A Very Rewarding Experience

A Very Rewarding Experience

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María Teresita is one of our senior students from Córdoba, Argentina. This is what she has to tell us about her educational experience these last months of her journey.

In the last months I made orientation tests, I’ve been looking into careers at different Universities, I started thinking about my university life and how would I be dealing with that. What courses to take, what career to pursue as a goal for my whole life. In the meantime, I want to help my family economically as a Project, selling our handcrafts.

In my spare time, I like to hear Padre Ángel Espinoza and Yokoi Kenji lectures from whom I will quote really important reflections.:

  • “You should always tell the truth, with with transparency and clarity, so that communication will not deteriorate. Where there is truth, there is trust”.
  • “Corruption is born in a nucleus called a family, when we abandon our principles like the one written: you will not steal“. The Japanese also have that religious text: “If you find a bag in a chair, do not touch it, it is not yours, leave it there, if you find a wallet in the street, it is not yours do not touch it leave it there”. After the war, Japan learned a lesson, and that is there is no way in violence, the war, definitely, doesn’t work. Why repeat a story if we can learn from another’s falls.
  • The difference between honesty and integrity is that honesty speaks of what I do and integrity speaks of what I am. Honesty speaks of what I say, integrity speaks of what I think. Honesty speaks of my public acts, integrity speaks of what I do even when no one is watching me.

maria teresita 2 1 1An anecdote of this speaker begins when he proposed to his father to cross a red light, saying that at that time were no cars and no cameras to see them. The father, in a tone of reprimand, shouted a phrase that left a deep echo in his life: “I am watching myself!“, Representing the conscience of each one, which can not be fooled.

To complete this report, I must pay tribute. I can not explain the feeling of gratitude towards this learning program, for allowing me to develop as a person, to learn according to my way of being, valuing my personal capacities and preferences. I really feel very grateful for my learning and for you for this educational adventure that we have shared. It has been rewarding!

A Homeschooler in Canada Shares His Story

A Homeschooler in Canada Shares His Story

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Here is the story of William, a West River Academy senior in Canada. Read his story of going from a difficult school experience to thriving in homeschooling.

paperclip3 William 300x154@2xThe story of how I became a homeschooler/unschooler is, perhaps like many others, rather unique and filled with both joy and sorrow. I began my journey nearly ten years ago, in my hometown of Montréal, when I was eight years old and unlike many of my homeschooling friends, I attended public school until grade 4. Usually when a child is taken out of school in favour of a home education it’s the parents who initiate the change, however, this was not the case for me. In my case I was the one who asked my parents to homeschool me because my experience with the school system was so awful. At my old elementary school the teachers would use fear and shame tactics to keep the children in line, practices that would certainly get them in trouble today if they were found out. If you misbehaved, the teachers would take away your bathroom privileges, if you disobeyed a teacher you would have to walk down the long hallway and announce your misdoing to the other class. Crying was forbidden and your recess for that day could be taken away if you did, imagine telling a six year-old child if they cried they would be punished, or preventing them from going to the washroom. I suppose it was a very old fashioned way of discipline, going back to the days of dunce caps and getting the strap. One instance that stood out for me especially happened in art class, when I was about seven. My friend had found a paperclip on the ground and had artistically bent it out of shape, something a child might do in art class. When the teacher saw him with his bent paperclip she immediately started yelling and forced him to stand in front of the whole class and bend it back into form. As I stood there with my classmates and watched my humiliated companion try, without success, to bend this paperclip into it’s original shape I wondered how such an angry, unartistic, “inside the lines” person found themselves teaching a 3rd grade art class. Both my mother and grandmother were artists, so I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged, which is why this moment in particular was so strange for me. I could talk for hours about the anguish I endured in school, and how it’s affected me, but I’ll just say that by my last year in public school I was livid with the system and grew a real hatred for learning. It didn’t take a lot of convincing when I asked my parents to homeschool me, as they had shared my pain and frustrations with the school over the years and thought that taking me out of it was the best course of action. And so began my journey.

Because I was coming from such a toxic environment it took some time after I was taken out of school to adjust to a new way of learning, a way of learning that wasn’t centered around fear or humiliation. I believe that every child comes into this world with a natural sense of curiosity and desire to explore the world around them, mine had just been taken away from me. I can’t explain how wonderful it was when I regained this thirst for knowledge which had long been so foreign to me. I don’t know what would have happened if my wonderful parents hadn’t listened and pulled me out of that horrible place. I believe that learning anything should be fun, even if it’s in the smallest way, and my mother helped make that happen. Because my father had to work it was mostly my mother who taught me during my first few years out of school. Deciding to homeschool your child is an enormous leap to take that requires a lot of change in a person’s life; a change many people cannot afford to make. I’m very thankful for both my parent’s devotion to my education. They ensured a graceful and smooth transition to this new way of life and it wasn’t long before it felt completely natural.

William Election 2008The rest of my elementary school years were a breath of fresh air. I found new ways to express my creativity that I had never even fathomed before. I met so many amazing people who I’m proud to call my friends. People who wanted to learn and have fun just like me. For the first time in my life learning didn’t feel like a chore. I finally enjoyed reading books, writing papers and doing projects. My mother also came up with lots of interesting and creative ways to make learning fun. The range of topics covered in my first year alone were far more diverse than anything I covered in school. We talked about everything from the paleozoic era to the historic 2008 U.S. presidential election, which was happening at the time. It was my first time ever discussing contemporary issues, something we would continue to do, and I came out of my first year at home with a far better understanding of the world around me, with both a historic and modern perspective. It was marvelous.

During my second year I started to get involved with my local homeschooling community, a community which I have been an active member of ever since. I think one of the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers is that they spend most of their time alone in their house, when in reality it’s the opposite that’s true. I would say that 90% of the things I do in regard to school takes place outside the home and involve other people. I also think the notion that homeschoolers are anti-social is another misconstrued idea. Some of the most outgoing, energetic and sociable people I’ve ever met have been homeschooled. William Fencing 1One very unique thing about the classes put on by homeschooling communities is that the teachers are, more often than not, parents of homeschooled children. Since they don’t make their living off of teaching, many of the parents will work regular jobs just like everybody else which allows them to teach some interesting courses pertaining to the work they do. Alongside basic classes, like math and history, I’ve also learned things like 3D modeling, fencing, acting and animation just to name a few, all from people who have experience in their respective fields. It almost felt like an apprenticeship which is something most kids in elementary school don’t get to experience.

Before I knew it I was already graduating from my homeschool equivalent of elementary school and moving on to “high school”, a change that most elementary school students dread, I, on the other hand was very eager to begin this new chapter of my education. I think the reason that most kids in the system fear high school is because the age gap is so wide, something which I had already been accustomed to. From my first time taking courses with other homeschoolers I noticed the fact that people of all ages were often mixed into the same classroom. People weren’t separated on account of their age but rather their willingness to learn, I’ve seen eleven year-olds do presentations with sixteen year-olds and work together in perfect harmony. Often times I’ve found the younger kids who are placed into more advanced classes will outperform the older ones! This diversity of age in the classroom really makes your colleagues feel like family which creates a very special experience.

William Piano 300x169@2xDuring high school I’ve expanded my knowledge of subjects that I had previously covered and also learned countless new things that have all been equally interesting to me. Things such as economics, piano and driving have all been new and welcome additions to my curriculum. I’ll never forget the day when I finally was able to play Fur Elise perfectly or when I passed my driving exam and went home with my license in hand. I almost felt spoiled, never before had I had such a wide variety of classes that I enjoyed taking. It was also during this time that I found a new sense of political intrigue after the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, and so I started attending city council meetings.

My high school years weren’t without their own challenges however. Those are the years where adolescence is at its peak and, as someone who has friends that aren’t homeschooled, I sometimes found myself feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially whenever my friends were having conversations pertaining to school, or going on graduation trips together. I would never be learning the exact same thing as they were and so when I didn’t know about something they were talking about I felt stupid. There was a point during these years where I even contemplated going back to school, as some of my homeschool friends had done, but in the end I decided against it and have absolutely no regrets.

