Our Letter of Withdrawal

My frustrations with the charter or umbrella school have only increased.  I can honestly say that I gave it my best shot.  In late November, I even signed the contract for the second quarter.  I tried to be more vocal in my displeasure .. speaking up for myself and the kids when I felt we were unjustly made to feel incompetent.  I just didn’t like the person I was becoming .. forcing my kids to do the mundane tasks that were required. I could feel the stress physically weighing me down.

The straw that broke the camels back, if you will, occurred during our biweekly curriculum meeting.  Sweetie had submitted her work and was in violin class.  Buddy sat with the facilitator and me at the table.   As the facilitator began to go over his work, it was clear that he was becoming increasingly agitated.  He doesn’t like to be put on the spot and she wasn’t backing down.

Our facilitator had stated when we began our collaboration that we would be able to continue to use the math curriculum of our choice, Singapore Math, for we had had success with it.  Her only condition was that the kids must also complete at least one worksheet or lesson from the adopted materials she provided us, enVision Math.  Though the kids had both demonstrated skills that surpassed their grade level, Buddy was assigned the first grade enVision Math book while Sweetie was assigned grade three.  Each week, I allowed the kids to select a lesson from enVision to submit to the facilitator.  I encouraged them to select a worksheet that corresponded with the material we were covering in Singapore Math but this wasn’t always possible.

This particular week, Buddy selected a worksheet that compared two terms – capacity and volume.  The lesson was very simple and I believe there were only 3 visual or pictorial problems and 1 multiple choice problem.  The pictorial problems showed images of two jars of different sizes side by side.  The child was instructed to circle the jar that had the largest capacity.  The multiple choice problem asked, “Which word is used to describe how much something can hold?  a) space  b) capacity  c) area

Buddy completed this worksheet very quickly – with no help from me – and correctly answered each question. The facilitator looked it over and decided to focus upon the multiple choice question.  She asked him, “Can you tell me, what is area?”  He did not know the answer and stated as much.  She tried drawing a picture of a rectangle and stated, “Let’s say this is someone’s backyard.  If it measures 4′ x 8′, what is the area of the yard?”  Again, he did not know.  I thereby explained that while he was capable of doing multiplication (she knew this), he hadn’t yet been introduced to the concepts of perimeter or area.  Utilizing Singapore Math (grade 3), this lesson would be forthcoming in just a couple of weeks actually, and I then pointed it out to her in his book.  Her reply to me was, “Well, if he were using enVision Math, he would have covered it.”

At this point, Buddy was distraught and began to act out inappropriately.  I wasn’t able to address her statement but it stuck with me and I mulled it over for some time.  When I returned home, I dug through the enVision Math books she had checked out to us but was unable to find the lessons to which she referred me.  I thereby sent this email:

Can you please tell me where I can find the lessons regarding ‘area’ in the First Grade Envision Workbook. I can not seem to find it. I’ve looked carefully at the pages for Geometry and Measurement both. I’ve also flipped through to no avail.

Her reply to me stated that she didn’t know for certain.  “If we were using ‘such and such’ as I had used years ago in Los Angeles, I could immediately tell you the page number.  I am less familiar with enVision math but will have my assistant get back to you.”

The following day, I received a reply from her assistant.  She did not point out the pages where I could find these lessons.  Instead, she attached the California Standards for Teaching which clearly indicated that area was not expected to be taught in first grade.  It was now evident that area is not in fact a first grade concept yet she insisted that if I were doing things her way, it would have been taught.  “He should know this,” she had said.  She insisted that I was failing him by not already introducing this concept to him.  I was appalled.

I thereby submitted our letter of withdrawal earlier this week. The following is an excerpt from that letter:

We have come to realize that our style of learning is different and that our schedule does not permit us the flexibility to continue with an umbrella program.  Hence, Tuesday, February 14th will be the last day of enrollment in the XXX School District Homeschool program for both my children.

Friendships Reconnect in Santa Cruz

I attended Lane Community College after high school, earning an Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree (thereby satisfying all undergrad requirements at a four-year university).  While there, one of the many required courses I took was Writing 121.  My professor turned out to be not only a great teacher … but also a life-long friend.  
I loved his teaching style and through him, I was introduced to a genre of literature to which I had not been previously exposed.  I thereby took another course he taught .. Black American Literature.  Later, when I took another writing course (taught by someone else, sadly), I was inspired to write an anecdote about him:
“Good afternoon,” were the only words he said as he walked into the room, removed his leather hat, and took his place behind the podium. His strong, husky voice enraptured the class and held the attention of us all.  The room was small, seating maybe twenty-five students.  The desks were tightly arranged in a semi-circle around the podium and the man who would soon become an inspiration to me.

