Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Posts tagged ‘e-School’

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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…

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!

I’ve Got No Strings

If we don't change something now - this is what we'll have...We have made a life-changing decision about our children’s education for next school year.  We know many people will have questions about our choices. I am writing to try to more fully explain our situation and reasoning to those who care.

The past two years have been a major disappointment for us educationally for Emily, our oldest.  We went from an top notch elementary situation into a nightmare in 5th grade, with teachers who completely dismissed our involvement and contribution as parents to the educational process.  They would neither work with us as educational partners nor fulfill the basic requirements of their own administration to communicate with us. When we tried to address the situation, we received no support from school administrators and worse, saw Emily singled out and retaliated against by the very teachers who said they cared about her. It was absolutely shocking for all of us.

We saw Em go from loving school – even when she had to work at it – to hating school. And even though things improved in 6th grade (really – they could not have been worse), we have still been disappointed with the overall school environment created by the administration and by the unrealistic expectations put on teachers. Sadly, this is the school and environment that our youngest would be entering next year.

Intermediate school teachers in our district are inadequately supported in every way. Em’s teachers this year asked for donations of supplies because so many students do not have what they need from home to be successful in school – and because those teachers are already supplementing materials the school provides at their own personal cost. Class sizes are large and unwieldy. After two quarters assuming Em wasn’t turning in her work, 3 assignments marked as “missing” and not turned in were  “found” by the teacher only after I got in touch and explained that I’d seen the finished work myself and specifically confronted Emily about having turned it in. This happened three different times in a single quarter. Our public schools are over-run with students whose families do not and have not put an emphasis on education, so discipline moves to the forefront. It took 6 adults to chaperone a class of 30 students on a recent field trip to a local art museum.

Add to this situation the worsening educational fiscal conditions and a virtual war on educators by current Ohio governor Kasich. Just last week, our school district announced another 2 million dollars in budget cuts which will remove 9 certified staff from the school our Em WOULD be attending next year if she stayed in the district – this blow to a school that already had a community reputation of being one of the two worst in the district in terms of learning environment, achievement, and student control.  I also had a disturbing conversation with the gifted teacher Em would have next year.  After   clearly identifying myself as the parent of an incoming gifted 7th grader with questions about the curriculum, the teacher proceeded to tell me that all the kids love her class because it’s so easy and she loves it because she doesn’t have to work very hard to teach gifted kids. I was physically sick to my stomach after the conversation.

As a classroom educator for many years, John spent a good deal of his career exploring and implementing best practices in education, even when those best practices, supported by empirical research, went against the traditions of 150 years of public school education in this country.  Now as an administrator with vast exposure through his personal learning network to best practices from around the world, John has seen first-hand how empowering and effective techniques like cross-cultural and multi-age collaboration, truly individualized instruction, and experiential real-world application can be in a child’s education. He has seen and taught to teachers all over the world how technology can facilitate education – and yet our own children experience none of this.

As parents who care passionately about our kids’ learning and who believe that one of our most important parental responsibilities is overseeing their education, we can no longer sit by and watch the vast educational opportunities and best practices available in this place and in this time pass by our own children. This is why we are removing both our children from our local school district next year.  Megan, our youngest, will be attending a neighboring district’s public magnet school – Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and Emily will be attending a “school without walls” – the Ohio Connections Academy.

Those of you who know us personally know that these decisions have not come without much thought, consideration, evaluation, and detailed research. Yet you still might shake your head and wonder what on earth we are doing – and you might even believe we are jeopardizing our children’s futures. Don’t kids who switch school districts statistically show a decline in performance and in scores?  How can we be sure that our Meg’s interest in the arts isn’t just a phase?  Won’t such an emphasis on the arts cause her to be less well-rounded?  And online school – isn’t that just the same as home-schooling?  Didn’t our experience with Suzuki violin demonstrate that I am not a good fit as a teacher for my own kids?  Don’t we think Emily, who is quiet and introverted, needs to learn how to socialize with her peers and with other adults?  Let me address these questions which I am sure you are asking.

