Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reader question...RE: homeschool - PART ONE

A reader, grkanga, commented on my last post with some questions she'd like answered.
Here or on FBk please write about the reasons why YOU would or would not home school a child. NOT specific to your children but generically. Does the local school district available make a difference? What was your school background? What do YOU most like about home schooling your children and what have you found is harder than you expected?
I've never really written much about our homeschool adventures. This will probably be a long post because we've wound round and round to get where we are today. But I can walk you through our journey and how we ended up where we are now.

Never in a million years did I ever think I would homeschool. I am from a long line of teachers. I have always supported the public school system. In fact, during the time I did attend college (I didn't graduate due I was an education major. I was a theatre major with a minor in English and planned on teaching high school. Herman started right up in a brick and mortar without thought to any other options.

TT joined our family when Herman was in first grade. God put a wonderful (WONDERFUL) family into our lives immediately after that beautiful surprise. The mom said that she didn't run a day care but that she would love to be the babysitter for our new bundle of joy. She had a boy at home the same age as Herman and an older daughter. She homeschooled them. Their whole family loved on TT while I worked outside the home and Mr. Amazing finished his college education. It was the first time I had ever met anyone that homeschooled their children. They planted the first seed that homeschooling could even be an option.

Fast forward to fifth grade for Herman. By now I was a work-at-home mom doing freelance graphic arts (what I still do today). Herman had a lot of problems at school. There were no academic issues. Herman is incredibly bright!! But there were a lot of social problems. Every year seemed to be worse than the year before. I was constantly being called by the school.

Most of the problems in fifth grade were issues with a bully. One day, in the fall of that year, Herman was walking home from school and the bully physically attacked him. It was serious enough that the school let us know we could press charges. Mr. Amazing and I talked it over and decided that pressing charges was too severe for a fifth grade student. We hoped that the meeting with the police officer was enough of a deterrent for future bullying.

We were wrong. Very wrong.

It just got worse and worse.

I met with Herman's two teachers toward the end of the year and asked them if it was as bad as I thought it was. Sadly, they said "yes". The school had done a lot. They had moved the offending child out of Herman's class. They had put measures into place to try and protect Herman. But all the bullying had gone somewhat underground and the things the other classmates were being talked in to doing were verbal and discrete. The school couldn't stop it. With the full blessing of Herman's teachers, I pulled Herman home and we did homeschool for the last 10 weeks of school. His teachers literally gave me a bunch of books and told me what Herman needed to work on for the rest of the year. They felt bad. I even got an apology from the Vice Principal.

I never really did feel like a homeschooling mom though. Herman and I spent a lot of time butting heads. Finding that balance of mom/teacher/son/student doesn't happen quickly when everyone is used to brick and mortar school. We moved out of that town before Herman started sixth grade - so back to public school he went.

Then we moved to the area of Texas we live in now. Without rambling on and on, I'll simply state that yes, it was largely because of the school district that we are now homeschooling all the kids.

I'm going to focus on mainly TT and Bart because they have gone through the most transformation. But I did have Herman in an online school for almost three full years of highschool. He started off in the brick and mortar middle school here for 7th and 8th grade and I had a LOT of problems with the offerings of the public school. If anyone wants to know about that experience I can put it in another post. (This one is getting quite long already.)

Both of my younger cherubs started off in brick and mortar schools down here just like Herman. I first put them in a very small charter school. I was incredibly overwhelmed when I went to the traditional public elementary school closest to our home. I knew that TT's anxiety would be completely out of check there. I couldn't start him in kindergarten in such a huge school with so many people speaking Spanish. The tiny little charter school seemed like a better option. TT started kindergarten and I put Bart in 1/2 day preschool there.

It wasn't all that I had hoped it would be though. TT went through four different kindergarten teachers over the course of the year. FOUR teachers!!! They kept quitting. The school was also very tiny and often mixed different grades together. When TT's fourth teacher quit with 2-3 weeks left to go in the year I pulled the boys out early. It seemed pointless to send him through the anxiety nightmare of getting to know a new teacher when there were only a couple weeks left.