William Montreal City Hall 300x252@2xReflecting back on these past ten years and relishing in all the wonderful memories I have, has reassured me once again that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m extremely fortunate to have had such a unique education which I can look back on with contentment. Now as I’m about to enter this new stage in my life, I can only look forward to the future with great optimism. I hope to one day use my struggle with the school system and interest in civic affairs to hopefully get involved in the process of government, whether the level be big or small, and help prevent others from going through what I did. I’ve seen more and more people choosing to homeschool these days and it’s an incredible honour to serve as an example to them. I can only hope that their journey is as amazing as mine.

Argentinian Year End Report

Argentinian Year End Report

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Developing autonomy is important for the healthy growth of children. The best way to do that is to let them learn by doing. Learning this way allows children not only to learn concepts; but also get skills that will last them a lifetime.

From Entre Ríos, Argentina; this beautiful family of three girls shares images of what they have learned by doing. From Crochet classes, English language, taking care of an orchard, selling natural made ice cream and toothpaste, to helping at home with the chores and visiting nana.

Their smiling faces say it all!

It is always interesting to see how the children of the West River Academy community learn.

Argentinian Student Shares His Story

Argentinian Student Shares His Story

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Facundo is a 14 year old boy living in Argentina. He has written his 2016 report by himself. This is what he has to tell about his unschooling approach to learning. (Translated from Spanish).

My name is Facundo and I am 14 years old. I live in Sierra de los Padres – Argentina, a place with hills, lakes, sea and woods. I have been unschooled for 4 years.

Last year was my first at West River Academy which allowed me to explain better to my friends about this kind of education; they ask less questions now, so I feel more confident. During this year, I learned:

Hens breeding: they got ill this year and I learned to heal them from smallpox, about their anatomy, first aids, chicken slaughter, eggs production and take care of the hens.

Horses: I learned alternative riding with my mom and some neighbours.

At home: I helped my dad to build our house with wood and mud.

English Language: I learned through video games.

Cooking: I have been cooking for ages and like it a lot; I am learning new recipes little by little.

Construction: I started working with my dad doing bioconstructions, I go some days and help him and learn.

Boy Scouts: I have been a Boy Scout for 4 years learning about survival, cooking, values and this year I was promoted.

Chores: I have helped since I was a little kid. I wash the dishes, I do ironing, cooking and take care of hens. I learned about flora and fauna; about birds and plant species which help me to eat wild fruits and learn about nature.

I also follow many youtubers, especially about gameplays.

To sum up, this was the first complete year in our new house with my new friends, I am really happy.

Greetings, Facundo Javier Schmull


From Fishing to Mechanical Engineering: Johnathan’s story

From Fishing to Mechanical Engineering: Johnathan’s story

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This essay was written by a high school senior who was homeschooled since 3rd grade. His homeschool journey included participating in homeschool co-ops, 4H, and hunting and fishing. He now aspires to attend a University to major in Mechanical Engineering. Here are excerpts from his essay.

My name is Johnathan Clemmer; I was born on November 21, 1998, in Prescott, Arizona, where we lived until I was two. In 2000 we moved to Collbran, Colorado to be closer to my maternal grandparents. They owned a sizeable ranch at the base of the Grand Mesa that had hiking trails, fishing ponds, guest cabins, and numerous places for a young boy to play and grow. I would have to say that this place was a significant part of my educational beginning as I learned to hunt, fish, ride, explore, and work along with the ranch hands on a daily basis. I remember how beautiful it was; you could see everything for miles around, breathe the fresh mountain air, and roam and investigate the world around you. One of the most extraordinary memories I have of the ranch are the fall colors and how wonderfully the yellow leaves glimmered in the sunlight, not to mention that a typical fall day usually included a cup of coffee and cookies in the afternoon with my Papa. My grandparents sold the original Ranch for a smaller version, and our family moved into the home where we lived until our transition to Grand Junction three years ago. I have many fond memories of Collbran, all the experiences we had there as a family, and the friendships that have remained with me through the years.

Clemmer fishing at sunset 300x169My Papa was the person who taught me many of the things that I enjoy most: fly fishing (even the ability to clean and cook the fish once caught – he had the ponds at his ranch stocked with fish each year so that we would always have a place to spend time together), how to hunt (be safe with guns, shoot them, take care of them, and on adventures to places like the One Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander, WY where we were able to meet Governors, astronauts, artists, and many other amazing and inspiriting friends of his), and a passion for reading. I believe our many trips and adventures were a magical part of my education as it taught me numerous life skills, as well as experience in real world travel and exploration. He passed away several years ago, I miss him terribly and wish that he were still here to see all that I have become and accomplished. Though I miss Collbran, our move to Grand Junction has benefited me greatly in my schooling with the option of having co-op classes and career options more readily available

My educational journey began in the traditional sense at Plateau Valley School in Collbran, the area’s K-12 facility. I attended PVS from pre-school through the 3rd grade. I enjoyed my time in public school, had many friends, and enjoyed the process of public education, especially recess and lunch break! Having issues with the school and the educational opportunities it did or did not provide; my parents decided to homeschool my older brother after his 5th-grade year (my 2nd-grade year). My family realized after that initial year that they preferred homeschooling and the opportunities it provided and decided to homeschool me as well. I was hesitant and slightly resentful when first introduced to the idea. I was comfortable where I was, and all of my friends currently attended the public school. After the first year of homeschooling, I realized that it was tremendously preferable to public school. I had not realized how many other kids in our area homeschooled as well; we even got together for co-op classes once a week where we would create art projects, sing, take dance lessons, and spend time with other like-minded families. Our daily school routine included not only core curriculum classes, but time cooking, playing educational games, PE, and creative activities not available in the public system. My preliminary doubts regarding homeschooling were quickly dispelled, and I grew to have an appreciation for the challenges and joys it presented every day.

Once I reached middle school, (seventh grade – current), our family began participating in a local homeschool co-op in Grand Junction, which was 45 minutes from our house in Collbran. The drive may seem long to some, but for our family it was a time of conversation, expression, and enjoyment. Our journeys to school ended up being a day long adventure as after classes we would get groceries, spend time at the park or a museum, and typically get dinner or take-out on the way home (don’t judge me but my favorite combination was a container of sushi and a maple glazed donut). This was a juncture in my life that would significantly impact my future. I made connections with many of the friends and teachers that have been with me over the years and hopefully will be for many years to come. The courses offered were intriguing to me as well, helping to guide and encourage me in the directions I excelled and provided support in the areas where I struggled. Homeschooling and the opportunities it had provided up to this point helped to define the path and direction of my future education.

Typically, I would pursue the core curriculum courses at home while the co-op classes offered variety in the form of courses that were best in group situations. One of my favorites was the art classes I took with a teacher named Mr. Sonmor. His style, humor, quirkiness, and talent made art exciting, and though it was not a subject where I could envision a future for myself, the time spent in graphic design, filmmaking, and 3D design were some of the most enjoyable moment in early high school education. Civics and Speech were potentially not my strong suit, presenting challenges that I had not previously encountered, most specifically public speaking, but inspired me to put forth my best effort and work diligently to achieve the A’s that had previously come so easily for me. I am thankful to the teachers and parents who organized this co-op for the betterment of the homeschool community, and also for the chance to take several courses with my older brother (where in a traditional school environment our separation of 3 grades would have prohibited this) where we were able to assist and collaborate on several projects. His insight and help were greatly appreciated, and I feel that it strengthened our bond as brothers and friends.

leather clemmer 300x225During my early education, I also had the occasion to participate in 4H as well as being a counselor at the local church camp on the Grand Mesa. Since we lived in a town where agriculture was the majority of income for most families, we had a local FFA and a 4H club. I thoroughly enjoyed my time participating in the leather craft area of 4H. My leader was a local woman who was as brilliant at leathercraft as she was kind. I am thankful for the time and commitment she put forth, and how she inspired me to greatness (after several years and a culmination of projects, I won Mesa County Grand Champion and Reserve State Grand Champion for a tissue box cover with a wildlife scene inspired by the area in which we lived. My time as a participant and counselor at the church camp impacted my world in a remarkable way and ran the course of six years. It was an event to which I looked forward with tremendous anticipation each year, progressing from a camper to a junior counselor for elementary school, to a counselor for middle schoolers. I would spend hours making preparations, marking verses to be memorized, planning activities, and making sure things ran smoothly so the camp experience for those that I was counseling would be as moving and life changing as it was for me. These summers were some of my favorite times, making me feel like I was doing something with a purpose when I was teaching all the younger kids about God.