He preached the power of words and advised us to be skeptical of the things we had always taken fro granted and to question that which we are taught.  He would proudly tell us stories of his childhood and of the many adventures he had experienced in his life.  He could make us laugh and then within a moment, stare in shock and surprise.  

He challenged conventional Western society, dared each of us to open doors to new worlds. I began to indulge in the literature of African American writers.  Seeing society through their eyes changed me … I became more aware.  

The more I got to know him, the more I realized that he wasn’t as intimidating as I had initially  expected.  It was clear to me that he was a man to be taken seriously and one who could teach me a lot about myself, life, and the world around me.  He has become a great friend and one I will cherish always.  

His wisdom and courage to fight ignorance continues to burn through me.  My hope is that I too, will become an inspiration to young minds.  To challenge them to experience life from new perspectives.”

After I transferred to Oregon State, I would drive down to visit him on occasion during his office hours.  He continued to be a mentor and confidant.  As the years progressed, our exchanges dwindled to the annual Christmas card until eventually we lost contact.  I would think of him often – wishing I could reach out and reconnect.  My mom shared with me that she had read of his retirement.  I didn’t know how to find him.   

I looked for him through Facebook .. and to my delight, found his son .. who helped to reconnect us.  To my surprise and chagrin, he lives not far from me – so we made plans to drive down this past weekend.

It was such a delight to see him and his wife again. They gave us a tour of the city … shared with us stories of their children and grandchildren.  They took us out to lunch whereby I was able to personally thank his son for his role in helping me to connect again.  It was indeed a wonderful day.  Sadly, though, I was so engaged in conversation, I didn’t think to take pictures of us together despite having a camera available.  I’m still kicking myself for that … however, I’ll never forget the image of the two of them standing in their driveway with their arms around one another as we drove away that evening.

Reading Together Unites Families & Strengthens Bonds

Like most homeschool families, we read stacks of books together:  classic children’s literature, Shakespeare plays, fairy tales, fables, tales of historical heroes, poetry, and even graphic novels.  We laugh together.  We cry together.  The kids have even begged to sit in the car “… just to finish the chapter” of an audio book to which we are listening.

Reading together allows us to learn about historical events, to lean about the world in which we live, and to learn about one another.  The books and the discussions we have have created innumerable threads that bind us together and provide a framework with which we interpret our world.  The stories we’ve encountered have become our own little personal inside jokes.

One of the books we have most recently listened to was The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carmen.  It is the first book in a trilogy (and two followup books that include a prequel) centered around a heroine named, Alexa.  12-year-old Alexa, has spent her life living behind the four-story walls that surround her village and the three others that make up Bridewell Common. But Alexa’s curiosity for what lies in the hills and forests on the other side sends her on a daring adventure into a secret world in which nothing is as it seems to be.

We coincidentally finished this book as we were driving up to the trailhead of a local waterfall for a scenic hike.  A small portion of our trip involved a few miles on a gravel road.  As we were driving, we heard a loud clunk on the roof of the car.  The kids immediately wondered to the cause and while I thought it may have been a small stone kicked up by my tires, they proclaimed it was probably Murphy “…trying to get our attention.”  Murphy is one of the animal characters in the book … a squirrel.  “Maybe he was dropping an acorn on us?!”

We arrived at the trailhead and proceeded on our walk.  It was nearly 2 miles up to the falls where we took a number of photographs, did a quick crayon rubbing (the recreation area here has trails to four falls – each with a metal box and engraving where you can do a rubbing – upon hiking to all four, you earn a special stamp in your National Parks Passport book), and turned around.   As we were heading back down, Buddy pointed out a bright green spot in the center of one of the pools beneath the falls (the falls were a series of cascading waters over the rocks, each producing small pools of very clear waters – perfect for a swim in the heat of summer).  He then asked, “Could this really be Elyon?  Do you think that is a real stone like Alexa found in the creek?  Mom, could Murphy be real?”

Reading together provides wonderful antidotes to our lives.  It enriches our experiences and anchors our understanding of one another.  The books we read together proved us with our own unique family language.  We have a common framework with which to interpret our world.  The connections we make are not always understood by others, however.  This affords us an opportunity to share our favorite books with others, often leading us on bunny trails to other books that they in turn recommend to us.

