Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for July, 2011

I Am The Starlight

Just about 12 weeks ago we, as a family, made the decision to pull our soon-to-be 7th grader out of the local public school system and educate her at home through an online public charter school. (See my post “I’ve Got No Strings” for a detailed explanation of that very big educational decision). At that time, we had settled on Ohio Connections Academy as the delivery vehicle. However, further investigation in the form of online and face-to-face informational meetings with OCA led to some serious concerns: namely that instead of harnessing the power of the one-to-one technology situation to connect and expose learners to others, it was being used to shelter or insulate  them. It was, we suspect, old school thinking wrapped in shiny 21st century paper. NOT what we want.

So…it was back to the drawing board. I did some research and discovered 25 public online charter schools in Ohio. Each one received an email with the following questions:

1) How are you using the technology you provide each student to allow kids to interact and connect with each other and with the larger outside world?

2) What percentage of your assessments are online (presumably in the form of traditional multiple choice-type tests) versus project, long-writing, or portfolio based, authentic assessment?

3) What textbook publishers do you buy from? Do you maintain continuity throughout your entire program or do you switch around between different publishers?

4) What type of methodology do you employ to teach mathematics, the traditional memorization/rote approach or a foundational knowledge, investigative learning approach?

5) How does the day-to-day online learning you deliver differ from watching a lecture-style power-point presentation or a taped lecture?

Some of the 25 online public charters service only a small portion of the state. Some service only struggling, below-grade level learners. Some never contacted me back - those were all easily eliminated. But after investigating all the choices, we have now settled on - and committed to - the Ohio Virtual Academy.

Having made the decision, it was shockingly easy to enroll. There were several online forms to complete and a few items that had to be faxed or emailed in. It was done in a matter of hours and we were confirmed by the school as fully registered in under 24 hours!

At this point, I thought there wasn’t much else to do but enjoy the summer break. However, Emily got an invitation to participate in some online camps to help her learn how classes will work in the fall.  Each camp ran one hour daily for a week, with topics such as “Disease Detective,” “Movie Making,” and “Goal-Setting.” The first time we tried to log-on, it took longer than expected as we got the hang of the software, but after the first day, Emily was able to get on by herself. I sat with her for the first session and was SHOCKED that within the first 10 minutes of the class, she was typing answers into the chat box and “raising her hand” virtually, which she NEVER would have that quickly done in a brick and mortar classroom. This was exciting stuff!

This week, it’s been my turn to learn. I have joined the OHVA Yahoo group, “liked” the OHVA Facebook page, connected with several veteran OHVA parents, and am attending the “Learning Coach and Mentor Institute.” Through the institute, I am participating in several one-hour informational session using Elluminate (the same software used for Emily’s camps and for the “class connect” sessions she’ll have live with her teachers).  Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

1. Like Suzuki violin, this is not just an educational change, but a lifestyle change.

2. Many MANY people have chosen this path – and very successfully. A shocking number are disillusioned public educators, which I did NOT expect.

3. The box is, for the most part, blown away. School can happen anytime, anywhere, in pajamas or clothes, in the house or at a park, and in any subject ORDER Emily decides works for her.

4. It will by fun, but we WILL have bad days and it will not always be easy.

5. My over-exuberance, type-A-ness, and potential desire to recreate the familiar box will be large potential stumbling blocks to success.

6. We need to start slow, let her be done for the day when she’s done (instead of “suggesting” she work just one more hour or do just one more lesson), and lower our expectations for the first month.

7. We CAN do this – and it’s really exciting!

Our supplies for the entire year come in two boxes and arrive tomorrow. I think I’ll wait to open them until Emily comes home from her 5 week trip out west with my parents. It’s nearly time to buckle in and hang on for the ride of our lives!

Turn of the Wheel

My children are spending 40 days away from home and from me, traveling out west with my parents via motor-home to see Yellowstone National Park; Devil’s Tower (that odd natural structure featured in the closing sequence of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”); the city of Cody, Wyoming; and the Teton mountain range. My mom’s been wanting to take them out west for years, just as she took us out west on a mega, 3 month, summer-spanning, road-trip-of-a-lifetime when we were kids, and this summer, the timing was just right. So we dropped them off at my parents’ motor-home on July 6th and will not see them again until August 15th.

Those of you keeping score might remember that it was but two short summers ago that John was gone in Africa for 45 days – days I thought I would handle like a champ but which instead gave me a weird, unpleasant, and hopefully never-repeated glimpse into spouse-less life, followed a few months later by a bout of full-blown depression. Needless to say, although I wanted the girls to have this travel experience, I was not so sure how I would handle it.

Tomorrow marks the half-way point of the girls’ trip out west, so it is with relief and amazement that I can report that – I don’t miss them! I know that sounds horrible so let me explain before social services comes knocking on my door. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE both my girls and treasure these fleeting years of their childhood. I’ve talked to them every few days over the phone, I will be super glad to see them in person when they get home, and I wouldn’t trade motherhood for anything in the world. But parenting is a job where you rarely get a day’s vacation, let alone more than a month’s worth. I am well aware that this is a huge treat that many never experience – and I’m enjoying it!

The first few days without them were just…weird. Three days in, I was still talking to ghosts.

“Look – here’s the border to Maine!”

“Does anyone need to stop at this rest area to pee?”

“Do NOT run down that path – you’ll fall and get hurt!”

“No, you may NOT fill your pockets with rocks.”

(Apparently, it takes a while for the mental mompatter to subside.)

As sentimental as I am, I have never been one to mourn days gone by. I never pined for my grade school years though I had fun at my 20th high school reunion. I enjoyed college but I doubt I’d have the patience to run the educational gauntlet again. Being single was NEVER all it was cracked up to be – especially when you marry your best friend.  I loved having babies, and I enjoyed every stage of their early childhood, but I was always ready to move on to new challenges. That “baby lust” others talk about? Never felt it. I was and am GLAD to be done with diapers and bulky strollers.

But this extended time without kids is like a complete throwback to our early married days, like we’ve stepped into some malfunctioning time machine that threw us into the past with one foot still in the present.  Our 11 day road-trip trip to Canada without kids was soooo incredibly relaxing. We saw whatever was wanted to see, ate what and where-ever we wanted to without worrying about what was on the kid menu or how late someone would be kept up. We sat on a beach and watched the waves roll up until we felt like leaving. We snacked on the bed and watched TV just because we could!

Twice we were around kids that were not our own. We ignored tantrums, played games, and indulged in silliness without a thought of the consequences. We watched other people being parents and thought, “yep…that’s how it goes. How NICE that we don’t have to do that right now!” It was glorious – a glimpse, perhaps, into potential future grandparent-hood.

Now we are home and here are a few things I never even realized I missed about that former life when we were a childless couple:

1. Eating in the family room on the couch without worrying about spills.

2. Staying up late and sleeping in late to compensate.

3. The quiet.

4. Going out together without worrying about a babysitter.

5. Making a trip to the grocery store that lasted us a week & didn’t involve a list.

6. The quiet.

7. Buying small quantities of food instead of the “family pack” sizes.

8. Doing a week and a half’s worth of laundry in a single day.

9. The quiet.

10. The house only gets messy if I mess it up.

Life seems to have a way of turning back upon itself though. John goes back to work tomorrow and soon the girls will return home.  School will start with its routines, commitments, and busy schedules, and these carefree throwback days will be a distant memory. But this period seems like a tantalizing taste of our “empty nest” future, of what retirement might be like. I think we’re gonna like it!

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