As it has been since the beginning of my homeschooling, I still typically take the majority of my core courses at home (we have been utilizing A Beka curriculum for many years and over the past few years have used the online academy as well) while taking more challenging subjects such as higher level math through the local co-op. I have taken an English credit each year and hope that with the foundational knowledge these courses have provided, will be able to test out of the lower level English requirements once I begin college. One of my favorite subjects has been history, and I have taken US History, World History, Colorado History, and Government thus far. I find great benefit in learning the foundation of our country and government and hope that it provides me with sound judgment in my path that hopefully too will be documented in history. I am currently in my fourth year of Science curriculum as well, having taken Biology (which made me realize without any doubt that I do not want to be a biologist!), Physical Science, Chemistry, and presently Physics (which is the most fascinating subject to me to date). Math is by far the subject where I derive the most enjoyment and personal satisfaction. I feel it is the area where I exhibit the most strength, knowledge, and capability. From Algebra I to Geometry, Algebra II to Pre-calculus, I have had the same and most magnificent teacher (other than my mother, because she is reading this), Mrs. Sibl. She has encouraged and challenged me, her style of teaching has made these past four years entertaining and educational. My passion for this line of instruction has influenced my goals for the future, determining that a STEM related field should be the direction for my future. One of the programs of study that I was able to pursue this year were courses in CAD (computer aided design) and MATLAB (computer programming) that I believe will be of great benefit to me once I begin college. The elective courses I have taken including physical education (of which skiing and golf were my favorite portions), multiple years of Spanish, life skills, health, religious studies, etc., have rounded out my educational experience. In addition to taking regular classes, I was very humbled by the experience of job-hunting. After many months of seeking employment, I was rewarded for my perseverance, being awarded a job that I love, working at the golf course near our home. I have made many friends here as well as learning life skills and work ethics.

Clemmer Golf 300x153Progressing through school, taking more intellectually challenging math and science classes and realizing my strength in those areas, I have begun to discern the path I desire for my future. My adeptness at problem solving, calculations, scientific analyzation, and the capacity to understand the working mechanisms of machines has led me to the conclusion that I aspire to become a Mechanical Engineer. I am in the process of applying to several universities in Colorado including Colorado Mesa University, Colorado School of Mines (which is the third highest ranked petroleum engineering school in the United States), and Colorado University Boulder. My goals for high education are to receive a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering degree, while also acquiring a minor in Physics.

A Diverse and Accomplished Teenager

A Diverse and Accomplished Teenager

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Our students have a wide variety of interests, and the freedom to pursue them to mastery. Below is a an excerpt from one of our family’s year-end report, focusing on the accomplishments and life-learning of 16 year old Kitt.

Kitt has had an amazing year for prizes. First, he completed his eagle scout rank, after going to the board of review (interview). Soon afterwards, he attended a week-long National Youth Leadership Training for scouts, where he was selected as one of the excellent scouts who were requested to serve as future staff. His eagle court of honor ceremony was held, after a bit of planning, too. Kitt has also been on 4-5 campouts this year, including rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park. Doing most of the work himself, he has built a trebuchet and a teepee out of a tarp.

Next, he competed for his 7 year in 4H shooting sports. Although he didn’t achieve his best score in archery, he aced the shotgun with a record 5 out of 5 score. He even hit all 3 practice shots, to bring it to 8 out of 8 shots. That got him the Grand Champion in Shotgun award, as well as winning the high point shooter for the entire club for the season. Kitt has his own bow and target and practices at home as often as he can (when there are no neighbors in residence). He is extremely conscientious about safety rules and proper technique. He even gave a few tips to the adult archery instructor at 4H.

At county fair, Kitt won 4 Grand Champion prizes. His oil painting of a farmhouse won him Grand Champion in Fine Arts, while his Turkish ebru painting of a tulip garnered Reserve Grand Champion. His copper twisted necklace with blue beads won Grand Champion in Arts & Crafts, and his larger leather Viking belt bag (made without a kit or pattern) won Grand Champion in Leathercraft (other projects). On top of all that, Kitt won Grand Champion for Home Economics, sweeping the prize for the while building for his senior age class. Wow! All total, Kitt got $120 in prize money. He had entered one painting in Fine Arts open class, but that only received a blue ribbon and outstanding. As for the interview section of the fair, Kitt got purple ribbons (outstanding) for all three interviews. They noted how knowledgeable he seemed and confident. His appearance had improved over last year, but the only negative room for improvement was noted that he needs to iron his white dress shirt. Kitt put a lot of time and effort into all the pieces that he made for Fair, including meeting with a special mentor in Leathercraft. He was amazed at the skill of his new mentor and learned a lot from him. Also, his Leathercraft leader was very encouraging and always ready to lend Kitt tools. Kitt put most of his prize money into his savings account, and I treated him to a few new Leathercraft tools as a reward for his hard work. He is already thinking of what he wants to make for next year.

Kitt has also earned his Congressional Award Bronze medal, which will be handed to him at a ceremony in October, when our Congressman will be in our city. For this award, Kitt counts his fitness hours, personal development and volunteer hours. Besides volunteering with scouts (about 15 hours) and the Jr. Optimist club (about 35 hours), Kitt has a regular volunteer service that he does about once a week at the local historic park. He serves as the historic blacksmith there, making items out of metal and explaining both the process and history to park visitors. This year he has logged about 50 hours, including the Civil War reenactment event and the Gathering of the Gunfighters event at the Yuma Territorial Prison historic park. He absolutely loved the Civil War event and got “drafted” to serve with the artillery during a battle reenactment. He was initiated into the group and hopes to serve with them again next year for the reenactment here in Yuma. In the meantime, he has acquired a pattern for Union Army pants which he wants to make with my help. All of his volunteering as the historical blacksmith is done in his historic clothing portraying the 1870’s in Yuma. Kitt was also invited to and attended the Civil War costume ball held by invitation only after the reenactment in the evening. He learned several historic dances while attending. He also listened to Abraham Lincoln (reenactor) give a talk and later had President Lincoln talk to him individually when he visited the forge. As a volunteer at the park, Kitt was given free tickets and attended a historic talk by a President Teddy Roosevelt reenactor, which he enjoyed a lot.

Kitt has earned a few more scout merit badges and enjoys going to workshops for those. Many of the workshops are STEM related, and I count them as science for Kitt. Among others, he earned this year Nuclear Science (visiting a power plant visitor center), Space Exploration, and Engineering.  He also likes to experiment himself and to take things apart at home to see what is inside them. Kitt was also invited to go for a free private flying lesson with an EAA pilot. He learned a lot from that and hopes to do it again in the Fall. He even wants to learn about building an EAA plane.

As for English, Kitt is still working on Spelling and Composition, but this is never his highest priority. He does vocabulary building without even noticing it and has a rich and varied vocabulary. We have several workshops/ programs that he uses but this is an area he needs to improve.

As founder and president of the college tabletop game club, Kitt hosts game day once a week for 2 hours. That means he has put in over 60 hours in games of strategy and logic. This includes reading complicated instructions and teaching others how to play the games. This is one of his great interests, and he hopes to host even more game clubs next year. He has already spoken to the teen librarian to start there in the Fall as a volunteer hosting a weekly 2-hour game day. Kitt also tried out new games with other people and chooses new ones to buy for himself and the game club.

Kitt also loves to travel and enjoys historical places. He often visits Viking villages and museums in Sweden. Last year he even volunteered at a Viking village for a couple of days. I believe he may do that again this summer. He gave an hour long presentation for a college class about Vikings this year.

