Thursday, September 10, 2009

Homeschooling Rant

*This ended up being loooong* sorry

I need to vent. You don't have to read on, and it might be incredibly boring, but after talking with the Superintendant of Home School (hereby known as SHS) this morning I've gotta get this off my chest.

A little background information is in order.

I began homeschooling #1 a year and a half ago after she started coming home in tears every day from boredom. To watch this wonderful girl, who loves school, loves her teachers, come home every single day and cry was devastating. When her assignments began to suffer because she was burnt out and didn't care about school, I pulled her out (but not before making polite suggestions and offering alternatives to what was going on).

I suggested letting her work ahead in Math and Language arts, but that was rejected. I offered to get another Math program for her to work on, and they just about had a conniption fit. They didn't offer a single alternative so I decided to keep her at home. Within days of home schooling, my girl was back to her lovely, happy, healthy self. That alone makes this whole thing worth it. But there's much more to the story.

We'd had this problem for 2 years (since we moved here), so it was only a matter of time before she exploded. I tried to address the problem, talking to her teachers several times a year at every conference, but nobody would do anything. I got the same thing every time. She's wonderful, helpful, bright, kind, and she makes a great teacher's assistant. Nevermind the fact that she's done her work before everyone else and sits and reads all day long. Nevermind the fact that she's bored out of her mind and hasn't really learned anything new. As long as she was good, it didn't matter.

Not once in the 2 years we'd lived here did they suggest she undergo any kind of testing. Not until I wrote up my year end home-school evaluation (I had pulled her out midway through the school year) and suggested it may benefit her to be placed into the next grade. I had a call from the Superintendent of Special Education that very day chastising me because it was not my place to suggest such a thing. I calmly replied that I would obviously go through the proper channels to see a positive outcome, and scheduled testing (finally there's testing) for the very next day.

Well, four and a half hours of testing later (I kid you not), we finally had a decent profile of her academic/social/emotional standing. The results were fascinating. Not surprising, she excelled in many things, with her math skills being borderline genius level. However, in all things socio-emotional, she was a normal kid for her age, and her ability to process information quickly and effectively is what made her excel in all her other (non-genius) subjects.

As a result, the recommendation was to keep her at the same grade level as her peers, regardless of the fact that she took school much more seriously than the rest of the kids, regardless of the fact that she was ready for a more mature approach to schooling. She's a no-nonsense kind of kid who is at school to get the job done, plain and simple.

The recommendation (and this is from a school psychologist that I happen to know personally, and think he's wonderful and insightful) included the words "we'd like to see her assisting her peers" and "we wouldn't want her moved ahead, because what would she do when all her friends were getting their license and she couldn't drive for another year". It was concluded that she ought to have a personalized progress plan that would be re-evaluated every couple of months (by her group of 4-5 teachers) with a statement that the idea was not to make her do more work on top of the regular school work, it was to give her work more at her level (which was 2-3 years ahead in Math), BUT not have her complete any higher level of schooling.

In truth, it was basically the equivalent of auditing a university course as opposed to getting actual credit for it. As a result she would still have to take the same classes when she was older (more age-appropriate, as they would say), even though she'd already learned more complicated stuff. So, in the end, it would basically be giving her harder work to keep her from being bored just to pretty much get her through to high school.

I didn't go to the school board with a "give me what I want or I'm keeping her home" kind of attitude, but knew in my heart that although putting her ahead a grade (with modifications for her advanced language arts and way advanced math) was the best-case scenario, keeping her home was really the only acceptable alternative. Going back to the same kids, in the same grade, and dealing with all the same things while being pulled out of class and set apart as "the smart kid" wasn't going to do her any favours.

I could do her own personalized program at home, without the added stress. I also hoped we'd be able to get her ahead in an accredited sort of way with the intention of putting her in high school (grade9) when she was old enough (next fall). That's what brings me to today.

I had been directed to talk to the principal at the high school about placing her in the appropriate math class. She's technically in grade 8 this fall, but we pretty much completed the grade 10 Math curriculum last year. I figured taking gr.10 math would be a great way to assimilate her back into a classroom environment (she knows the material, so it wouldn't be overwhelming), and that it would really solidify the curriculum content before moving on to the more advanced math. The principal was very nice, but had never dealt with this type of situation. After stating that she'd end up with much older kids if she was allowed to move ahead (again with that darned peer group thing), he thought it best to get direction from the new SHS.

