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A Day in the Life of an Online Public School Student

Back in some other post, I promised you a glimpse into one of our “typical days” at online public school. I didn’t realize at that time how hard that promise would be to fulfill! The truth is that what constitutes a “typical day” for us varies widely and depends on many variables, but I’ll do the best I can.

My typical day starts between 6:00 and 6:30 am when I get up to help my 10 year old get ready for her carpool. She attends the “brick and mortar” Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron. She needs to be out the door between 6:45 and 7:00 am. If my online public school kid Emily were attending Stow public school, her day would start then, too, so she could catch the bus at 7:20. But since there is no bus to catch, Emily usually doesn’t get up until 8:30 or 9:00 am!

She comes down in her pajamas, plops down on her end of the couch, checks her email, Google calendar, and the Tween Tribune for news, then gets right to work on school using the personal netbook she received for Christmas in 2010. On days when she has an online class, she’ll put her headset on and log in to attend – usually still in her pajamas. Sometimes I’ll hear her talking as she verbally answers a question the teacher has posed; sometimes I’ll see her typing – either to her teacher or to one of her friends. (They can’t usually chat online in class during the class, but they sometimes use Google Chat to get around that restriction!) When there is no online class, she usually checks the lesson online but gets right to work with her “old-fashioned” textbook and workbook.

Only about 30% to 50% of Emily’s school work is done at the computer. The rest is traditional textbook reading, taking notes, comprehension questions, practice math problems, hands-on science labs or art projects, and the same kind of work kids at “brick and mortar” schools bring home to do as homework. If she has a question about anything, I am usually available for consultation. If I happen to be running errands, doing carpool, or meeting a friend for breakfast, she will put that subject aside and work on something else until I get back.

After each subject, Emily puts her written work in the middle of the couch and lets me know it’s ready to be assessed. Sometimes she has typed out a paper using Google Docs, so she’ll share the document with me via email. After I check the work and provide feedback, there is usually an online assessment in the curriculum which she cannot take until I log into the assessment screen with my personal name and password. When she has completed a block of work, she records the time she spent on that subject in a small notebook she keeps on the end table, writing down start and end times.

Assessments are frequent and often short – usually at the end of every lesson in the unit and often only 5 questions long. There are mid- and end-unit assessments which are longer, more like traditional brick and mortar tests. The curriculum also has an end-of-unit review lesson built in. OHVA requires students to achieve at least 80% on every assessment to consider it passed. With a 5 question assessment, this means that she can miss one question which is supposed to ensure mastery of the material. HOWEVER – we agreed as a family at the beginning of the school year to a minimum acceptable score of 90%. In cases where it’s a 5 question assessment, she must get them ALL right. Often this happens on the first time; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, she and I review the material together and talk about what was missed and why. Sometimes she will re-assess right away and sometimes she will do some more reading or practicing to master the skill before assessing later that day or the next.

After an hour or 90 minutes of work, she’ll take a stretch break, have some breakfast, brush her teeth, comb her hair, and maybe get dressed. If no one is coming over and we aren’t going anywhere, she might stay in her pajamas all day! Then it’s back to work for another hour or so. Some days she has art instruction for her school curriculum. On those days, our artist neighbor comes over for an hour and they go together the basement to work on a hands’ on project. She will take her computer down so they can reference the online lesson material while they work.

Usually after art, it’s time for lunch. She makes her own lunch – usually leftovers from dinner the night before. After lunch, she might get back to school work or she might practice piano while the house is quiet. Sometimes we have an outing, like a hike or a bowling get-together with school friends. It depends on the day and what we’ve scheduled!

On a typical day at home, Emily will usually spend several more hours with the curriculum at some point in the afternoon or evening. Two days a week she has additional independent art sessions where she works on her oil painting in the afternoon. Again, our artist neighbor and her art teacher comes to our house and they head to the basement for two hours to work at the easel. I am in and out of the basement as needed doing laundry, or just peeking in to see how things are going. One day a week she has piano lessons in the afternoon.  In the fall she was in a horseback riding class; during winter, there was weekly skiing; and in the spring she took ice-skating lessons. She also enjoyed monthly bowling outings with her friends. (We are required by state law to participate in an average of one to two hours a week of organized physical activity to fulfill our physical education requirements.)