If Kitt had to choose a subject to study in college, he would probably choose archeology or history. He likes the experiential archeology that they employ in Sweden. Last summer Kitt visited Istanbul, Turkey and Helsinki, Finland, besides our home in Sweden and neighboring Denmark. We also geocache when we travel or go for a walk.


Life-learning While Being an “au-pair” in Australia

Life-learning While Being an “au-pair” in Australia

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This blog post features a student who is doing an “au-pair” program in Australia, where she is assisting a home-schooling family with their children in exchange for room and board. Her report illustrates how she weaves online courses, literature, botany and traveling together for extraordinary educational experiences. The pictures are the ones she took of the Blue Mountains in Australia.

This month I started and completed another course called “Biology meets programming: Bioinformatics for beginners”. It was on applying computer programming to analyse DNA and try and figure out various things such as where the replication point is located. It was a really tough course as I haven’t done much biology and have never tried computer programming before. I did ok on the quizzes however the interactive components of the textbook left me very confused as they required a lot of programming and I had trouble understanding how the functions operated and how to create my own. I also didn’t have much time during the week to do the work, and was a little behind from the start. In the end I had to let go of the hope to do well on the course and decided just to try my best to understand what I could. I did learn some interesting things about how the DNA replicates in a certain direction and how certain algorithms work. I found randomized algorithms to be quite interesting even though I didn’t fully understand how they function. Due to the program I ended up making an account for python and doing many of the exercises they offer. Programing is definitely interesting, I think I just need more practice memorizing the language used. I find I have a little difficulty when it comes to understanding more abstract ideas in math, which is a skill I hope to work on.

I also started to read a German book called Drachenreiter, which means Dragonrider. It has an English translation that I read many years ago but as I like the author I always wanted to read the original German version. It’s a little difficult as I haven’t read German in a while and occasionally I will need a little extra time to remember a word. It’s a strange sensation to have my reading pace change slightly, but I am enjoying the story. It’s about how mythical creatures exist hidden away from humans and the last group of dragons home is about to be destroyed by humans, so one of the dragons heads off with his kobold friend to find the dragons’ ancestral home. On the way they pick up a homeless human boy who helped them out and he goes on the journey with them.

I did more volunteering at the botanical garden, and it was quite enjoyable. I learned how to take clippings and plant them. The idea is that you peel of the leaves along 1/3 of the stalk and the nip off the top. You also need to scrape away a strip along the bottom with your nail to promote the growth of roots. Before we plant them we also dipped the ends in a compound called clonex, which seals the cut ends and supplies hormones needed for the growth of roots. It’s interesting learning a little bit about the more scientific side of gardening. On the surface it seems so straight forward, you just plant and water them, but there are many aspects to growing a strong plant, and sometimes no matter what you do they can still die.

For a weekend I went to the Blue Mountains with family I’m staying with for the weekend. It’s an extremely stunning area and we did a lot of hiking along the cliffs. I read that the reason they seem to be blue is because of the way the light refracts through all the dust particles floating around. So the further something is the more dust is in your line of sight and the bluer it seems. We also went on the cable cars and on one we were told the aboriginal story of the three sisters, which are three giant rocks sticking up from a cliff. The legend apparently goes there were three beautiful sisters from one tribe and three brothers from another tribe who fell in love with them. The brothers wanted to take the sisters for themselves but the shaman of their tribe turned them into rocks to protect them. However the shaman then died in a battle between the tribes and no one else was able to break the spell over them again.

On our way back from the Blue Mountains we stopped at a high ropes course. It was my first time visiting one so I was pretty excited. We were given a little safety run-through and then left to go wild. I mostly stayed with the ten year old I look after, and on the most difficult course she was allowed to do she got stuck on the end as you have to jump of a ledge with only a pulley to slow your fall. I had a little time to consider what the repercussions of giving her a push would be, mainly losing her trust in me for a couple days or so, before a worker came and dropped her over the edge. It was extremely physically tiring but very exciting.

I was invited to go on a distant relative’s sailboat and had an amazing time. I had no knowledge about sailing before but I learned quite a bit just watching and was even allowed to help, and steered the boat a little on the way back, although with engine going and the sails tucked away. It seems the boat has to travel in a zigzag sort of way, where it follows the wind one way for a bit then they pull the sail to the other side and turn to travel the other way. The trick is to keep the wind at your back, which sounds pretty obvious but seems easier said than done. They used instruments and little ribbons attached to the sail called tell-tales to let them know which way the wind was blowing.


Life learning

~ Rowena, 2016 High School Senior

Homeschooling Teen Shares His Story

Homeschooling Teen Shares His Story

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This essay was written by a high school senior who was homeschooled for his whole life. Homeschooling gave him the opportunity to pursue several interests and volunteer within his community. Here are excerpts from his essay.

Hi, my name is Connor Maricle. I have been homeschooled all my life for which I am grateful. While it is not perfect, homeschooling has helped me with time-management, allowed me to study at my own pace, and has given me time for other activities such as martial arts, archery, 4-H, volunteering, and working. Through these activities I have learned various skills which cannot easily be acquired in a classroom. Although I have not had as many teachers as other students in public school, there have been people who have helped me to learn through active involvement in community organizations. Some examples of people who have contributed to my education are my martial arts instructors, archery instructors, 4-H leaders, food bank employees, and work supervisor.

Homeschooling has been a positive experience allowing me the flexibility to meet my personal goals, learn interesting subjects at my own pace, and contribute to our community. As a young child I remember doing various games, projects, experiments, and activities that provided a solid foundation in the basics of reading, writing, history, math, and science in interesting and fun ways. I had time for reading and playing every day which I believe helped contribute to my imagination and creativity today.

As the years have gone by I have had the opportunity to study quite a variety of interesting subjects. While some subjects have been more enjoyable than others I have still learned an extensive amount through being homeschooled. I have not gone to a public school, but I have talked to others who have attended, and there seems to be more pressure there than being homeschooled. Homeschooling has allowed me to have plenty of time for independent studyI learn faster by doing rather than by reading, writing, or memorizing. If I am enjoying a topic I learn even faster. As such, I tend to learn more through independent study than from learning through a textbook.

Connor Martialarts 150x150Martial arts has helped me learn many things as well: from balance and a bit of Korean, to morals such as honesty and integrity. The martial art I am learning is Tang Soo Do. The people at the studio are all really nice and excellent instructors willing to help someone who wants to learn. Tang Soo Do is an important part of my life, and I plan on continuing it as long as possible. The atmosphere of encouragement and support from those at the studio is unique in the Tang Soo Do community, and is something I carry inside of me even when I am not there. I hope to some day pass on the traditions of Tan Soo Do. Through Tang Soo Do I have been able to improve my leadership skills by leading the students in various warm-up exercises and by helping some of the lower-ranked students improve their forms and techniques. This has also helped me to gain more confidence in myself.

While Tang Soo Do is important to me it was not my first extra-curricular activity. I was about ten years old when I started archery which taught me more than just how to shoot an arrow. From my instructor I learned the importance of cross-training, the responsibility that comes with a weapon, that a person needs to take everything into account when shooting at a target, and that bows and arrows are not toys. Archery was one of the first incredibly difficult things I tried to learn.

From this experience I learned firsthand that it takes time and diligence to get good at something. Many of my classmates dropped out, and once in a while I thought about dropping out as well. I decided to continue and challenge myself to improve. Eventually the school I went to closed, and I took a break before I started lessons again at a new place. I was very rusty at first because even though I had taken archery lessons for four years, my one-year break had dulled my skills. Once I got back in the swing of things I became the best in my class. It was at that point I saw the pay-off from all the effort I had put into archery. While I did feel extremely proud, I believe some of my classmates may have felt discouraged by my “unusual improvement  rate”. Overall, archery was an enjoyable sport for me. I’m glad I did it even though I don’t plan on using it in daily life.