If you are interested in learning more about Alexa’s world or to find games & downloads for The Land of Elyon, follow this link.

Job Skills for the Future

Over the past few months, I have been giving a lot of thought to what the job market may look like when my children are young adults.  They have been asking me a lot of questions and have even written inquiry letters to friends and/or companies in their fields of interest.  Granted, they are young yet … but I strongly believe it is never to early to begin thinking of college and the possibilities of their career options.  

Every few years it seems the job market changes and the educational market changes along with it. As the new hot career comes up, there is always a degree or program to go with it.  However, there are essential skills that every student, graduate, and job candidate needs to have to give him or her the best chance at landing a job.  This is true of homeschoolers as much as it is for those who attend traditional schools.  I have thereby gathered a list of ten must-haves every student should be thinking about during their studies.

  1. Job Experience – It doesn’t matter what sort of job you have, just have one.  Students with shining academic careers can make a good impression, but your future boss probably doesn’t want to be your first.  Even if is a minimum wage job, it can still teach you valuable skills you will need in a professional setting.  Which brings us to:
  2. Relevant Experience – If you can get a job in the industry you would like to work in while studying, do it.  Even unpaid internships can give you valuable experience as well as demonstrate how committed you are to your career.
  3. Writing – You don’t have to be an English major to need to learn how to write.  Everything from your resume to inter-office memos will be closely scrutinized for errors, so be sure you know how to communicate in written form, as well as:
  4. Verbal Communications – As a student, you enjoy the freedom to tell someone that something “sucks.”  In the world of the professional, that statement can be a land mine.  Learning to say that something “needs improvement” or has “opportunity for growth” and other white collar lingo can keep you from looking like an amateur.
  5. Public Speaking – Almost everyone hates it, but almost everyone will have to do it eventually.  Whether giving a huge presentation at work or being interviewed by a number of people, public speaking comes up more than you think it does, so grab this class or a related, such as debate or acting, to get the most out of your electives.
  6. Technology – It goes without saying that this generation of students is the most tech savvy ever.  Be sure and utilize all the technology you can while you can.  While the basics like Microsoft Office are required just about everywhere, having a knowledge of computer security, HTML, and other tech practices can truly help you stand out.
  7. Finance – You don’t necessarily have to know how to pick stocks, but you do have to know how to manage money.  Even entry level positions have to make requests to the higher ups for things like office supplies, new equipment, etc.  Having a knowledge of how much these items cost, if they are feasible, and anything related to the budget can help in any career.
  8. Criticism – Why not take a workshop type class such as creative writing to help you learn the valuable lesson of criticism?  Whether it is being heaped on you or from you, learning how to effectively criticize and be criticized can help you not only advance in a career but keep you from losing your temper if it is ever leveled at you at work.
  9. Networking – It can be a huge pain, but making the time to socialize – and not just through Facebook – can really pay off.  Not only can it introduce you to future contacts, but it can also help you make friends, connect you to people with the same interests, and prepare you for the professional world.
  10. Research – Don’t know how to do something?  You’ve probably spent lots of time on Google and other sites looking up tons of stuff.  These principles can help you in any job and/or problem within the job.  Even if it is just how to fix a broken printer, having the right research at the right time can help you stand out.