Interestingly, Emily’s school work schedule is not too “out of the box”. Because her sister and dad are home on the weekends, those days are allocated mostly to fun family time, play dates with friends, family field trips, or simply to relaxation. Although she will often work on school in the evenings during the week when her sister is doing homework, this time is often spent to make up for time taken for something fun during the day like a field trip or physical activity.

At some point every evening, I sit down to look over the afternoon’s work, then she and I sit down and go over what was accomplished during the day and what she plans to work on the following day. The last thing I do each day is record her attendance into the online system based on the notes she herself took through-out the day. Although the OLS (online learning system) has some pretty good tracking and charting capability, we still maintain our own dynamic Google Spreadsheet where we track all sorts of stats on lesson completion, hours worked, percentage of progression through the curriculum, etc…. I love the sense that we are working as a team and that I am intimately in touch with what she’s learning, struggling to master, or interested in knowing more about. The focus is DEFINITELY on the learning and the standards are high – yet she seems to love those aspects of her education most of the time.

Did you notice what is NOT part of her typical day? She watches no television in an average week and rarely spends time on the telephone. When she relaxes, she plays computer games or Wii games, goes outside, chats online with friends, does art, reads a book for fun, or plays with the dog. She has time to help with household chores sometimes when I need a hand unloading groceries, making dinner, or cleaning up. This is one area where online school definitely trumps brick & mortar school – education and learning is an integrated part of everyday life instead of something that happens just “at school.”

And THAT is the “typical” day in the life of this online public school student!

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Owning It

“I could never, EVER home-school.”

“I don’t home-school; I school at home.”

“I’m not the teacher, I’m the learning coach.”

I am embarrassed to admit that all of those statements have come out of my mouth in the past 12 months. They are also untrue.

*  *  *  *  *  *

One of the aspects of online public school that reinforced by folks associated with it is the need to NOT refer to it as “home-schooling.” Because you see, the state of Ohio will pay for online public school, but NOT for home-schooling. I was totally cool with that because *I* could never home-school. I was not “that kind” of parent. I am NOT a teacher and among my entire family of formally trained educators, I am certainly no expert on education.

Early on in our online public school experiment, Zac Chase (a teacher formerly employed at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy) insisted that I was, in fact, my child’s teacher. He suggested – almost insisted – that I own that particular role. I resisted – vehemently at times, arm outstretched and hand up – but no more.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I AM a teacher! (There – I said it! Whew!) The state might not recognize me as one professionally, but that doesn’t negate my role. More importantly, it doesn’t even mean I am inexperienced or bad at what I do. In the same way, being certified by the state to teach doesn’t mean someone is experienced or good at that profession.

What is a teacher? We all know the stereotype: a matronly woman with a bun and a prim skirt, glasses perched on her nose, lecturing with little emotion to bored students. Sadly, we’ve probably all experienced some version of that hell less-than-optimal learning situation. But by-God if the state says that woman is certified, then she must be a teacher, right?

*  *  *  *  *  *

Think of the best teacher you’ve ever had.

I hope you’ve had many. I know I have. Among them Mr. Leigh and Mr. Shumaker jump to mind (probably because they’ve both passed away in the last year). What made them true teachers in every sense, these men who were state certified in their respective areas of expertise?

First, they had a true passion for their subjects. Mr. Leigh truly LOVED math! Most sane high school kids do NOT love math, but we all took notice and were even fascinated by his obsession with it. Mr. Leigh could get worked up about the importance of a decimal point or the beauty of an algebraic equation to such a degree that we students would laugh at him. Mr. Shumaker, on the other hand, LOVED English. He was so passionate that he would jump up on top of a desk to make a point – literally. No matter your feelings on English, you did not – could not – fall asleep in Harvey’s class.

