The Perks of an Umbrella School vs. Remaining Independent

At one time or another, many homeschool families examine the possibility of enrolling in an umbrella or cyber school. An umbrella school is a homeschool program operated by public charter schools or directly by regular public schools. We can be counted amongst them.

I eluded to this briefly on a Facebook post in October but have yet to elaborate on our decision until now. I suppose I wanted to give it some time to see how well the administration followed up on their promises. When we lived in California, we tried a charter school for a term but withdrew as we felt we had been misled and the kids spent an inordinate amount of time undertaking one standardized test or another – rarely engaging in the enrichment opportunities we had been promised. Other than this short blip, we had always homeschooled independently.

I am not opposed to public education. I am in fact, a certified teacher. Before beginning a family of my own, I taught full-time. I continue to work in the school system today as a substitute teacher and home tutor. I am an advocate for choice and have always advised those who have asked my opinion to forge their own path.

homeschool teen using ipad with text: The Perks of an Umbrella School @EvaVarga.netOur Homeschool Evolution

A year after we moved back to Oregon, we again began to consider the possibility of enrolling in a charter school. A friend of my daughter (a homeschool teen) informed us she had done so but would be taking all her coursework at the college. “They will cover all my tuition costs,” she explained. “I can do my high school work all online whenever I wish.” 

When we looked into it, we learned that while her statement was true, they wouldn’t be able to continue swimming on our local high school swim team. In Oregon, homeschooled students are permitted to take part in extra-curricular activities including sports with the permission of the principal. While our resident district would allow homeschooled students to participate, they would not permit students enrolled at another school. Being a part of the team was important to my daughter, or so she believed at the time, so we tabled the discussion.

As the 2016-17 school year came to a close, both of my children began to lose interest in swim team. While this is a topic for another post, their decision to close that chapter of their lives lead to new opportunities.

When we began to re-consider, my daughter had already earned 24 college credits which we had paid for out of pocket. It was important for us that she continue to have this opportunity. Our local high school didn’t generally allow students to begin dual enrollment coursework until their junior or senior year. As a high school sophomore, I wanted to assure she would be able to continue the path we had begun independently.

Benefits of a Partnership

There are a variety of advantages cited by homeschoolers choosing to participate in a charter school. Amongst them are the accredited high school diploma, access to enrichment classes, a laptop computer or chrome book, Internet access, software, textbooks, and support by certified teachers – of course these benefits vary by institution.

Often, charter schools offer expeditionary, project-based learning that the district-based school does not. Though publicly funded, their independence allows them to offer specialized courses and approaches that neighborhood schools can not.

The biggest plus for partnering with the school we chose was that my daughter’s tuition costs at the college would be paid (up to 12 credits per term). In essence, she would be able to earn her associate’s degree while also fulfilling high school graduation requirements. Two years of college, paid for. That’s too big a carrot to not give it a try.

I was also assured that their independent pursuits could be translated to credit on their high school transcript. My son’s passion for Minecraft and YouTube, for example, could be morphed into a class on “multimedia technology”. My children’s continued private lessons in Mandarin could be translated into credits on their transcripts.

homeschool teen using pc and ipad with text: The Perks of an Umbrella School @EvaVarga.netThe only obligation on our part was to provide evidence of their work in these project-based experiences, essentially an activity log as well as samples of their work that would be evaluated by a licensed teacher.

Logically, they would also be obligated to take part in state testing. Oregon public schools test students in English language arts and math in grades 3 through 8 and 11, and in science and social sciences in grades 5, 8, and 11. While I am not a fan of standardized tests, I could agree to an occasional test.

Loss of Freedom?

As any homeschool family will tell you, private homeschooling is thriving, with no help from the government. The studies all show homeschoolers are academically above average from the elementary level all the way through college.

Opponents of charter schools that cater to homeschoolers will tell you that homeschoolers returning to government schools puts this freedom at risk. The fear is that as homeschoolers “yoke” together with the public schools through charter school programs and cyber schools, the public schools and the state will once again dictate to us our curriculum, teacher qualifications, and methods.

This could be true, but I am confidant that we can also change the system. The best way to do that is by being involved and proactively seeking strategies and solutions that are in the best interest of our children.