Questioning Our Decision to Partner

As you know, we have changed the way we homeschool now that we live in California.  In Oregon, we homeschooled independently from the schools and I had complete freedom to educate my children in the way in which I felt was best. We had a very eclectic approach – with strong bend towards Charlotte Mason and Classical, at least in my mind.  However, in reality, we were very much Unschoolers for we tended to allow life to lead us and I didn’t worry much if we didn’t accomplish what I had originally envisioned for the week, month or year for that matter … in fact, I didn’t worry at all. 
Now that we are in California, the rules are different.  We didn’t know anyone.  I thereby opted to partner with a charter school.  We thereby operate under an umbrella and have to jump through their hoops.  In the beginning, this seemed like the perfect solution to the frustrations I had experienced in Oregon. The munchkins seemed to like the teacher facilitator and looked forward to taking part in the enrichment day they call, “Homeschool Tuesday”. 
We started working with the facilitator in early August as the official academic year begins sooner than in Oregon.  “Homeschool Tuesday”,  however, didn’t begin until the 13th of September. One of the benefits to the umbrella school we selected was the option to take part in music lessons (guitar or violin) at no cost (an instrument was even provided on loan).  As our foreign language instruction was significantly more money here, I felt this was a blessing. 
Frustration #1
Sweetie selected violin and she very much enjoys it.  It seems the violin is well suited for her personality.  Because she can already read music, Sweetie was partnered with another little girl (5 years old) whose been taking lessons for a few years.  From what I was lead to believe, Sweetie would have 15 minutes one-on-one with the instructor and then she would share 15 minutes with the other girl.  Thus far, however, she has shared the entire 30 min block.  This week, another girl joined them so now there are three.  Sweetie expressed to me today that she feels like she isn’t learning anything new.  She is disappointed that they have been working on the same song since she started and that she rarely gets personal instruction from the teacher.  Perhaps we were spoiled having Janellybean all to ourselves for an hour (30 minutes each) for piano each week.  I don’t know what is normal.  What is sufficient time to learn new skills? 
Frustration #2
Buddy chose to stay with guitar, with which he is already familiar.  His lessons were to begin on the 13th of September – the same day as “Tuesday Homeschool”.  From what I understand, there are more students interested in guitar than they have loaners.  Fortunately, he has his own youth guitar so we didn’t expect it to be a problem.
During the rotations on Tuesday, guitar was to begin at 1:30.  Buddy was in another class at that time and he was supposed to be released early for guitar.  Unfortunately, being that it was the first day, this detail was forgotten.  Only because I had stayed on site and brought it to their attention did they realize the mistake.  He thereby had time only to take his guitar out of the case and tune it up. 
When the class was released, he came up to me in tears.  Apparently, the other kids had laughed at him. He explained, “They said I have a baby guitar.  I want a new guitar.  I don’t want this one anymore.”  The facilitator and I did our best to console him.  She even spoke with each of the guitar students, requesting they apologize and/or compliment him on his guitar.  “It is fortunate that his guitar is smaller because he will be able to learn better.  If I had the funds,” she said, “I would purchase small guitars for each of you.”  Ah … life lessons.
Certainly, my frustrations with music instruction are insignificant.  And I know it is too early to tell.  Wait it out, I must.  See it through.  I guess I am just impatient.  Wastefulness … even of time … is one of my biggest pet peeves.
Frustration #3
Through August, we met with the facilitator for weekly teacher planning meetings.  These meetings lasted two hours and with the necessary drive time … it was a solid 3 hour block.  Each week, the facilitator would walk us through the required lessons for the upcoming week (in the beginning, many of them were assessment tests) and then in turn, the kids would share with her the work we had completed at home. 
In September, our meetings evolved to every other week, or biweekly.  Immediately, I felt a sense of relaxation come over us as now we had more time to accomplish all that was expected of us.  However … this feeling of calm didn’t last long as I realized that due to the busy work that we were required to do (as little as it was) and the extracurricular activities that we were now taking part, we had little time to integrate the Charlotte Mason lessons we so enjoyed in the past (nature study, art study, composer study, etc).
BarCon fell within the the first two week cycle and we thereby spent 4 days with friends in Portland.  It takes 10 hours to drive there .. so much of this time was in the car.  We did manage to get some lessons done along the way … but it threw our routines out of whack and a las, we accomplished everything on the “required list” with the exception of science.  Shocked?  My favorite subject … the one in which I am most equipped to teach … is always the one that slips between the cracks.
At our teacher planning meeting yesterday, the facilitator stated to me, “You are doing your children a dis-service not teaching them science.”  I was dumb-founded.  I am teaching them science – we just didn’t cover it this week in a tangible manner.  Other subjects had taken precedence – logic and strategy (game playing), Mandarin & Chinese culture (we made dumplings / jiaozi from scratch), heritage & current events (we attended the Sons of Norway lodge meeting and enjoyed a presentation on the recent tragedies in Oslo), physical education (both kids started swim team), and special social time with friends (homeschool picnic, lake day, etc). 
Frustration #4
During this meeting, she asks the kids to share their work … to elaborate on their projects and to occasionally, read aloud excerpts of their writing.  When she was talking with Buddy, she opened his math book, quickly scanning a couple of pages.  She then asked him, “Can you tell me, what is a product?” He answered, “It is something that you can get at like a grocery store.  Something you buy.”  She acknowledged his answer as correct but requested he answer in the context of math.  
Now … I understand where she is coming from.  I agree, it is important that he understand what product means.  However, recalling the definition of these terms is something Sweetie stumbles on herself frequently.  He is only 6 … a first grader … it would seem to me that asking him to solve the multiplication problem would be a better representation of what he knows. Typically, first grade students do not learn multiplication.  Though I could be off my rocker, I feel that she was searching for something by which she could stump him as a way of indicating to me that I was failing.  