These exemplary teachers also cared about their students as people. They cared so much that they refused to accept failure. They pushed us, as individuals, further than we could even imagine being pushed – and they knew we could do it even when we doubted it ourselves. They respected us as the young adults we weren’t but yearned to be, looked with skeptical eye – oh, that arched eyebrow – on our immature excuses for not working to our potential, and gave us the grades we earned instead of the grades we wanted.

This leads to the third characteristics the best teachers shared: we were afraid of them and sometimes, yes, we even hated them. Oh yes, we did. I hated both those teachers with a passion when I had them. They made me struggle. They made me cry in frustration over homework, papers. They made me wish I were anywhere but in their classes at times. When I emerged bruised, battered, and better I didn’t realize the extent of their gifts to me. That revelation would take years to manifest.

*  *  *  *  *  *

My daughter’s composition “teacher” at the online public school we are trying this year went half of this school year without ever seeing one example of her writing. “How,” my husband asked, “can she possibly assess Emily’s ability without ever ONCE seeing how she actually writes?” When we raised the question at the parent-teacher conference, we were invited to submit writing samples via email each week. Emily was excited – someone new to give her feedback on her work! But the comments took at least a week to come back and they were paltry. “Good job.” “Nice work.” In the whole batch there was only one single constructive comment. One.

Meanwhile, I would insist on writing, revising, re-writing, and re-revising. *My* teacher comments were more along the lines of “can you use stronger verb choices to paint a more descriptive picture here?” and “Can you employ more words of emotion to connect your audience to what you were FEELING in this personal narrative?” Emily enjoyed the compliments from her OHVA teacher, but even she quickly saw that they weren’t going to improve her writing like my constructive criticisms were.

I love the challenge of writing, even though I don’t do it professionally. I have a passion for grammar, word choice, and sometimes (thanks to Mr. Shumaker) the avoidance of passive verbs. My daughter writes better than most 7th graders, but that doesn’t mean she has no progress to make in her writing. I care enough to push her to excel and some days, she HATES it! I don’t know if she’ll look back on me as a good teacher, but I do hope that someday she’ll be grateful that I don’t let her slack. I have too much respect for her abilities to let that happen.

*  *  *  *  *  *

This past Monday, I was working hard to get some good-weather-dependent work done outside and in our sunroom. When Emily had a question about genetics, I inwardly groaned. That had NOT been my best subject in high school biology. Instead of really digging into the material, I told her – for the first time all year – to just go call her teacher. (OHVA is a public online school, so she actually has four state certified teachers who do online synchronous classes and are available for questions). Later that afternoon, we got an email saying that genetics was an 8th grade topic, so Emily should come to the science tutoring session the following evening where there would be an 8th grade teacher who could help her. What? If it’s in the 7th grade science course, which we are required by law to complete at 90%, shouldn’t the 7th grade science teacher be able to help? And aren’t 7th grade science teachers certified by the state to teach either 7th or 8th grade science?

I was still too lazy to reacquaint myself with Mr. Mandel and his peas, so we BOTH attended the session, which ended up being a synchronous one-on-one. The 8th grade science teacher admitted pretty quickly that she was not familiar with the specific lesson we were doing. (Um…ok.) In reading through some text on the screen which we could all see, she read the word “dominant” as “dormant.” I raised an eyebrow, but figured it was an honest mistake…until she did it again. I may be rusty on my biology, but even *I* know that dormant has to do with seeds and dominant with genetic traits.

In the end, Emily’s question was really one of mathematics and experimentation procedure more than genetics. Participating in the help session did nothing for Emily, but did force *me* to sit down and work out just where Emily’s problem was and how I could help her understand the material. Isn’t that one of the roles of a teacher? Just who WAS the teacher in this scenario – and in the composition scenario above?

*  *  *  *  *  *

It seems appropriate that this year, Mothers’ Day comes at the end of Teacher Appreciation week. Save for the obligatory public hat-tip today, I’m not likely to get any recognition outside my family for either role. Nonetheless, each role was carefully and deliberately chosen. I own them both and hope I can live up to the bar set in both cases by those who came before me.

