Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And the Bar Keeps Moving :-(

Yesterday started out with a lo of excitement, as our family attended the start of phase two of the USA Pro Challenge Cycle Tour here in town with a team from Kazakhstan participating.  However, the day quickly ended on a difficult note as we receive bad news from our homeschooling program, and we have been working on our attitudes ever since.

Late in the afternoon I received a phone call from our Resource Coordinator (RC) who works most directly with our family.  She certainly dreaded making the call, as she had to tell us that suddenly...after 3 years of enrollment...the state caught an "error" and now we have to move them up a grade due to their age.  When we initially enrolled them, a couple of staff members and I looked at a chart the state had that dictates what age is allowed to be considered what grade, and we selected their grade level based upon this.  We had never heard a word about it until yesterday, when the state came to the conclusion that we were wrong, and contacted our homeschool program to tell them they had no choice but to move the girls from 5th and 6th grade, where they are perfectly suited to be, to 6th and 7th grade.

And just like that, we lost an entire year of education.

Because we are part of a public school, technically, and are "schooling at home", we have to abide by standard state rules. We don't have the flexibility that traditional non-affiliated homeschoolers have.

My emotions ran the gamut yesterday from anger, to sorrow, to acceptance... to strategic planning on how to work with this sudden change in our long term game plan.

At first glance, this may not seem to be such a big deal to many, but as the night wore on, I saw many ways in which the impact of this could create surprising challenges.

1)  Olesya has literally had only 4 years of "real school", let alone the fact that two of those were in a foreign language.  Now they are calling her a 6th grader...when in America that would mean she would be working on her 7th year of academics.  That is a huge gap.

2)  What if we can't homeschool in the future?  What if we find we have to put them back in traditional schools?  Though that is not at all our plan, should an emergency arise, they would be placed in grade levels that are completely out of their reach.  It is one thing to be called a certain grade at home but have the freedom to work on whatever grade level work is appropriate, it is another to be thrust in a class where you simply find the work to be impossible to understand because it is all at the true grade level.

3)  We just did finally feel successful...caught up...on target.  Now, it is as if that has been ripped out from under us as the bar has been moved higher and higher up.  We have worked SO hard the past 2 1/2 years on school, moved at lightning speed through material, and our test scores were a "reward" of sorts for everyone.  We celebrated, we patted ourselves on the back...and now it is as if all of that is null and void.  Sure, I know that it really isn't, but it feels that way and we need to put it aside.  The problem is, our test scores from now on will reflect that they are not proficient and more importantly will not provide me with an accurate reflection of how they are doing so I can judge where we need work and where we are doing well.   The tests are a waste of time in terms of measuring against others, as I could care less about that, but it was helpful to use to see areas of growth or needing improvement. Now it will be pretty invalid because they will be testing using materials that are so far off the mark that it will make them pointless for my use.

4)  Fear.  Angela in particular was very upset upon learning this.  She told me "Mom, there is no way I am only one year behind Matthew.  If they put me in 7th grade, I won't know anything!  I barely am a real 6th grader!   I CAN be, but I need more time."  What I loved was she realized her own potential in saying "I can be", what I hate is that she feels pressured now, and that is one more thing I need to work with and relieve.

5)  So if we manage to get them the minimum skills necessary to graduate at this accelerated schedule imposed upon us, this has the potential to cost us thousands of dollars in remedial college classes for those who elect to go that route, because they may not be adequately educated for certain subjects.

There are just a lot of ways this can impact us.

Everyone in the family was concerned, we all had a long talk about it last night and even the boys were adamant about it and asked if I could go to the state and try to get a different ruling.  Matthew even asked if it was worth hiring a lawyer over.  It was easy to get caught up in the disappointment and anger over the unfairness of this situation.  It was not misdirected anger either, as truly it is not our local school or even our District doing this, it came directly from the state.  We were told this has happened a couple times before (our program often gets kids like ours, who do not fit in a standard classroom by age/grade level), and fighting it would be fruitless.  Our local school had already tried to argue on our behalf before calling us.

We've worked so hard, it is difficult not to become discouraged by something like this.  We school part time all summer long.  Unlike many homeschooling families with kids who are on track and homeschool 4-5 hours a day, we homeschool 8 hours...and sometimes 9 hours a day.  We school during the winter on weekends for a couple of hours here and there.  And we take few breaks during the day.  The kids truly work their behinds off, and rightly or wrongly, it feels as if our hard work is being punished.

Taking a deep breath, we all stepped back and by the end of last night and early this morning we had come to new conclusions, proving that often it is not what happens to you, but how you view it, that really matters.

1)  We are SO lucky to have this program and the funding that makes homeschooling possible for us!  Without it, we would have a far less rich academic experience.