Megan has been passionate about the arts since she was 2.5 years old and has an innate theatricality apparent to everyone who meets her.  It started when at age 2.5, she talked for 6 months (20% of her life then!) about learning to play the violin when NO ONEwe knew played violin. She loved learning to play the violin, loves learning piano now, has excelled in the vigorous vocal arts program she is in this year, and loves movement and dance. The first time we stepped foot in Miller South, we all KNEW it was an environment in which she would thrive. Myriad research has proven a positive link between participation in the arts and increased achievement in other academic subjects – and Miller South’s standardized test score blow away our home district’s school scores. Miller South is dedicated to educating the whole child in all fundamental subject areas.  It offers courses in foreign language as well as advanced placement for math, science, history, and language arts which would not be available in our home district.  As a public school, it is required to adhere to the same curriculum standards and meet the same testing requirements as every other public school in the state.

But with all these positives, it’s NOT an ideal school.  Class sizes are large – larger than our home district – with the potential for conflict resulting from the very diverse socio-economic make-up of the students (a proANDa con of this school). Math is taught in a very traditional way, not in the investigative method our home district uses. And we’ve heard that the homework load is large. We are not expecting to love every aspect of this school. And frankly, that would not be realistic.

As for Emily, she has shown a strong desire to pursue studies in her own way on various topics, but undeniably needs close guidance from a professional educator – which I am not – to keep her on track. She gets intensely interested in one subject, learns all she can, then moves on to something else. She will benefit from being able to pursue these interests across disciplines.  She has always excelled in reading, writing, and language arts and has recently started showing signs of interest in other languages.  With Ohio Connections Academy, she will be able to take course-work appropriate to her level, even if that means taking an 8th grade class in 7th grade.  Several foreign languages will be an option for her, too.  At the same time, she requires more time to process and understand mathematical concepts.  With one-on-one access to her teacher every single day, she will not get lost in the crowd and will have access to the type of help that right now only Dad can provide at night when he gets home.

Emily will NOT be home-schooled any more than she already is.  As a learning coach, my role is to mark her attendance, tracking the hours that she works to ensure that we meet the minimum state requirements for study, communicate with her teachers about her progress, and ensure that her homework is completed and submitted. With the exception of hours tracking, these are all activities I do perform.  I am NOT expected to know the material or act as Emily’s teacher in any way, since she is taught and supported by state-certified teaching staff at this PUBLIC school just as she would be at any public school. The curriculum materials are written to the student and the student is expected to log-in each day, spend an average of 5 to 7 hours a day on school work, and complete the activities assigned. The LMS (learning management system) is very clear on what has to be done each day, when things are due, and what is overdue – and I will have full access to that system as well to monitor grades, assignments, and assessments.  Only 30% of Emily’s time will be spent at the computer. The rest of the time, she will be reading to learn, working on projects or experiments, completing portfolio assignments, or taking field trips in person with her teachers and classmates.

Frankly, the social aspects of this choice are the most concerning to us. Despite assurances that OCA sponsors numerous state and local field trips, we believe regular – not sporadic – social interaction is imperative. Emily will remain involved with the same Girl Scout troop she has been a member of since kindergarten.  She will continue to do both community service and social activities with her church youth group as well as take her private art lessons and attend lapidary club meetings and field trips (for kids who love rocks) which she’s gotten involved with this spring.  We plan to enroll her in some other group art activities so that she has daily exposure both to different forms of art AND to other children her age with her interests.  She has also expressed interest in a recreational sport like gymnastics – and in taking horseback riding lessons (we’ll see about that one!).

There is no denying that our children are very different from each other and have vastly different needs.  Emily might have been lost in the shadow of extroverts at Miller South had she been admitted and Megan might wither in a less socially stimulating environment likeOhioConnectionsAcademy. On the flip side, Emily has blossomed with private art instruction – and we hope the same will happen with private educational instruction.  Megan yearns to learn in an environment that accommodates her artistic expression – and we hope that Miller South is such an environment.  But instead of looking at this as a life-changing, permanent decision, we have all agreed to treat it as a one year experiment.  If we find that either situation is NOT meeting our children’s educational and social needs, we are prepared to keep searching for the best fit for both of them.

Are we taking a risk by pursuing these alternative schooling options? Admittedly, we are. But we would also be taking a risk staying in our home district: a risk that the disappointing status quo would not change or would worsen, a risk that we would regret squandering our children’s potential and squash their love of learning out of our own selfish fear of change.  And THOSE are risks we simply cannot continue to take.

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