Because I didn't want TT and Bart to be in the same classroom, and the little charter school couldn't promise me that wouldn't happen, I enrolled the boys in the traditional brick and mortar school the following fall. Things continued to go downhill. TT's anxiety was off the charts and we dealt with all sorts of behaviors at home. Bart's ADHD seemed more and more prevalent too. They stayed in the brick and mortar for two years. I simply adored the teacher both boys had in 1st grade. If all the teachers had been like her, we'd still be doing public school. But the school itself had too many policies that I took issue with. And I saw the joy of learning being sucked right out of my boys. Add in the fact that standardized testing starts in third grade and I knew we had to do something for TT. There was no way he could stay in the traditional brick and mortar school and manage his anxiety. The tests alone would kill him.

So I tried something else.

For 3rd grade, I enrolled TT in an online public charter school. The school didn't offer anything for students under 3rd grade so I bought A Beka 2nd grade in a box for Bart. It was our first year of schooling at home.

I started seeing all sorts of "holes" in TT's education. He struggled with reading pretty bad. He showed a lot of signs of dyslexia. I worked with the online school and the official teacher of his class. They explained the special education process. We decided to finish off third grade and work on some skills over the summer to try and help him catch up. TT failed all his standardized tests for third grade. I downplayed it as much as possible but we were all concerned.

Fourth grade started and I put TT in the online public school again. (Texas law requires that students be enrolled in a public brick and mortar the semester prior to starting in an online school. Bart didn't qualify, so I did a different curriculum for him.) I started the special education process but TT tested just high enough within grade level that there were few modifications that the school was going to be able to offer him. After spending almost an hour on the phone with his teacher I decided to pull TT from public school altogether and move to a more traditional homeschool education completely. His teacher agreed with me that a more flexible learning environment would be better for TT.

To add to all of this...our cherubs, Dude and Dolly, had just left our home forever. We were up to our eyeballs in tremendous grief. I wanted to rally the troupes and reconnect as a family. I knew we'd never be able to keep up with the incredibly rigorous curriculum of the online school, manage TT's dyslexia symptoms and anxiety and deal with Bart's ADHD. Traditional homeschool it was.

I bought a completely different math curriculum. I used bits and pieces of the consumable curriculum that we didn't have to send back to the online school. The year prior Bart had completed all of his 2nd grade curriculum and most of TT's online stuff. It made sense to just have the boys do the same work even though they're a year apart.

And that brings us almost to where we are at now. I take a traditional homeschool approach with a whole lot of unschooling thrown in for good measure. I'll write more about what school looks like for us now and why I do things the way I do in my next post.


Anonymous said...

SO basically public schools failed your children re safety and learning. WOW.
SO sad, and also horribly common in this nation today. Not sure what would/could reverse this situation. Charter schools don't seem to be, private schools are competitively full so even vouchers would not get all applicants in to the schools of parental choice.
The implications for children who are faced with the disruptions and issues associated with needing foster care are clear...and home school is not an option for them.
Thank you!!

Annie said...

It seems a lot to expect that you could put 30 children with varying abilities and backgrounds, with many disparate emotional needs in one room, with one teacher all day and expect that every child in that room will be learning according to his or her own potential, and feeling loved and safe.

I really don't blame schools; it is a method of trying to do something that would better be done one-on-one in a cost-effective way.

I think homeschooling can be great for some kids sometimes, just like Montessori, Public, private and "un" schooling can be. It depends on the time, the child, and so much more.

It is too bad that foster children are not allowed to homeschool. Probably for them, more than most, school can be a "dangerous" place as the very practice of putting a group of children of the same age together, invites comparison and competition.

Fortunately, here we are allowed to send foster children to private school and Maxim flourished in the Catholic school. By God's grace that set of kids he was with were so accepting and such good role models for him. It really was an answer to prayer.

(And kind of miraculous, as none of my others had good Catholic school experiences.)

Cherub Mamma said...

I actually understand why foster kids aren't allowed to be homeschooled. Most foster kids come needing extra educational supports - whether it's just tutoring or full separate special education. Having trained professionals that can assess that and then provide services is important.

I do wish the option of utilizing private school was available everywhere for foster kids. (And maybe it is. Private school isn't in my personal budget though.) The typically smaller environment would be beneficial in many cases.