Connor 4HI was eleven when I started 4-H. At first I wasn’t sure whether I would like it or not because it seemed more like an activity my sister would enjoy. After the first few years, though, I started to really enjoy 4-H. Although our club wasn’t very big I still met quite a few people and had numerous opportunities to participate in community events. During my time in 4-H, I learned a great deal about animals (that was my club’s specialty), volunteer work, and how to work with groups of people. I even got some awards in the process. One of the more difficult things I did in 4-H was volunteer at the fair’s Petting Zoo. While it was frustrating at the time because of the high number of young kids, looking back on it I felt it was enjoyable and quite a learning experience in crowd-control and keeping the cavies (guinea pigs) safe. The animals I raised were cavies. Many people in the club had rabbits, cavies, and poultry (chickens, ducks, and turkeys). I had two cavies. Though other people in the club had more animals, I still learned the responsibility of animal ownership. I was also able to participate in fun community service projects through our club, such as: making no-sew fleece blankets for a children’s shelter, designing cards for soldiers, making holiday cookies for the fire department, and sharing my cavies with children at petting zoos.

I also learned more about responsibility and leadership skills by being an officer in our club for several years. Our club members were talented people, so I was able to learn important information about a variety of topics. Even though our club was small our district was large, so I had various opportunities to learn from and interact with several knowledgeable and energetic leaders from other clubs.

Shortly after joining 4-H I started volunteering at the Fairbanks Community Food Bank which was my first “real” job. I have done a variety of tasks at the food bank, such as: sorted canned goods, sorted bread, prepared food boxes, boxed produce and meat, and packaged butter, flour, rice, and sugar. It was tedious at times, but also fun. It was also a good learning experience for me. I learned about defects in canned goods, various types of meat, how to set up and manage a short-term or long-term project, and that no matter how damaged something looks in the store it is much better than what may be available at the food bank

I am glad that I was homeschooled as it has given me many opportunities for growth and development while still having time for other things that I enjoy. Because of homeschooling I was able to do activities I wouldn’t normally have had time to do. As a result, I met many great people who helped me become who I am today. While I don’t know what the future holds, I feel that I am prepared to start the next part of my life. I am looking forward to future opportunities to make positive contributions to my community.

Reflections on the 10th Grade: Mom’s Point of View

Reflections on the 10th Grade: Mom’s Point of View

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It’s so rewarding for us to hear the stories of our families who have gained freedom and joy in their lives by getting free of the school system. Read on for a moving story from this mother about how her son went from being an angry teenager to an engaged, alive person pursuing several passions. In a separate post, we have shared the son’s reflections of his experience in school, and the difference since he has started homeschooling. ~ Peggy & Karen

Deciding to homeschool/unschool has been an incredible decision for our whole family. After a very rocky 9th grade year, we went into the 10th grade year with an agreement (from all of us) that we would not have a repeat of the 9th grade. We briefly discussed homeschooling, but my son made a decision that he wanted to try school again for the 10th grade. I think he wanted to be with his friends, and I think there was some hope that things would be better. By mid-year of the 10th grade in public school, though, my son was a shell of his former self. Moody, angry, irritable, reactive… those are words that could be used to describe all of us! We were all exhausted and traumatized by the constant battle to get school work done. As parents, we were getting scary e-mails and phone calls from the school, and the expectation was that we better do something about our kid – and fast! The threat was that if we didn’t, we risked letting our son fall through the cracks, only to become a teenaged failure. This was horrifying to us, and we didn’t understand what was happening with our son. I am sure the pressure was even worse for our him! Our bright, observant, thoughtful kid was miserable, and every time we talked to him about school, he became deeply defensive and angry. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and neither could he. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that our relationship with our son was more important than his grades.

Even though we were getting a lot of scary stuff from the schools, we made a difficult decision to let him succeed or fail on his own terms. This was really hard, but ultimately, it helped us to make choices that would lead us home.

Even though we had decided to back off and not take on so much of the pressure we were getting from the e-mails, robo-calls, and messages from school counselors, we all still struggled. It was painful to watch my beloved son struggling every day with going to this place that obviously made him feel terrible! I tried enlisting help from all of our son’s teachers, and only got a response from 3 of them. I think his teachers cared, but I also think they had a huge amount of work in front of them, and our quietly failing boy in the back row (who they barely remembered) was not high on their list. This was very stressful, and we were not perfect in our resolve to let our son fail. We struggled with our own fear and panic. Would our son be OK? Would he ever have the chance for a full life? Was he throwing away his opportunities for success in the world? And, even more importantly, why wasn’t he happy? Why was he struggling so much? He couldn’t articulate this, and the more we asked, the more frustrated he became with us. We had to really work to back off. It took us a long time to let go, but when we finally did, it was a watershed moment.

p.txtI picked my son up from rock climbing on a Wednesday just before he finished out the fall semester. “Vinnie,” I said, “It looks like you are going to fail some of your classes. Dad can probably help you figure out how to pass them, if you want. But, more importantly, I want you to know that there are other ways to become an educated person. Maybe this way isn’t working for you. There are other options for you. I don’t know what is happening for you at school, but we can do things differently. If you want to talk with me about options, we can get some dinner and talk.” To my complete surprise, my son started talking. He admitted that he was about to fail, and talked about how even though he was interested in the subject matter, he just couldn’t bring himself to comply with the assigned work. He described how the work felt arbitrary, and how he felt insulted by the “busywork” of school. He didn’t want to do the things they wanted him to do. I told him that we could consider a variety of options, and that we as a family would take the winter break to decide what would be the best option for our son.

From that moment forward, I finally felt like the mother I have always been. I remembered that my son’s life is HIS life. He doesn’t belong to the schools, and neither do we as his parents. His school’s structure is set up to warehouse hundreds of kids and make sure they all meet big external standards as a group. This has never been what education has meant to us as a family. What we value is freedom and joy in learning. We believe that learning is and should be fun, and that  becoming educated means you have your head on your shoulders and can examine the world and your life consciously and critically. Being educated means you know how to get the information you want and need when you want and need it. It is about being able to take in information, process that information thoughtfully, and communicate about it effectively. It is about being able to deepen as a human being, from a well-informed place, so that you can live a full, exciting, passionate life of your own creation.

By the end of the winter break, my son informed me that he had decided to homeschool. This was the day before school was supposed to start for the spring semester. Vinnie told me that he was concerned about losing touch with his friends, so we decided that he would go to school, get as many numbers as possible, and make sure he felt good about this decision to homeschool. When I talked to him after school the next day, my son had cleaned out his locker and made his final decision. The relief was absolutely palpable.

Over these last few months, my son has gone from an angry, unreachable teen to an engaged, alive person. He is reading again, with as much voraciousness as he did when he was younger. He has rested and recovered. He has sought out the things he wants to learn. He started taking online computer programming courses and has found a college degree program he’d like to get into some day. He traveled across the US for a month with my Mom and sister. He got to drive a tractor and feed the goats and donkeys and chickens on their farm property in Texas. He learned to scuba dive, and he is learning to drive. He joined the varsity rock climbing team and is able to climb three days a week. He got interested in social justice and race relations, so we watched movies about civil rights leaders, read news articles, and had discussions about Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. He spent time snowboarding in the mountains, and skateboarding to Dairy Queen. He is exploring what it means to be a friend, and what it means to say no to people who drag him down. He is owning who he is, and taking responsibility for being an educated person in his own, shining, unique way. He is becoming himself, in the best way possible.

Of course, we are not without struggles now. We still have to work on letting go, and he still has to work on taking responsibility for himself. But this is now in the spirit of joy and freedom and growth, rather than pressure and threat and fear. This is healthy and challenging, rather than traumatizing and terrifying. I am so grateful every day that we made this decision to take back the power in our lives. I am grateful that we could let go enough to see that there really are options and possibilities in this life. We are not at the mercy of the system, even though it can feel like it when you’re in the middle of it.

A Student Overcomes Her “Learning Disability”

A Student Overcomes Her “Learning Disability”

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“I am posting this educational biography in its entirety. It is long, but it is so beautifully written by a graduate who faced a lot of challenges and triumphed. Stay with it and you’ll be glad you did!”