We all want what is best for our children. Education is not a one-size fits all solution. Being involved and willing to give voice to my expectations, hopes, and vision can only help to provoke change.

Homeschooling High School With College in Mind: A Book Review

This past winter, my daughter has been swimming on the local high school swim team. She knew many of her team mates from club swimming but those who didn’t know her frequently asked, “What grade are you in? Why don’t I see you on campus?” When they learn that she homeschools, their response is generally a shrug and softly muttered, “Hmm.” 

As the season has progressed and they have gotten to know her, the questions have evolved. “Are you always going to homeschool? When are you going to stop? What about college? Don’t you want to go to college?” 

When she then tells them she is already enrolled in college courses (as a high school freshman) they are often surprised. At our local high school, it is not uncommon for students to take part in dual enrollment courses – earning credit for both high school and college. However, most are juniors or seniors and there are only a few sophomores.

Homeschooling High School

Homeschooling through high school is unfamiliar territory for many, even amongst those who have homeschooled their children in elementary school. Homeschooling high school instills fear in many who even think about tackling it. Algebra, science labs, and transcripts?! Oh My!

Algebra, Science Labs, & Transcripts Oh My! @EvaVarga.netIf you are considering it – know you are not alone. There are many who have walked this journey before you and have done so with success. I amongst them. Though we are just beginning and we still have lots to learn, I will be sharing our experiences with you here on my blog. Here’s a peak at a few I’ve shared already:

Homeschool Forecasting: Coordinating Schedules, CLEP Exams, & College Courses

Raising Teens While Saving Your Sanity: 12 Must Read Books for Parents of Teens 

We DO Intend to Homeschool High School

I am also one of four bloggers who regularly host Finishing Strong, a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids.

Along our journey, I am careful to seek out the wisdom of those who have preceded me like Betsy Sproger, who blogs at BJ’s Homeschool. Her blog is a wealth of information and I often select her posts to highlight in Finishing Strong.

I am excited to share that Betsy has now written a guide to college from a homeschooling perspective. Her book is based on her experience helping her gifted daughter get accepted by multiple colleges, including an ivy league university.

homeschooling high school

I received a copy of Homeschool High School with College in Mind by the author, Betsy Sproger, in exchange for an honest review. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Homeschooling with College in Mind

Her guide, Homeschool High School with College in Mind, not only walks you through the process of preparing your child for college but provides you with templates and forms you can use along the way. Betsy guides you through choosing courses with your student, how to maintain and keep records, how to calculate credit, tips for that dreaded college admissions essay, and so much more!

Her suggestions don’t push you into a box with an expectation that her way is the best way. She outlines what worked for her and gives suggestions for alternatives as well. She also outlines three distinct methods for earning credits – textbooks, hours, and mastery. Additionally, she provides an in-depth look at high school electives and extra-curricular activities.

Chapter Titles, Each of Which Include an Accompanying Printable:

  • Researching College Entrance Requirements
  • Planning High School with College in Mind
  • Choosing High School Curriculum
  • Assigning High School Credit
  • Making Your Transcripts (Calculating the GPA, etc)
  • Electives and College
  • Writing the College Essay
  • Course Descriptions and Reference Letters
  • Preparing your Teen for College Writing

The printed version is black and white and the Kindle version has full color images! Homeschooling High School with College in Mind is currently on sale at Amazon through February 5th!

The Kindle version is 45% off the regular prices of $7.17

The paperback printed version is 20% off the regular price of $9.19

High School Forecasting: Coordinating Schedules, CLEP Exams, and College Courses

Fall term is nearing an end. Many students are preparing for final exams as well as forecasting with their advisors and thereby registering for winter term. My daughter, Geneva, is amongst them.

She has really enjoyed taking dual enrollment courses on the college campus these past few months and has worked very hard to assure she completes two consecutive courses within the 10-week term. Come winter term she will enroll in two courses – Intermediate Algebra (Math 95) and English Composition (Writing 121).

high-school-forecastingHigh School Forecasting

Her goal is to complete the degree requirements for an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree simultaneously with her high school diploma. While no easy feat, it can and has been done by homeschoolers and public school students across the state.

