intervention report where they would tell me that my child qualified for the intervention program, and these were his test results, and these were the steps they were going to take to help him. This was what I was expecting to see. 

Instead it was just two pages of test results from their beginning-of-the-year testing.  

The first page had a chart and then explanations of the chart. I glanced at the chart, was confused, so I read all the fine print. My child scored in the 80th percentile for reading for his grade. He was labeled “above average” for his reading skills. I flipped the page. Math. He was in the 76th percentile. Also above average. What? 

Somehow this child managed to bridge the gap and then leap forward. 

I have been giddy with pride and happiness for him. 

So, forgive me about gushing about my kid. But, I think it’s good to celebrate when someone has overcome such a big challenge! 

Thoughts on the Upcoming School Year

Let’s talk about this upcoming school year. Our county’s school board is planning on giving us their Plan this coming Wednesday, July 15th. They have already said that their goal is to have students in the building on August 10th. I have quizzed my public school teacher friends, and they are all as equally in the dark as I am as to how this next year will proceed. Which seems pretty crazy to me. You would think that if teachers were about to be asked to teach a completely different way than normal, they would be given lots of time to prepare. Apparently not. 

 

We HAVE been notified that all of the children in Knox County will be given a computer. Which is great except, I don’t particularly want my kindergarten and second grader to be handed a computer. Sure, I would like them to start learning the basics of computer use, but I don’t want them to be doing their school work on a computer on a regular basis. I want them using manipulatives, and hands-on items, and writing with big thick pencils and crayons and turning pages on books. Not clicking and typing. 

 

I have had more than one teacher tell me that I should probably homeschool. If not all the kids, at least the youngest. That is also alarming. I have NEVER had a public school teacher advise me to homeschool. Things are definitely upside down. 

 

While I don’t want to homeschool, it is a viable option for me. I homeschooled for twelve years. I kept most of my curriculum. If I suddenly chose to homeschool all my children right now, I would have to buy very few books to do it. Even for high school, which I’ve never taught at home, I have talked to friends, and they have curriculum ready to lend me if I need it. I also have a home school umbrella school handily at my church and the lady who runs it is a friend of mine. I’ve already consulted her on how easy it would be to switch mid-year to homeschooling, if public school is a flop, and she has assured me that it’s very doable. In other words, I can very easily homeschool if I have to. Let’s also throw in the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom and my only plans for this next year was to take care of my three year old at home and help my children get to and from school and take care of them after school. There will be very little hardship on our family if I have to homeschool.

 

This is NOT true for a large percentage of people I know. Single parents. Dual income families. Parents whose children have special needs. Parents whose kids need extra remedial help. Low income families who can’t afford the extra cost of purchasing homeschooling material or the fees for signing up under an umbrella school. Homeschooling is not a viable option for these people. 

 

Why do I need to homeschool? School is going to be open after all, whether it’s in-building, hybrid, or completely online. Well, here is my big question. What is going to happen when (not if) a child or a teacher in a classroom tests positive for Covid-19? Will the entire class be sent home for two weeks of quarantine? And if one child is sent home to quarantine for two weeks, what about the rest of my family? Will we all have to quarantine? What about my husband? Will he need to stop working for two weeks as well? If that is the case, I can foresee our family, which will have seven school age children this year, spread through three different school buildings, spending most of the year in quarantine. 

 

Ok, so doing school completely online is also going to be an option in our county. That might work for my older children. But, a teacher just explained to me yesterday that teachers are trained for classroom teaching. Not at-home school. For younger children, especially, trying to do regular classroom work on a computer is not going to be an effective way of learning. 

 

What I see happening this coming year is the gap between the Haves and the Have-nots becoming significantly wider. In the end, families who have resources will make the sacrifices necessary to make sure that their children get an education, no matter how creative or ingenious they have to get. And families who don’t have resources will just have to take whatever public school can offer. And right now public school has so many hurdles to jump over, (through no fault of their own) that they are simply not going to be able to offer the quality of education that we used to getting from them. 

 

My heart goes out to public school teachers right now. They are in an impossible situation. Please remember this in the coming weeks as your public schools roll out their plans for the coming year. Turning our anger and frustration on the teachers is just ridiculous. And really, I don’t know who it’s appropriate to turn our anger on. Does turning our anger on faceless School Boards and Governors and Secretaries and Presidents help us? 

 

If we turn that anger towards seeking change, all of these people were elected after all, we can certainly elect new people, then the anger is doing something good. But if we turn that anger simply into moaning and complaining and slandering, we have accomplished nothing. 

 

This is also the time for all the HAVES to step up and see what they can do for the HAVE NOTS.  Get creative. If you don’t personally know any HAVE NOTS then contact your school, ask if there is anything tangible you can do to help families in need concerning the upcoming school year. 