The Merry Month of May at OHVA

Where has this school year gone?! I had intended to blog more regularly and faithfully about our journey this year with online public school through Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), but you know what “they” say about good intentions!

Let me briefly catch you up to where we are at this point, with 5 weeks left in our school year, from my last blog post in (blush) October. Early in October, Emily took OHVA’s Scantron assessment. This was an adaptive assessment, meaning the subsequent questions change depending on how you answer earlier ones. The questions get progressively harder and the kids are not SUPPOSED to know how to answer all the questions. In this way, the software can determine at what grade level you are actually working. Emily’s language arts score came back literally off the charts, placing her at a high 12th grade level in language arts – which shocked even me.

By mid-December, Emily was still EXTREMELY motivated for school – to the point where she didn’t want to stop for Christmas break! By break (which I did force her to take), she had spent an average of over 6 hours per school day in the actual curriculum – of her own free will. She was BLAZING through her language arts curriculum. In fact, she completed her year’s worth of vocabulary and much of her grammar mechanics and usage curriculum. We discovered that she could do a week’s worth of vocabulary in about an hour! Because she is so advanced in this area, it was a relief to her not to be slowed down by other kids or by the system. The freedom she felt to move at her own pace was a breath of fresh air for her.

Coming back from break in January was hard; Emily couldn’t seem to regain her motivation. We had some bumps in our schooling-at-home road (which I will detail in another blog post). But we kept at it and by the end of March, Emily had completed 100% of her 7th grade pre-algebra curriculum and 100% of her literature, composition, grammar, and vocabulary curriculum. This made her eligible to receive and start working on the 8th grade curriculum right away after spring break and positioned her to be able to take both algebra and LAC (literary analysis and composition) this coming fall on the high school platform for high school credit.

The state of Ohio requires completion of a minimum of 920 instructional hours and 90% of the curriculum in each academic subject by the end of the school year (June 8th) to have completed the grade. Some subjects, like music and art, must only be completed to 30%, but that won’t be an issue for us. Any core academic subject not completed to 90% can still be worked on over the summer, but the hours cannot be counted toward the state minimum of 920 which must be achieved by June 8th. As of today, Emily is 96% done with Spanish I, 91% done with Art, 78% of the way through science and 70% of the way through history. She also continues to work on physical education hours (bowling, ice skating lessons, swimming), music hours (private piano lessons), and 8th grade algebra and LAC (which she is not required to complete). She has accumulated 1045 hours over 167 days, averaging 6.3 hours of educational time per school day.

In hindsight, moving to OHVA was absolutely the best choice we could have made this school year. It was not all sunshine and roses by any means, so stay tuned for a future blog post about the pros and cons of our experience. But if I could go back and do it all again, I would not only come back to OHVA again, but I would have made the move in 5th grade.

Emily has decided to remain in OHVA for another school year. She is undecided about what she will do for high school. Her choices are to stay with OHVA, to apply through open enrollment to Firestone High School in Akron (which has both an International Baccalaureate program AND a fantastic – and quite competitive – visual arts program that results in a special notation on one’s diploma upon completion), or to attend her home district Stow-Munroe Falls High School. Since she will be on the high school platform in OHVA this fall, which we have heard is far different from the elementary platform, she will be positioned to make a very educated decision about staying with OHVA. Whichever direction she decides to go, I know that the experience this year has changed her life (excuse me for borrowing from the musical ‘Wicked’ here) for good.

Beautiful, Beautiful

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?

One Week

It’s been one week that Emily, my 12 year old, has been attending school at home online through Ohio Virtual Academy, so it seemed like a good time for an update!

The state of Ohio requires us to complete 920 instructional hours during our school year. Most schools do that over the course of 180 days, so OHVA expects us to complete between 5 and 6 hours a day, or 25-30 hours per week. This time includes time spent in online classes – called “Class Connects” – with her teachers, time spent in the OLS (on-line school), time spent working off-line, and supplemental hours – educational activities not associated with school. We were told not to expect to get much done the first week because just like B&M (brick & mortar) schools, we’d need to take some time to get oriented, figure out what works for us, and ease back into some routine.