As at least one of the courses she will take winter term is transferable to a four year university, it is important that we work alongside an advisor to ensure the courses are counted for dual enrollment. We’ve made an appointment and look forward to sharing the four-year plan we have put together.

Course Load and Schedules

I opened our forecasting discussion by first describing the degree requirements for the transfer degree as well as the course list for a degree in engineering (a field in which she has expressed interest since she was a young girl). She then shared the goals she had for herself and what she hopes to accomplish over the next four years.

This FREE customizable spreadsheet provided the skeletal structure for her four year plan. Thank you, Heidi!

High School 4 Year Forecasting Plan

Together, we looked at the course descriptions for each of the classes she was interested in and thereby narrowed down her choices. In addition, we read the prerequisites carefully to ensure there would be no surprises along the way.

Four courses chosen from at least two disciplines including at least three laboratory courses in biological and/or physical science are required for Science & Mathematics.

With the prerequisites and an engineering degree in mind, her choices include a year of General Chemistry, a year of Physics with Calculus (must be taken concurrently), and two terms of Geology. We thereby plugged each of these into the four-year plan assuring that she would take no more than two courses per term at the college.

In addition, the course load during her senior year in high school is relatively easier than the preceding two. This will provide a little cushion and time for scholarship essays and other unforeseen hoops she may have to jump through.

Foreign Language Requirement

In Oregon, there is a foreign language requirement for admission to a four year university:

[Transfer] students who graduated from high school in 1997 or later must meet a foreign language requirement with either two years of high school level study in the same language or two quarters/semesters of college level study with a minimum grade of a C- or better.

While she is fluent in Mandarin (having studied the language since she was 5 years old), as an independent homeschool, Academia Celestia is not an accredited institution. She will thereby be expected to take a foreign language course at the college or demonstrate proficiency by passing an exam.

While she hopes to someday learn additional languages (and may yet decide to take a college level course), she will most likely choose this option. Her ultimate goal is to study abroad in China and earn a minor in Asian Languages and Culture.

CLEP Exams

In addition to the course work and requirements described above, there are several foundational (Writing, Communication, and Health & Fitness) and Cultural Literacy requirements.

Four courses chosen from two or more disciplines are required for Social Sciences. Three courses chosen from two or more disciplines are required for Arts & Letters.

For Social Sciences, she selected a fascinating Anthropology course and a course suggested for Engineering students, Economics. To earn addition credits (9) for History 201, 202, and 203 she plans to take the CLEP exam in United States History.

While English 104, 105, and 106 are not required for the AA degree (she chose alternatives in Art and Philosophy), she may also choose to take the English Literature CLEP exam to earn credit (9) for these courses.

How Imaginary Numbers Led Us to Dual Enrollment

Over the past couple of years, Geneva has been struggling with math, a subject she has always enjoyed. She was working through Advanced Algebra with Life of Fred and despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t help her when she got stuck.

To be honest, I don’t recall ever learning about imaginary numbers and I just couldn’t grasp it. I was frustrated and she began to lose her confidence.

An imaginary number is a complex number that can be written as a real number multiplied by the imaginary unit i, which is defined by its property i2 = −1. The square of an imaginary number bi is −b2. For example, 5i is an imaginary number, and its square is −25.

Can you explain this in simple terms? Fortunately, we discovered Mr. D Math in the spring and through his weekly instruction, her confidence and enthusiasm were restored.

dual-enrollment

As the new school year approached we contemplated continuing with Mr. D but when her girlfriend shared that she would begin dual enrollment coursework at the local community college, Geneva opted to do the same. She thereby took the math placement exam in August with no preparation whatsoever and even taking the summer off (our first “true” summer vacation).

She placed into Algebra 1 (Math 60) – just where I would have predicted based on what I knew of her skills. The way the course was designed, she would be working with a software program called ALEKS at her own pace. Her instructor informed her that if she completed the coursework and passed the final exam by midterm, she could then begin the next class, Algebra 2 (Math 65).

At the close of the term, she will have finished two consecutive math courses. Delightfully, as she completed them both within the 10-week term, we will only have to pay for one and yet both will appear on her transcript.

Our dual enrollment experience has {thus far} been very successful. Join me again on Saturday when I share a peak into our 4-year high school forecasting.