It’s been 6 and a half weeks since school officially began for us at Ohio Virtual Academy and what a whirlwind it’s been! I have so much to blog about that I hardly know where to start. Many of the points I will touch on briefly here deserve their own discussions. Please let me know what questions you have about our experience or journey so far that I could address more fully in future posts!
First the good stuff. Emily absolutely loves OHVA. Her joy of learning has not just returned, but it brought all its friends with it! It’s an enthusiasm party for education at our house! Emily is MUCH more the engaged, involved, and inquisitive child I used to know but lost a few years ago. Even though the same subjects that were hard for her in past years still present a challenge, there is not one subject that she does not enjoy – including math and even when she has to wrestle with a particular concept.
Here’s another plus: she is spending far more time in the material then she would in her local public school. As of today, she has actually attended school for 37 days averaging 5.7 hours per day of actual instructional time. Had she attended the local public school and started on the same calendar day, she would have attended only 33 days for 6.5 hours of TOTAL time, not solely instructional or curricular time. Over the course of the school year, this pace would translate to over 16 more school days! This curriculum is also far more rigorous and in depth than what our local brick and mortar public school provides.
But of course, the picture is not all beautiful. There are some DISadvantages to this schooling model. Primarily, this is NOT a program for the weak-hearted parent. This role of learning coach is a difficult one. Even though Emily works much more independently than she ever demonstrated in her brick and mortar school, she still has questions or requires assistance from time to time. This means that my primary job is to be available to her which, frankly, after 5 years of day-times to myself, is constricting.
I also feel that it’s not enough to give her pat answers found in the teacher guides. Sometimes I need to review a topic myself before I feel comfortable coaching her in it. How can I expect her to make connections and draw conclusions from material I have not myself reviewed? What if she’s missing some big picture point? This means some academic work for me as well as her!
Emily is also not comfortable being left home alone more than 2-3 hours at a time. Since we’re not willing to invest in a cell phone for her and since we got rid of our landline years ago, this posed a significant communication challenge. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I was able to overcome this challenge using Google Voice and Skype. Because Emily has had her own gmail account for several years, it was easy to set her up with a Google Voice phone number. Since she has used Skype to talk to her grandparents, she’s familiar with its use and comfortable using her computer to call my cellphone. This means I can get in touch with her to check on her progress when I’m away from home and she can call my cell phone using her computer. Best of all, this solution did not cost us a penny!
Another significant disadvantage to this type of education is the learning curve… or should I say the unlearning curve. September is always a difficult month for our family as we transition from the freewheeling of summer to the more scheduled school year. But with OHVA came the freedom to structure her learning day any way we wanted. Many people suggested re-creating a traditional classroom structure: have her get up, dressed, work at a desk, break for lunch, etc…. But OHVA encouraged us to think outside the box and embrace the freedom this type of education provides to do what works for us. It has taken all of 6 weeks for this to coalesce (I will blog about our typical day some other time).
My greatest disappointment, though, has been the lack of involvement of and with her teachers. All of her teachers have done their best to reach out, introduce themselves, and get to know her as a person, which was great the first week. But we haven’t seemed to move beyond that stage. I’ve made a great effort to be in touch with all four of her teachers, either through email or verbally or both, but they seem to treat her as a statistic still. The online classes didn’t start until 3 weeks into school and the benchmark testing wasn’t completed until this week. When this testing revealed that my 7th grader is at a college level in her reading, vocabulary, and comprehension, I understandably had questions about how to keep her challenged and progressing in a meaningful way. Their answers to my specific questions were right out of some “Intro to Educational Theory” undergraduate course and put the ball in my court to keep her challenged. This was not the type of support for her pre-identified giftedness for which I was hoping. This experience is really making me question the role of the teacher in education.
On the whole, though, the very BEST part of this alternative school experience is seeing Emily take ownership and responsibility for her own learning. Freed from the artificial social constraints of a traditional school and classroom, which most definitely teaches kids to learn and game the system to achieve the highest possible (meaningless) reward (also called a grade), Emily has already become MUCH more focused on learning. If she is struggling in a particular math concept, she might score a 60% on the narrowly focused assessment. The first week, this resulted in a melt-down and tears. Now she’ll go out to Khan Academy and watch those videos for additional tips and exercises. If she still can’t master the concept, she asks me for help and we work through it together. When she’s ready, she will retake the test to demonstrate mastery. It’s all about the learning. (There will most certainly be a more lengthy blog post on this topic in future weeks!).
At this point, we are still VERY pleased with our educational choice this year and we continue to refine and adjust our routine to suit Emily’s learning style and schedule. What more would YOU like to know about our journey so far?