Monday morning was Emily’s first day. She jumped out of bed at 7:00 (from what I was told, because I was still sleeping!) and came right down to start school on the couch in her pajamas! At 8:30, she couldn’t wait to tell me how much fun she was having, so she came up to wake me up (it had been a long night since I woke up at 2:30 am for some reason and couldn’t get back to sleep until 5 am).

Somewhere around 11 am, I had to MAKE her stop “doing school” to eat something and get dressed so I could take her annual “first day of school” picture next to the piano – with her laptop and planner, of course!

By the time we had to leave for our semi-annual dentist appointments at 3 pm, she had completed nearly 5 hours of school – but she wasn’t done yet! While we were there, she was reading for fun, as she always does. [We’re the only family I know whose kid thinks the ultimate punishment is telling her she isn’t allowed to read!] In “real life” reading is educational. In a B&M school, recreational reading does not count as instructional time for state requirements, but it does in OHVA! By the time the day was over, she had completed 6 hours and 45 minutes of school. And the only nagging I’d done was to force her to STOP doing school to get dressed and go to the dentist! I was sure this wouldn’t last.

To my delight, Tuesday went about the same way, as did Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was a different story, though.

Wednesday was Megan’s last day at home before starting Miller South, so I decided to use our free admittance to COSI from the spring camp-in with Girl Scouts. Emily spent some time on Tuesday looking at what lessons were up for Wednesday and gathering her materials. She did this on her own as I was gone at choir practice. During our 2.5 hour drive down to Columbus, she did 30 minutes of free reading and 2 hours of school – reading textbooks, doing worksheets, and studying. Of course, because it was educational, our 5 hours at COSI counted as supplemental hours in science, so she ended up with over 7 hours of school that day, even though it felt like a “day off.”

All told, she accomplished 32 hours and 25 minutes of school her first week, including 12 hours of supplemental time doing free reading, her art lessons, and COSI.

Of course, hours spent “doing school” are only one – admittedly inconsequential – measure of  education. The k12/OHVA curriculum is a mastery curriculum, which means you take a SHORT test after most lessons and must achieve a certain percentage to move on. Short tests, maybe 5 questions, mean you can only miss one question to achieve mastery, so there is very little chance to “skate through” not knowing the material. Using the parent login to the on-line school, I have visibility to all the lessons and tests, can see Emily’s scores on each assessment, and can also see how many times she took each test.

Unlike most B&M schools, if you take a test and do poorly – or if you take a test and achieve less than 100%, you can go review the material, study what you didn’t know until you learn it, and take the test again. Similarly, if you think you know the material without doing the lesson, you are free to take the assessment first, using it as a pre-test, and continue on if you accomplish the required proficiency level. The school’s required level is either 70% or 80%, but our family has set a minimum required level of 90% – meaning that if she gets anything less than 90%, she has to go review the material and retake the test. Using the pre-test/re-test method allows Emily to get right to the material she doesn’t already know.

For example, this week she completed almost one entire unit of pre-algebra. The unit consisted of a semester introduction, 7 lessons, 3 reviews of material, 2 mid-unit assessments, and one full unit assessment. Emily completed all 7 lessons this week, scoring 100% the first time she took the test on all but two of them. She has only scored 67% on her final unit assessment, though, so next week she will go back and do some review there, as well as retake the one lesson where she scored an 88% and did not re-learn/re-test yet. She spent only 3 hrs and 35 minutes doing math this week, which we will probably try to bump up to 5 hours next week. In short, as a concerned and involved parent, I have full visibility to what she is learning and how much time she is really spending on it – advantages not even her teachers have at a B&M school.