Dear Peggy,
I am so happy to have this opportunity to share part of my Educational Biography with you, so that you may get to know me and some of the experiences that have shaped me into the person I am at this point of my life.

My educational journey began on a really bumpy and broken highway. After a fun experience at preschool at the Congregational church in my town, which left me with  many fond memories, I began kindergarten at one of the local elementary schools. Because I lived between two of the elementary schools at that time, my mom was able to choose which school to send me to. She chose Coleytown because that school housed the Special Education offices. I needed the services of Special Education due to my processing delay, learning differences, sensory integration disorder, as well as the effects from treatment for epilepsy, which I was diagnosed with at the age of 10 months. Even though I was in special education, because my disabilities weren’t highly complex, the staff made the decision to include me in a regular classroom, otherwise known as inclusion. Inclusion is public school speak for placing a special education student into a mainstreamed classroom, and then taking the student out of that class for certain therapies, classes, or extra services.

While I loved my kindergarten teacher, Miss Bell, as well as my personal aide, Mrs. Dubee, I hated school. When we’d have circle time, and Miss Bell would talk to us all about a certain subject or topic, it would take me longer to raise my hand to ask a question because my processing delay took me longer to process the information that was given to me in the first place. By the time I would ask the question, they had already started talking about a new subject or topic. After I would raise my hand and ask my question, my teacher would always answer by saying “Erica, that doesn’t have to do with what we’re talking about now.” That really frustrated me, since my question did have to do with the previous topic. However, because it took me longer to process the information, it took me twice as long as my classmates to figure out the question I wanted or needed to ask. Even the rare times when I did raise my hand when we were still on that particular subject, I was either the last one called on, or Miss Bell would move on before calling on me and listening to my question.

Learning to read was something that wasn’t really a struggle for me, since my comprehension and vocabulary has always been above my grade level. I actually enjoyed reading with Miss Bell and a few other classmates. We’d read books like Henry and Mudge, as well as other books appropriate for kindergarteners.
Even though my comprehension was (and still is) excellent for my age, writing was a different story. I struggled with writing due to not being able to write fast and for a long period of time. I would have constant trouble spelling words. My aide would always have to stand over my shoulder and help me with spelling. If she was not there for some reason, I would just simply scribble instead of sounding the word out.
While I had all those negative experiences in kindergarten, it was also filled with its’ share of fun times. For example, I loved art, music, and going for story time at the school’s library.

By the end of half-day kindergarten, I was exhausted, emotionally drained and completely overstimulated. That exhaustion often left me too tired to go to ballet class after school, even though I was in ballet with my best friend, Haley.

Although kindergarten was very difficult for me in many ways, first grade was even worse.

The struggles I had in kindergarten with writing, I struggled with even more due to not being able to write fast and for a long time. I continued to have constant trouble spelling words (the “sound it out” and “spell it like it sounds” approach never worked for me and often caused havoc with my spelling).  I had constant trouble with visual-spatial relationships and spatial awareness, like spacing between words, how much room was needed for a particular word, judging the space left until the page ended and trouble tracking lines. Because of my constant struggle with visual-spatial relationships, I would often forget to leave a space between words. Once this was brought to my attention by my aide, I would separate the two words with a cursor-like line, which would often be mistaken by my teacher and family members as a capital “I”. That misinterpretation would make people tell me that I misspelled the words, leading to more frustration for me. Like most children of that age group, my penmanship was on the bigger side. However, even though my writing was large, it was still readable for the most part.
Math was the absolute worst subject for me. While I understood addition & subtraction for the most part, I could barely grasp multiplication tables.

Division was a living nightmare for me, since I couldn’t understand it at all. When I would be solving a problem, because it was often overwhelming for me to figure out the steps needed to do the problem, my default answer for equations like 7×7 was “a lot”, even if I understood the concept. It didn’t matter if it was subtraction, multiplication, division or even more complex addition, that was the default answer I would give if I didn’t know the answer or was simply too overwhelmed to be able to figure it out.

The other thing that was frustrating for me, was the special education services the school provided for me, both in kindergarten and in first grade. As I mentioned earlier, my kindergarten aide really helped me. The superintendent at that time allowed her to come in just for me, since she was my aide in pre-K as well and I already knew her. However, before the start of my first-grade year, the superintendent changed and the new one would not allow Mrs. Dubee to continue being my aide. They insisted on having Karina, one of their existing paraprofessionals be my aide for first grade. Unfortunately, I did not find her helpful at all.

One of the other ways the special education at Coleytown failed me was when I got pulled out of my mainstream first-grade classroom. I would sit down at a long table, where I was given a pencil and piece of paper with those extra thick lines that had a raised dashed line in between the lines (the dashed lines were to aid in the correct way to print upper case & lower case letters). The special education teacher would instruct me to write about what I was going to do after school that day. Each time that direction was given, I would write a description of my after school activities. I described how I was going to go home, have a snack and then play with my favorite dollhouse in my room with my mom. The special education teacher (or Karina, at times) would say to me, “Erica, you wrote that yesterday. Write something else.” That bothered me deeply, since my after school routine was the same every day, being that I thrive on predictability and routine. What they didn’t realize is that by telling me what not to write, it would throw me for such a loop and I would basically just shut down. Karina would end up telling me what to write, which of course, wasn’t even close to what I was thinking of writing.

All of this took its toll on me, especially emotionally.  Just about every day, upon returning home, I would cry and download my frustrations onto my mom.  My descriptions of daily frustrations at school helped my mom realize the havoc that public school was wreaking on me. My mom soon realized that the school’s approach was not addressing either my emotional needs or my educational challenges. These factors made my parents decide to pull me out of public school. I finished first grade at Coleytown and left for summer vacation, very happy that I would not be returning for second grade in the fall.

My mom decided to homeschool me for second grade, since the private school she thought would be good for me, Eagle Hill Southport, did not have room for me to attend until the next year. That year was pretty stress-free for both my mom and me, as far as education was concerned. My mom did join a few homeschooling groups and we did a few field trip activities with them, some of which my mother organized. Early on in the homeschooling process, after trying the method of following the similar structure as public school, my mom figured out that that particular style was not at all the way I learned best. She tried the unschooling method with me, and that was the biggest success. My mom went at my pace, taking her teaching cues from me, and I began blossoming and learning things that I hadn’t been able to master in public school.

During second grade, I began therapeutic riding sessions with Pegasus Therapeutic Riding. I was very anxious about riding, but my mom promised me that if I got on the horse and didn’t like it, I could get right off.  That reassured me.  A few weeks later, I mounted one of the therapy horses for my first session, and with the help of others walking alongside me, rode the horse around the ring, wearing the biggest smile.

I fell in love with horses and riding, or as the saying in the horse world goes, “I caught horse fever!” My therapeutic riding sessions with Pegasus continued weekly and I went from needing three people walking with me, to only one person leading the horse and one person on my side, and finally, down to only needing someone leading the horse.

Later that summer, the summer before I was to start Eagle Hill, the school thought it would be good for me to attend summer school there. Summer school wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that my math teacher wasn’t helpful at all. Besides that, who wants to spend their summer at school?

Shortly before school started in the fall, I went to meet with the headmaster one afternoon. I remember asking him, “Will I get to have show and tell?”, since “show and tell” was my favorite thing from first grade. He didn’t answer my question at all, but rather gave me a “run around” type of answer. I had so much anxiety afterward because all I wanted was a straight answer from the headmaster about “show and tell”.

I started Eagle Hill that September, when I was 8, and right from the beginning, I had struggles during each school day. For instance, when the bell rang, the loud sound of the bell would scare and bother me so badly, that I would have a panic attack trying to get my trapper, homework, etc. off the desk, so I could go onto my next class. If the students came into the classroom I was trying to leave, all chaos would break out in my mind. By the time I’d eventually get to my class, I’d not only still be in a flustered state, I was also late.  This made most of the teachers get on my case for being tardy. There was also one instance where one of the older boys walked over to the desk I was gathering my things off of, and in this really mean and rough voice, barked, “Leave!” at me.  That was so startling and scared me so deeply, that I was even later and more emotional going into my next class than normal. The kid scared me to tears, yet the teacher whose class I was exiting, did nothing! I thought that was such a horrible way for him to handle that situation.