 

What comes to my mind is that I have three neighbors whose children play with mine. If we end up having to school at home, I could easily walk over to their houses and offer to babysit their kids during the school day if they need to work. Or at least be an adult directly on call, if they choose to leave their children home alone. That is just what comes to mind in the first five minutes of thinking about it. I’m pretty sure we could each find at least one thing we could do to help ease someone else’s load. 

 

And if we can turn this chaos of trying to do school during a pandemic, into a time of reaching out to help others, then in the end we are succeeding, no matter what happens. 

How do I Keep Up?

This week I ran into an old homeschooling friend. Though we are often in the same vicinity, we haven’t stopped to have a conversation in a while. I was asking how homeschooling was going and we talked about that for a while, then she asked how public schooling was going for me. I said it was going great. She asked how on earth I keep up with everything. I said something along the lines of, “It’s easy, I just don’t care.” Which, while flippant and funny, probably did not really convey how I feel. It’s kind of been nagging me, and I keep thinking of how I should have clarified that statement…So, my dear friend whom I’m going to tag in this post, I’m going to expand a bit. 

 

Homeschooling is all-consuming, and mentally exhausting. Especially if you are trying to homeschool multiple children. In your mind, at all times, you have a working knowledge of each child’s abilities. You know what they can and can’t do in Math and English and Science. You have a list of things you are worried about for each child, and also a list of things you are proud of. You can’t have a casual interest in your child’s education because YOU are the Educator. It’s a big load to carry. It was too big a load for me. I went through a long depression and in the middle of it, completely fizzled out in my ability to school my children. We put our kids in public school. We’re in our third year with our younger kids. My oldest two kids homeschooled through eighth grade and then went to public high school. My third daughter is in her fourth year of public school. 

 

My view of public school is, my children now have teachers. I no longer have to keep up with all the minutiae. That’s the teacher’s job. Yes, I look at all the papers sent home. I ask my kids what they learned today. I go to Parent/teacher conferences. I look at report cards. But as far as knowing how well they are doing in multiplication or whether they are mastering their fractions or whether they used proper punctuation in their writing assignment, I have no idea. Since their report cards all say that they are getting good grades, I’m presuming that they are learning what they need to learn. 

 

As far as homework is concerned, I don’t believe in homework for elementary school kids. I’ve been upfront about it with the teachers. Sometimes my kids choose to do their weekly “homework” packets because they want whatever award the teacher is offering. And sometimes they choose to not do it. That’s fine. I think that several hours of running around our yard, playing make believe games, and creating things with legos is going to help them a lot more than sitting down and doing a page of math reviews. I do expect my middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to do their homework, but they’re old enough to be in charge of their own work, so I don’t stress about keeping up with it. 

 

Of course, you have to ask the question, What if they aren’t learning what they need to learn? What if they are getting good grades, but are still getting major gaps in their education? 

 

Well, this is where my philosophy on learning helps me out. I am a reader. I have been a bookworm since second grade. While I can remember a handful of odd facts that a teacher taught me in a classroom, most everything that has stayed in my brain, came from an interesting book. I believe that if I can foster a love of reading in my children then I’ve won half the battle for educating them. 

 

We are a reading family. I always have a book on my kindle app that I pull out whenever I have a spare minute. My husband reads a book most evenings to unwind. My older teenagers have long, loud discussions about characters and events in various book series that they have all read. We have eight large bookshelves in our house and books are scattered on every surface. My kids go to the library at school and bring their books home and have fights about whether they have to share their library books with each other or not. 

 

I have one child whose brain is wired differently. In three years of homeschooling I was not able to teach him how to read. In public school they put him in a remedial program and the reading experts got him reading pretty quickly. (YAY!) But, he still struggles. It doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s still getting extra help in this area. But, he read books. Maybe not at grade level, but he still wants to read. This past week I had to take him on a rushed trip to the library because he needed the fourth book of the series and we only had the first three books at home. So, while I know he may struggle all his life to read easily, I’m not worried about him. My kids all have a natural curiosity about life, and they know that reading books is an easy way to learn about whatever they are interested in. 

 

I see public school as an opportunity for my kids to learn about different cultures. It’s a chance to be with the kids from our neighborhood. Learn how to make friends. Learn how to work with all kinds of people. It’s an opportunity to put into practice everything that we’re trying to teach them at home about “Loving your neighbor as yourself”. It’s a chance for them to think about people’s stories. What are some of the reasons why that particular child might have a hard time behaving in class? It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to be problem-solvers: if you see a problem at school, what can you do about it? All of these things naturally come up in our daily conversations, so I get a good gauge on how the kids are doing in these areas. 

 

So, how do I keep up with everything? I don’t. But, it seems to be working well for us.