As you can see, it was a pretty darn good week at the Schinker At Home Online School! I feel that much more time was spent on actual education than would have been at a B&M school, but of course, with only one student in our at home online school, the logistics aren’t nearly as time-consuming! Emily had a GREAT TIME learning and didn’t want to stop most days, which is a huge win! Socially, we went to a museum, attended a school-sponsored bowling outing (which counted toward physical education time), and both girls went to the Stow-Kent football game Friday night for fun.

I am quite sure that not every week will be this good. But for now, we are riding our wave of enthusiasm and can’t wait to get going again next week!

Whenever You’re Ready

We are t-minus 8 days and counting until our school year with Ohio Virtual Academy officially begins. I alternate between an eerie, uncharacteristic, zen-like calm and the familiar panic that seems to always set in this time of year.

Since we returned home from vacation in mid-July, I’ve been steadily preparing for the onset of September in small chunks.  I attended online Learning Coach and Mentor Institute classes until I stopped learning anything new. I unpacked OHVA-sent boxes full of curriculum and school supplies, ogled what looked to be a challenging curriculum, resisted the urge to start organizing everything, then sealed the boxes back up so Emily could have the same pleasure I’d just experienced. I helped set up the new computer and joined three Facebook groups and two Yahoo groups dedicated to OHVA or home-schooling (even though that word still makes me shudder). I even hosted a park day where (miraculously) 5 veteran OHVA families showed up and Emily made some new friends.

But today – today it got one step closer to real. Today we received k-mail (the internal school system email) from her main teacher, complete with one page introductions to her entire teaching team. Oh, if you see my zen-like calm, please pat it on the head and urge it to come home soon, will you?

When I opened the first bio, I discovered that this teacher, who I THINK is Emily’s main or homeroom teacher, is doing her Masters’ degree work in gifted and talented education. This feels like a VERY good sign that we are on the right track!

So, despite the fact that we cannot POSSIBLY be ready for this experience, I think we may actually be ready! In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if…” jokes, I offer my current list of “You might be ready for online schooling if…” ideas.

  • If your kids begs to be allowed to start school early because she wants to get right into reading “The Iliad and the Odyssey,” you might be ready for online schooling.
  • If you AND your kid get excited that she gets to read & study Shakespeare and Homer as well as the Greek and Latin roots of English words – in 7th grade, you might be ready for online schooling.
  • If you meet other parents who don’t think you’re crazy for having no TV service in your house and suggest that some awesome Discovery and History channel videos are easily found online, you might be ready for online schooling.
  • If you want family trips to museums, weekly ski outings, horseback riding lessons, and “extra-curricular” art classes to be regarded as the contribution to a life’s education that they are, you might be ready for online schooling.
  • If your child can make a friend at a park in just a few minutes based solely on a mutual love of Harry Potter and tree-climbing, you might be ready for online schooling.
  • If you tell your kid she can have a play-date during your girl scout planning meeting, completely forgetting that the other kids will be at school, you might be ready for online schooling.
Ready or not, here it comes! Let the adventure begin…

Back to the Future

There are times in your life when you look back proudly at how far you’ve come. And in those moments, you know that you will NEVER be that old self again because you are now (you think smugly) a better version of yourself: more wise, more secure, more YOU. Then you go to a high school reunion and in an instant you are once more that insecure version of yourself all over again.

In the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” the main character travels back in time, makes a few inadvertent changes, and returns to a present that is altered from the one he left.  This week, I have done the opposite: traveled ahead to the past and returned to a present that is somehow changed.

Just 9 days ago, a Facebook page was created called, “I Grew Up in Hudson, Ohio.” This page quickly became a repository of shared memories for  people who attended school in Hudson. The snippets posted there – and the discussions that arose as a result – are addicting to read. Over the last week, I’ve found myself spending hours each night lost in a sea of memories.  I’m not alone – in 9 days the group has amassed over 1600 members!