Frustration #6
Sweetie has always been a little reluctant to read.  She has only begun to read chapter books independently this past year.  However, she seldom seems to finish the books she begins.  She’ll get about half way through, and then another will attract her attention.  This bothers me a bit.  Working under the umbrella, the facilitator is required to expose her to all genres of literature.  I love this.  However, she has assigned us a reading text that has many short stories and excerpts from larger works.  Accompanying this textbook are a substantial number of level reader books.  Sweetie now spends much of her time reading these leveled books … while this is good … it leaves her with less time and less inclination to read longer chapter books … living books !! 
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So … this leads me to question whether I made the right decision to partner.  Perhaps I am too self-critical or too sensitive.  I do appreciate that she is helping to discover the “holes” as she says.  Perhaps I need to speak up and express my concerns and frustrations.  Perhaps I only need to manipulate our schedule a little better.  Plan out our lessons in advance – allowing time for both those that we are required to do and those we desire to do.   Urgghhh !!    I have much to contemplate and stew over.  

Starting Over, Starting Fresh :: 2011 Fall Schedule

Over the past few months, we have undergone significant changes in our lives.  We have relocated and started upon a new adventure in Northern California.  As such, we have been evaluating our schedule looking for areas of improvement.  We’ve openly discussed what we liked and what we felt needed to change.  The following highlights some of the areas in which we have chosen to make changes – some are simple, some more complex.

  • New nature journals … a spiral notebook with larger pages
  • New writing journals … simply a new composition notebook – I asked if they wanted a separate book for science but they said no
  • Mandarin … I did my research before we moved and sought out a Mandarin teacher from afar.  This was one area I didn’t want to leave to chance and I wanted to continue our studies with as little interruption as possible.  Our new instructor has years of experience teaching in China and here in the United States.  Coincidentally, as we sat down with him and his wife, we discovered that they are acquainted with MeiLi’s former teacher. It is indeed a small world.
  • Buddy … who has requested to go by JiFu … is now studying Mandarin as well.   
  • In the past, I have enjoyed swimming with Masters at noon.  Unfortunately, the Masters team here meets only at 5:30 a.m.  With a husband that works in administration and thereby has long hours, this doesn’t work for me.  I’ve thereby moved my workout to 8 a.m. to assure it gets done – in doing so, we have discovered it does not disrupt our ‘school day’ as much as it did in the past.

We have revamped our schedule and have dedicated a day of each week to the subjects that are important to us.  I haven’t “scheduled” music practice or Mandarin homework / home extension activities.  Doing so made felt very restrictive.  As it is now, there is a block of time each day whereby we do our formal lessons and upon completion, we are free to relax, investigate things of interest, go to the pool …  I do expect the munchkins to practice their growing music and language skills daily. However, the time in which they choose to do this is up to them as individuals.  Of course, I generally have to remind them.  😉

  • This year, we have also decided to partner with a public school and take part in an ISP.  The  Public Independent Study Program  is the legal equivalent to enrolling your child in public school. Shocked?  I know I am.  Essentially it is a “home study” program offered by the school district. The benefit to us is that they provide support and guidance as well as a weekly enrichment day.
    The enrichment day is the primary reason we decided to pursue this option.  The kids have an opportunity to participate in a variety of rotations taught by certified teachers along side other homeschool students.  During the enrichment day, I can volunteer or have the day free to myself.  Imagine?! What I could do with a day to myself?  As I am a certified teacher, I may also have the opportunity to take on a paid position and teach one of the rotations as well but I am only pondering that possibility right now.  
    Thus far, the coordinator has been VERY flexible in allowing me the freedom to continue doing things as I have always done.  What has been great is that she provides another perspective and pulls additional resources that I can use if I desire.  The only true requirement is the bi-monthly meeting whereby we discuss/evaluate our endeavors.  During the meeting, though, I am required to provide tangible evidence (photos, writing samples, etc.) of our work and how it meets state standards.  I was essentially doing this already so it is not an issue. 
  • Another major change is music instruction. In Central Oregon, the munchkins were taking piano lessons in our home once a week.  We absolutely loved our piano teacher and knew it would be difficult to find someone that teaches in a similar style.  One of the other deciding factors regarding the ISP is that the kids had the option to take violin or guitar lessons.  MeiLi – inspired by her Taekwondo instructor – chose violin while JiFu chose guitar.  Best of all, an instrument is provided free of charge!