For my first year, I was assigned to Miss Hontz her for Tutorial class. We were doing our “contracts” which were more like reports, on US states. I was drawing a picture of the state I was doing mine on for the front page of my contract. I raised my hand and asked Miss Hontz what color that particular state was.  Since I had noticed that most classroom maps of the 50 states have each state a different color, I thought this was a very logical question.  She replied to my question by asking, “What do you think?” in a voice that implied, ‘How could you be so stupid to think that states are a certain color?’  Upon returning home that afternoon, I was completely fried and upset. I was up in my room with my mom and we were playing with my favorite dollhouse. I was so upset from what Miss Hontz said and how she made me feel, that I had the biggest meltdown and I told my mom that I didn’t want to be in her class anymore. My mom saw my distress and called my advisor’s office and left a message on her machine, explaining the situation. She also said in the message that she would greatly appreciate it if I could be switched to a different class with another teacher. I was indeed switched to a different class, but first, my advisor had to interrogate me about why I needed to switch out of that class, making me feel even worse than I did when Miss Hontz said that to me. To make matters worse, for each of the next two years, I was assigned to Miss Hontz’s class and my mom would once again, have to call my advisor, and get me switched.

Each student at that school was assigned to a particular advisor for all the years the student attended the school. I was assigned Mrs. Grant and she was my advisor for all three years I was there. The role of the advisors was to help students with anxieties, issues they might have in a school day, etc. As a child, and especially during the three years I was at Eagle Hill, I had a lot of anxiety, trouble with time management skills, and lots of fears, (especially a fear of being kidnapped, which probably stems from my seizures and frequent hospitalizations at an early age). Mrs. Grant, while being a very nice person, wasn’t helpful to me with anything, no matter what the problem.  Rather than helping me solve some of the issues I faced, I always felt as if she was blowing me off and discounting me.
It was hard for me to learn at Eagle Hill, mainly because none of the teachers, my advisor, nor anyone else for that matter, succeeded at educating me as a whole child; not just mentally, but physically and emotionally as well. Even though there were one or two teachers at Eagle Hill that I did like, it is unfortunate to say that they too, failed to educate me as a whole child, body, mind and spirit.  They didn’t seem to understand the impact of noise, environment, schedule deadlines, peer group challenges and positive reinforcement on my success or failure in learning.

Speaking of educating the whole child, the physical education program at Eagle Hill, a school for kids with learning disabilities, left much to be desired.  Their so-called “adapted” physical education, in my opinion, was beyond awful. I felt it was awful because they didn’t know how to adapt physical education to each student’s individual needs.  Even when my parents and my physical therapist complained that they needed to adapt it more for me, they gave my parents lip service.  For instance, it had taken me years of working with various therapists to help me even be able to perform some of the most basic physical maneuvers.  Every day, for as long as I could remember, I did numerous exercises, with therapists, with my mom, as well as alone, to begin to be able to move my limbs across the midline of my body, or to balance on one foot, or move my eyes without moving my entire head or body.  And yet, despite Eagle Hill being aware that I had these, and other problems and gross-motor challenges, they forced me to play soccer on their travel team.

Even though a few of my friends were on the team with me, practice was torture for me for numerous reasons. First of all, to warm up, the coaches made us do jumping jacks. I would always freeze inside because I wasn’t coordinated enough to motor plan how to do one jumping jack, never mind 10 in a row. Secondly, we had to run around the baseball diamond that was in the other corner of the field.  At that point of my life, I couldn’t run far at all because I had such low muscle tone.  So after taking just a few steps, I would feel as though I was going to collapse.  Trying to motor plan running, as well as attempting to get my body to work rhythmically, seemed impossible to me.  I was always lagging far behind all the others, and was physically drained to boot.  Thirdly, and as silly as this may sound, there was a convalescent home next to the area of the field where we would have to run. I didn’t know it was a nursing home, and therefore I was convinced it was a psychiatric hospital and that one of the patients would hop the fence and kidnap me, and that no one would rescue me. This fear made the task of running before practice even worse.

Once we actually started practicing, things only got much, much harder for me. Not only was it difficult enough for me to run, but the combination of having to kick the ball, judge the amount of force needed, figure out where I wanted to kick it, along with the overwhelming noise of my teammates screaming “kick it to me” while the coaches were telling me to kick it somewhere else, was practically impossible for me. Rather than being able to perform what was being required of me, even at some basic level, I would just shut down, because I was so overwhelmed and over-stimulated.

Making things worse, was the constant yelling by my coaches, all too often because they had to correct and “discipline” one of the boys on my team. As if all of this wasn’t taxing enough for me, the soccer field was on a busy road, which meant that cars, trucks and motorcycles were whizzing by all afternoon long.  Since I have always struggled with auditory processing, and have acute hearing (I’m not called ‘Bugs Bunny’ for nothing!), this added traffic noise just further complicated my ability to perform physically. All of these factors not only made practice extremely hard for me, but games as well. Since my eyes could not track objects as they came towards me, at that point in my life, seeing 20 players running towards me was a lesson in confusion, panic and turmoil.  Not only would I lose track of them, but I could not predict where they would go and what they would do, nor did I have the skills to react and adjust myself accordingly.

In an attempt to continue to have me participate and be a part of the team, my mom asked the school to simply let me be the water girl or scorekeeper.  Yet they refused, taking the stance that I needed to keep playing on the chance that someday I might be a true soccer player!  That position seemed totally ridiculous to my parents, my therapists, and me as well, even at the young age of 8! It finally got to the point, after weeks of struggling, where I would constantly ask my mom to fill in the permission slip saying that I didn’t have to go to the games.

On rainy days, or during the winter months, we would all have indoor gym in the local YMCA. It is hard to believe it would be possible, but I actually hated gym more than soccer. Because of the physical struggles I previously mentioned, along with other physical challenges, it was torture.  I could not follow the dance and yoga steps, do the required push-ups, or not always get hit in the face while playing dodgeball.

As my 5th grade year (my third year at Eagle Hill) started to end, I was at the end of my rope and needed to leave. Of course, it was a buildup of the day-to-day struggles, but the two things that were the “straws that broke the camel’s back” were the ways they handled soccer and having to read Harry Potter.  For me, a child who had always struggled with anxiety and fear, who had always been scared of the dark, who had visions of people coming through the windows to steal me, the last thing I felt comfortable reading was a book about wizards, magic, and evil.  I had spent a good deal of energy trying to overcome the many fears I had.  Reading a fantasy book filled with fearful beings and events would not have been something I could have emotionally or mentally handled at that point in my life. The school completely disagreed, taking the position that it was part of life and I would need to learn to deal with it at some point, so it might as well be then. While I now understand their position, I was not in a place at that time to be able to handle that challenge.  Finally, one day, I came home from school and told my mom that I wanted to leave Eagle Hill. After talking about it for a bit, both my parents and I agreed that homeschooling would be best.
The decision to leave was not without mixed feelings, because my friend Shannon started there at the beginning of that year, and we had become best friends. Even though it was difficult to leave my new best friend, in my heart, I knew that leaving would be best, especially in the long run. I informed my adviser that this would be my final year at Eagle Hill, and told her that I’d be homeschooled next year. She frowned upon the fact that I would be homeschooled. At the school’s end of the year ceremony, they handed me my engraved nameplate that served as the ID on my locker, a folder with a “diploma”, and a fabric “E” letter patch (the kind for varsity jackets). I was extremely happy to be out of Eagle Hill. No longer did I have panic attacks on Sunday nights or on the last day of Christmas break. I became much happier and less stressed every day. Just as in second grade, my mom and I did the unschooling approach, which once again worked wonders. I continued to see Mike, my physical therapist, who is actually a Certified Adapted Physical Educator. My sessions with him were twice a week for an hour. I also continued to ride with Pegasus Therapeutic Riding on Thursdays, which I loved as well. The highlights of my week were going riding and seeing Mike.