At first, the online space was like a giant class reunion that erased the artificial barrier of graduation date. People from many graduation years – and even decades – were posting memories and those of us who shared them chimed in. Of course, as more people contributed, more familiar names from the past popped up and more memories were rekindled. Once we all got past some of the surface reminiscing, the “where are you now” and “what do you do” started, similar to what happens in a face to face reunion.  But at a face-to-face reunion, that’s about as far as you ever get before the hour gets late, the alcohol is cut off, the kids need attending, and everyone drifts back to their lives.

But in our online space, something more started happening than ever happens at face-to-face reunions. Something…well…magical.

The people we are today started talking about how the people we were then had felt. (Yes, that’s a confusing sentence, but important. Go read it again!)

Popular kids confessed their insecurities and how unpopular they felt. Apologies were made to kids who were bullied decades before. Gratitude was expressed for little things that carried meaning far beyond what could have been imagined. Crushes that had been secret for decades were confessed – and some people discovered that they had been reciprocal! It sounds trite and mundane, but the stereotypes and boxes we were in then disintegrated and we discovered that we were more alike – and less alone – than we ever imagined, if only we’d realized it all those years ago.

Some of us started chatting more deeply through post replies. One thread had a discussion that went on for HOURS in real-time, through consecutive text replies. Then the questions posted got more introspective, like “what were your biggest regrets in high school?” And the answers weren’t flip or sarcastic – not one. They were serious and poignent…and real. After 20 plus years, most of us have “grown comfortable in our own skin” as one person put it. We were now discovering that these people we thought we’d known, with whom we shared our formative years, had been strangers to us all along, much as we’d been strangers to ourselves as we struggled to find our place in the world.

Then another deviation from a standard reunion: teachers joined the group. Long retired most of them are, and struggling to connect new and old names with new and older faces. (“I am reading this and picturing all of you as I knew you at 13!” someone said.) But their students – still addressing their teachers as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” started posting heartfelt thanks for what was taught.

Here’s what one former teacher, who must be in her 70’s by now, posted : “Dear ex-students, I am STILL growing up, near Hudson, and you now know our secret: all of us adults weren’t really all that adult. !!!!!!!!”

And some of the replies she got:

“I became an English teacher because of YOU, (and against my family’s influence.). Through your quarter course in creative writing senior year, I found my voice. Thank YOU.”

“I have taught my kids how to diagram sentences and a few of their teachers have commented on that method. I remember learning so much from your class. You made a great impact in my life. I enjoyed the speeches. It has helped me with my career since that is what I do everyday, getting up in front of people and speaking. Thank you!”

“I still have my first Yamaha guitar and the folk book that started my love affair with music that continues to this day. Thank you for your patience, inspiration and guidance when I needed it most.” [Yes – same teacher, who taught ENGLISH, but evidently inspired someone in music!]

“The impact you had on our brains is hard to put into words, but thank you so much for making me think and care and stop just going through the motions. You recommended I read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” outside the novels required in class, and the experience changed me tremendously.”

It moved me to tears.

But then something even more amazing happened, at least, to me.

My facebook profile has my married name, with my maiden name in the “my info” space. Someone put two and two together, figured out who I had been, and was genuinely delighted to see me! She said she’d thought of me over the years and wondered how I was, and how my mom was. Me? You wondered about ME? And my mom?! I honestly didn’t think I was that memorable to much of anyone.

And then the conversation turned to my sister, who was killed when I was 12. Someone who had been her good friend posted. People started chiming in about how horrible it was when she’d died, how bad they’d felt, how they still remembered that, and how it impacted their lives to this day. THEIR lives – now. My 8 year old sister who died 29 years ago.  Mind = blown. I got more than one personal message of people recounting their memories of that time in their lives. I am still processing what those messages mean to me, but it is profound.

I frequently hear people talking about how impersonal technology is, how sad it is that our kids spend so much solitary time online, how we as a society can’t possibly connect like we used to “back in the day.”  I’ve never believed it, and now I’ve added one more personal example of the profound ways technology can connect us in deeper ways than we ever imagined.

So forget “Back to the Future.” I’m going to keep going ahead to the past, rewriting the old story to incorporate the new perspectives I’ve gleaned.

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