2) They can call the girls whatever grade they want, but we can continue to do what we need to at home.  We'd never get that at a standard public school.  They can call them 7th and 6th graders, but we can still teach 4th grade grammar, 5th grade spelling, sit side by side and read every single story together explaining every single word that is not understood.  We can teach 4th grade science to my "7th" grader, we can be at 4th grade writing skills with her as well.  Olesya can take the next 4 years of necessary to get through elementary math if necessary, even if they call her 6th grade now and she is working on 4th grade math successfully.  In a classroom, they'd be forced to use grade level curriculum even if it made no sense to them at all and they fell further and further behind.  We have flexibility, regardless of grade level assignment.

3)  We can do a 5th year in high school, as long as they graduate by 21 years old.  Our program contacted us this morning and are totally in support of that idea.  In other words, we'll lose on this end, but they will allow us to make up for it on the back end. Then they will still get a diploma from our school district, rather than a diploma issued by Mom.  Dominick and I both want this for the kids if we can do it.  Being older graduates anyway, we feel it will validate their education more to others who might not be pro-homeschooling.

4)  Now I can really ignore test results, which in the long run just might be healthier as long as we know they are making progress.  Our culture gets too caught up in that, and I raise my hand to say "Me too" sometimes with measuring "success".  Yes, I need ways to critically evaluate their progress, but maybe being able to look at state results as totally irrelevant for us is a good thing.

5)  God knows what we need. I will fight for the kids tooth and toenail (my Mom's old saying!), and maybe we need to see ourselves even more as not being bound by a system in our learning.  We had a wonderful conversation last night that led us to talking about continuing to finish learning after high school and outside the system, if necessary.  I was so proud of the girls' response as they said they knew what they would need to have to be successful, and they would do whatever it took to get there...that graduation age was not important, learning was.  Maybe God knew we needed that perspective more than typical "system" thinking.

With the unique kids we have, they just never "fit".  They don't "fit" in sports teams because of ages and grade levels, they don't "fit" in school because of gaps in knowledge and time needed to catch up with language skills, they don't "fit" in social settings with peers because as they grow older they are finding it difficult to understand what is being talked about with language levels increasing beyond their abilities.  They don't "fit" because for many of them, the bar is simply out of reach...set too high...unreasonable in the demands it places on them.

Where do they "fit"?

They "fit" in God's family, where they are accepted for who they are and helped in so many ways to succeed.  They "fit" in the LaJoy family, where people will stand up for you, nurture you, love you, and laugh with you.

We'll figure it out, we'll keep plugging along, and we'll put this behind us and keep a good attitude about the stuff that is really important.  We'll be grateful we fit together perfectly, and that creates a foundation that can never crumble, no matter what the outside world does to try and chip away at it.

We are Team LaJoy.

Go ahead, set that bar day, I promise you, we WILL fly over it.


Anonymous said...

Remember Tuesday when the bicyclists came round the second time after having biked several miles to warm up and wow the crowds? By then they were no longer bunched up but beginning to sort themselves out, set themselves up for their strategy to conquer. The ones in front then were not necessarily the ones that would be in front at the finish, nor were the ones in back going to finish last. They were moving at their rate to ride their best race. Despite what the State of Colorado says, Team LaJoy is riding for the gold. Gold may not mean first place. It may not mean the highest test score or the earliest graduation, just as for some of those riders gold is the participation in a world class race, the joy of helping another team member do his best. For those of us watching it may have been waving a flag for the Kazakhstan team so that they know they have supporters here, yet singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and saluting the American flag.

You said, "We had a wonderful conversation last night that led us to talking about continuing to finish learning after high school and outside the system, if necessary." Learning, as you know and even experienced Tuesday as you processed the latest setback, continues all your life, IF you keep your curiousity and desire to grow and learn. Matthew, Angela, Kenny, Olesya, and Josh will be such people. The State of Colorado cannot dampen or retard them or their parents, but think of kids in regular school who need much of the same learning your children are getting. They will be herded along with failing grades, feeling like failures.

Cindy, when you have together achieved graduation level, it will then be time for you to write your book--or maybe even before that. This blog alone is one chapter. You may want to flesh it out with other experiences that led to these conclusions, but you really have already written your book. You just need to organize it and publish it.

Prayers for you and for the new "middle schoolers" in your family,

Anonymous said...

What a shock to the system! It seems like hashing it out gave you a good plan on how to work with lemons. You all will be just fine! What I was thinking while reading was to use the program you have now and then just do it on your own. I see you are nervous about a "mom diploma". I can understand that, and for some things it is tricky (like the military) but in general I think you will find most colleges accept it. Another idea would be to sign up for Hslda in those last years ( as each one is graduating) and have them fight any of the battles that come up. I know they have gotten military recruiters to recognize the home diploma and colleges to stop adding extra hoops etc. This route would only work if you were not enrolled in your public school home education program though. I guess I would stick with the program until it isn't meeting your needs. God bless you all, I think you are doing an awesome job!
Teresa F