In the 11 years since I’ve been unschooling, I have seen a transformation in my learning and myself. Most of, if not all of the things that I couldn’t get in public and private school, due to a lack of individualized education and instruction, I have been able to learn. I would have never been able to understand these things, had I not been unschooled by my mother. She has helped me to see that I can learn and overcome challenges and get to the next level. I’ve been able to learn without being forced or threatened, but by taking myself exactly where I am and making incremental steps to each new level.  She has helped me to better understand myself, and to be kind and accepting of myself, just as I am today.  She has taught me that, at times, I am just not ready to take a new step.  She has given me the courage to be okay with that, and the wisdom to understand if that is so in the particular circumstance.  She has helped me to not be ashamed to stand up for myself, and taught me how to better advocate for who I am and what I need.  Without the gift of homeschooling, I would never have had the time to spend with my mom, who has believed in me more than anyone else I know.  I would also never have had the time and space I needed to get to know myself and how I learn and function best.

As well as making academic and emotional progress in multiple “subjects”, I have made tremendous gains physically. I still work with Mike twice each week (I’ve been his student for 13 years and counting). If I were to list all the things he has taught me, my bio would be about 40 pages long, so I’ll condense the list slightly. He taught me to ride a bike (at age 13 ½), and we often go on bike rides together in the summer months to work on these skills even more. Mike also was able to teach me how to do things on the trampoline, like sit drops and knee drops, as well as how to do what we call a “combo”; which is a knee drop, then right into a sit drop, or vice-versa. He also taught me a few “games” that he thought up himself. My favorite game, which I will request by name, is “the clock”, in which Mike stands by the edge of the trampoline at “12:00”.  I then begin jumping in the center and he calls out a number on the clock, and then I face 12:00, do a sit drop, pivot and spin to the number he called out, bounce up from the seat drop and continue jumping until he calls out another number. Thanks to Mike and his patient teaching style I am now able to throw and catch a ball, both with a baseball glove, as well as with two hands, sans the glove. My absolute favorite activity that Mike and I do is play catch. I was very young when Mike first taught me to throw and catch, and all my memories of playing catch with him are 100% positive, so it is a very enjoyable activity for me. Knowing how much I love catch, Mike will often suggest playing a game when I become upset, in order to turn my mood around. This “strategy” of his works without fail! On the days when inclement weather or cold temperatures force us to have our sessions indoors, we work in my basement, where I have various pieces of therapy equipment (therapy balls, a platform swing, balance board, “wobbler”, as well as other activities and small games).

Even though Mike is my Adapted Physical Educator/Physical Therapist, he has taught me many things not directly related to physical education. He has taught and helped me to become a better listener. He has helped me become more patient and compassionate towards others. Mike has made my social skills stronger and helped me become a better friend to others. He is my personal “Dr. Phil” and “Mr. Fix-It”. Mike is the one I often turn to when I need to vent or need advice. He has made my confidence soar, given my dreams wings and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Mike has been there for me through everything and I thank God for him and for all the things I’ve learned from and with him.

The other area that I have made remarkable progress in is horseback riding. Soon after starting unschooling, I “graduated” from therapeutic riding, and moved on to regular, “able-bodied” horseback riding. It wasn’t long before I began cantering and jumping, not only with an instructor who had a background in teaching riders with disabilities, but with the strength and help of a Quarter Horse mare named Stevie. Stevie was very patient with me, and helped me build my confidence, not only as a rider, but as a person as well. During those years, my then instructor Carol moved to Maine, and I continued riding my beloved horse Stevie under the tutelage of Barb, another riding instructor that had worked with Carol for years. Under Barb’s patient and kind instruction, I won a few blue ribbons with Stevie, but we mostly won each other’s trust and hearts. Altogether, I had Stevie as my “partner” for 3 to 4 weekly rides over the course of 3 wonderful years.  Shortly after my sixteenth birthday, Stevie, who was in her late twenties (which is almost 90 in horse years), retired and moved to upstate Connecticut. I was beyond devastated.  I felt as though a piece of my heart had been torn out of me, and I was convinced that I would never again be able to find another horse with whom I would share such a special bond of friendship and trust. After trying a few other horses that I didn’t match well with, Barb, who is very aware of my disabilities and understanding of me, told me that she wanted to put me on Casey and see how Casey and I meshed together. I went up to the barn on May 9, 2006, and tacked up (put the saddle and bridle on) Casey, a beautiful 15.1 ½ hand (5’1½”) Appaloosa/Quarter Horse gelding.  I mounted Casey for my lesson, and immediately felt comfortable with him. It was as if I was on Stevie again. Of course, Barb noticed how comfortable I felt with Casey, both mounted and dismounted. I fell “head over heels” in love with him. Ever since that day, I have been riding Casey and we have a bond and a chemistry that is so incredibly deep. Casey entered my life at a time when I needed him most, and he has truly saved my life. If it wasn’t for Casey, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable advancing my riding, and in turn, it would’ve made it difficult for Barb to teach me more advanced things.

Aside from the tremendous joy and the skills and techniques that I learn in my weekly lessons, horseback riding has taught me many things like self-reliance, patience, time management, and has enriched my social skills (which has resulted in numerous friendships with others at the barn), just to name a few. Some of these “life skills”, such as self-reliance, patience, and social skills, I already had, but they weren’t concrete and I would sometimes fall behind in them. Other skills, like time management, I didn’t have at all, nor did I have a basic foundation to build on.  Riding has also taught me what’s most important in life, meaning that while it’s always nice to be the best or do well in a competition, life isn’t about winning or being the best. Once I realized and accepted that “winning isn’t everything”, I became a happier person. The TV cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants put it so well…he said, “It’s not about winning, it’s about fun.”  Oh so true!

Because of homeschooling/unschooling, my mom and I have been able to do various forms of arts and craft projects, enriching and developing my creative skills and love for art. I am a self-taught jewelry designer, and I create pieces using Swarovski® crystal and glass beads, accented with Sterling Silver components. One of my creations is a beaded Swarovski® bracelet, with two “lobster claw” closures, that attaches to the ends of a Medic Alert® bracelet medallion. My inspiration came from wearing a medical bracelet for as long as I can remember, and wanting it to look prettier than a plain, flat link-style chain.
I also love drawing, and I will spend hours doodling in my sketchbook with a pencil. Horses are my subject of choice, but I’ve drawn tropical scenes, flowers, models, etc. Some of my drawings get transferred onto canvas and painted, or simply outlined using a fine tipped Sharpie® and then colored in. When my parents and I go on long car trips, I listen to my iPod, get out my sketchbook and pencil and sketch away.

I love graphic design and have developed a wonderful eye for digital designs. Over the years, I have been tutored in two graphic design programs, Photoshop and Illustrator, by two graphic artists. I have incorporated these two forms of art to design logos for family and friends, for digital scrap-booking, invitations and announcements, stationery, gifts for friends, etc. My mom taught a class at our church and I used my graphic design skills to put together the stationery for the class handouts and notebooks.

I also write poetry, both for fun, and to help express myself. I write my poems in a college-ruled notebook, then type the poem using Microsoft Word. I will often add a header, using my graphic design skills. I would frame the typed copies of poems that I’ve written about important people in my life, and give them as heartfelt gifts. Mike, among others, has received many of them and the recipients tell me how much my poetry touches them. That’s because it’s not just a bunch of words that I magically make rhyme; rather, my poems are gifts from my heart to their heart.

Another favorite art form of mine is ceramics. I frequent the paint-your-own pottery shop near my house and have made lots of pieces, both for myself and as unique, heartfelt, personalized gifts for family members and friends. I paint a lot of mugs for myself and others, being that they are very useful. I combine my love and talents in sketching, drawing and graphic design when creating my piece, whether for myself or for a gift.

While there are many other details I would love to share, I am so glad to have had this opportunity to share this brief overview of my educational biography with you.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have found pleasure in composing it, and I trust that it will serve as a colorful introduction to who I am and what makes me tick.  I look forward to sharing with you my monthly reports, and giving you a glimpse of some of the newer growth and learning that is taking place in my life at the present time.