Well, this morning I talked with the SHS to see if something could be worked out. Our school division offers distance education courses, so I asked if that would be a possibility if everyone was so concerned about her being in a classroom full of older kids. That idea wouldn't be considered because she would have to be registered as a student at the high school (which apparently is impossible).

After much frustration at trying to get our mutual points across (and yes, I cried, but that's what I do when I'm frustrated - lame, I know, but I'm sure my mom and sisters are laughing right now - it's so me, haha), he decided to direct the principal of the high school to let her challenge the grade 9 final exam to see where she's at, and to challenge the grade 10 final instead of allowing her into the class (after expressing concern that she's been out of school for so long that it would be bad to move too far ahead, even though he knows we plan on placing her in school next fall). And he only allowed this much because he acknowledged that it would open up extra credits for her to take later in school, which "might be beneficial to her".

He did suggest that she get involved with robotics or something to use her math skills. While that would definitely be right up my 10 year old son's alley (oh, and how!), I told him that she doesn't care about using the skills, she just wants them to get her to where she needs to go. Just because it comes so easily doesn't mean it actually interests her that much. I don't even care if she pursues the AP math once the regular stuff is out of the way. He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that.

So, anyway, rant aside, I'm hoping that this "compromise" leads to something good. I plan on writing the SHS a letter to better explain my views of the situation (he phoned me out of the blue this morning, so I didn't have any notes prepared or anything). Besides, I do much better if I can put it in writing - big surprise there. :)

You know, I wonder sometimes why I put myself through all of this. I'm not a pushy parent. I don't much like confrontation, and I don't enjoy adding stress to my life*. But if I don't do it, nobody else will, and I've got an amazing young woman here that deserves to be her own happy self while getting the education she needs. I know all too well that the current system is hard on lots of students, but for someone like her who enjoys it, and loves to learn, there should be no reason for her to have to go through all of this.

All I've heard since the beginning of this long process are professions of "we want to do what's best for her". When I got off the phone with the SHS this morning, she said "I'm starting to feel like it's a crime to be smart". She didn't think anything bad when she said that (if you knew her, you'd understand). It was just an observation, a statement of fact - and she's not wrong.

It's never been seen as a good thing. Nobody at school (nor the school division) has ever encouraged her to move forward, and they certainly haven't facilitated it. Is that what's best for her? Makes a person wonder what book they're taking a page out of when you give them a perfectly happy, wonderfully eager, intelligent child - and they break them.

I don't regret taking her out of school. Not for a second. It might be a bit of a headache for me to deal with the bureaucracy, and it might be hard to fight for a positive outcome, and it might make me cry (so embarrassing) - who knows but that I was put on earth for such a time as this?

I may not be saving the world, but I can certainly try to keep hers from crashing down.

After all, what else is a mother for?


*Says the woman who is trying to write books and get them published in a tough market...


aka eyecorn said...

Wow! Congratulations for being your daughter's mother and advocate. You don't want to look back in 10 or more years and wonder, "What if I had stood up for her . . . ". My son is a jr. and decided he wanted to do ps the last 2 years. He is very bright (consistently 98th percentile on IOWAs), but I had to fight for him to get advanced classes. They knew me within 1 hour of us having his schedule, and I didn't let up until he was in the classes he needed to apply to the colleges HE WANTS to apply to. Yup, we gotta be there with our children. Thank you for taking the time to write this and share your experience. I hope it is an inspiration to another parent who might be or who will one day face the same situation.

Tracy said...

I really appreciate that someone not related to me actually made it through this whole thing :)

Thank you.

Fiauna said...

You're doing the right thing, just remember that. Someday, it will all be worth it.

Rebecca said...

You inspire me! Like you, I don't handle confrontation well and usually end up in tears as well. But my kids make me feel braver than I really am--the lengths we will go to because we love them so much. I'm so sorry to hear of the school challenges---I didn't even imagine it would be so difficult to place her into classes at her academic level! Hugs for the both of you!

btw, I've missed you the past couple months since we haven't been emailing re: your manuscript! That was so fun! Sorry I pretty much fell off the email communication inbox usually overwhelms me!