16 Weeks and 9 Months of Homeschooling

I don’t often talk about personal and political things on the blog, but I do on my personal social media. And this is one thing that has sat in me for a long time. As the months have gone by, I have had multiple people I knew for years attempt to cancel me out. I have had multiple people unfriend me because they don’t like my views. But my readers? I have to think many of you are more like me: You are conservative leaning, self sufficiency, and want a strong America. Talking about our decisions with schooling has led to some very nasty comments by the same 5 to 10 people who think the government is here to save us. And that we shouldn’t do anything but wait. These same people feel that a year or two of lax learning won’t hurt children (well, OK, it won’t hurt them physically, but it will take a massive toll on their intelligence!)

Kirk and I had watched the news for months, back in November and December of 2019. We knew things were brewing and we wondered a lot. We talked late into the night. As March loomed we made the decision to pull the boys from school and not send them anymore physically. Being that we are in Washington State, a few weeks later the schools shut down for what Governor Inslee decreed “A temporary shut down to flatten the curve”. 9+ months later we are still under that, and much more. We didn’t pull them from the district yet then, we were waiting. To see what the district and state would do to school for last year.

We had talked about homeschooling for many years but I hadn’t believed in myself enough to make the jump. School wasn’t easy for me as a child, but I had a lot going on in my life that got in the way. I tried college for a few years, but I didn’t graduate. It’s easy to tell yourself that you are not good enough, when in reality you far better than you might think.

As school shut down last March, our district like so many others had no idea what they were doing. Rather they put the teachers on a learning break and there was literally no school. While they figured out “remote learning”. Not willing to wait, I quickly ordered work books for each boy online, and found the daily math worksheets online and bought them. They were able to do online work the school provided already from iReady and similar. So while most of the schools around just sat and took a break, the boys were doing work daily. I chose to not wait.

And before the state shut down we went on as many field trips as we could pack in. Heritage museums for the win. (History, right?)

We got busy. We raised baby ducks, and then baby chicks. (Covers science!)

The boys farmed a field of spinach, that they then picked and I sold for them. (Nature, farm time…since the school shut the school farms down)

With the good weather on us, we went hiking 1 to 2 times a week all spring, just to be outside, getting fresh air. (PE!)

We have even taken outdoor classes when the weather was still good.

During those months of remote learning the boys did daily paper based work 5 days a week. The school district (and the state superintendent) announced children wouldn’t be graded during the time. “School” became painful Zoom meetings and each teacher setting up “work” on various apps they liked, but worked horribly equally it seemed. The Zoom meetings were simply horrible. Loud, uncontrolled and they didn’t teach anything. But they had to attend them to get marked for attendance. Thankfully our boys classes only met 1 to 2 times a week – which was also awful if you consider that 1 30-minute meeting was “enough” to meet the children’s’ needs?

But this is where it got bad… the weeks passed by, and I watched the boys’ classmates stagnate, and even be sleeping on Zoom calls, I pushed harder on giving them a real education. It turned out that iReady was to be used 3 times a week for 10 minutes on each section (math and reading). I was having them do it 5 days a week, 20 minutes each section. By the end of May I found out Walker, who was in 4th grade, was scoring halfway through 6th grade. Alistaire, who was in 2nd grade, was into the 3rd grade sections.

I was then rather rudely told I was “over achieving” by one of the teachers. The children were to slide by, and school wasn’t important. Being safe was.

Ummmm. So they should stay home, inside, cowering in fear, and get a case of the dumbs?

School let out. I breathed. And we spent summer having fun, homesteading, hiking, and trips to the beach.

But as August approached I had to make a choice. The district still had not decided what they would do for teaching. They sent out a survey and asked if our children would be returning. I filed the paperwork for intent to homeschool.

Right as USPS ground down to a halt and mail disappeared. My mail never showed up to the school district. I got a call from the head secretary asking was I going to homeschool as the survey had said I was going to…..then she mentioned the hybrid program the district was dreaming up called SWAP. It would be parents homeschooling but with a mentor teacher to help as needed and assessments done by the district. I thought about it: I could homeschool, use my own curriculum, but not have to justify it to the state. So we signed up.

Then the district said they’d have a soft start. And by the time school actually started real remote learning it was the 3rd week in September!

We started school far before that. Just doing our work. I ended up choosing Oak Meadow curriculum, which is Waldorf based.

We just finished week 16 of school this year. We are nearly a month ahead of the school district. Will I be an over achiever forever? I don’t know. I know that my fear of them getting behind keeps me to pushing them to do better.

Nearly all their work is paper based, with minimal online time. I didn’t want them to be online all day, which the school’s remote learning is that. 9 am to 3:30 pm. No thank you.

We also added in daily math and extra supplemental work that the mentor teachers have provided, as well as things I have bought online to print and use. I encourage daily reading, which both do about 2 hours a day of.

I had reasons to keep the boys in the district. Alistaire was receiving special education help, but suddenly in November at his yearly IEP meeting he was “graduated” out of all services. That was shocking. He had been receiving minimal help, but it was beneficial. Such as group meetings to learn how make friends and having a para instructor guide him in class between sessions (and lead him in writing prompts). Well, none of this can be done remotely. So he was pushed out. Off the charts. I kept Walker in because he was nominated for Highly Capable testing. Which he did in person (shocking) with one other student. He passed. This is what he needed the last year – things to help with his boredom. But…he is only getting a bit of what he might have received before. Still, it’s better than none. That is the only reason I keep him in the school system.

My thoughts on the SWAP hybrid. It was sold as one thing, and is now different. The district keeps changing the parameters on it, based on what the state keeps saying. For the 3rd grade it is easy to deal with. Alistaire’s mentor teacher is fantastic. In fact, Walker had them in 3rd grade as a teacher. I meet once a month on Zoom with them and we discuss goals and what we are doing. They are hands off with Alistaire, and feel we are doing fine. With Walker in 5th grade, it is harder. Our mentor teacher is a teacher for the farm. And while they are an actual teacher, it gets difficult. The elementary is divided into 2 small schools next door. One is K-4 and the other is 5-6. 5-6 is run like a mini middle school. So a homeroom and many teachers. But, he has no connection with any of the teachers. We have met none of them. The mentor teacher used to teach at the district many years ago, but was teaching in Seattle for years, and decided to come back and work on the farm. So the teacher isn’t involved daily in the school’s work for math, reading, etc. He rather teaches an online class for garden for all students. I don’t feel supported at all by them. They provide little help, and resources are nothing but links to 3rd party providers. Bleh.

16 weeks in for the 20/21 school year I feel confident in homeschooling the boys. I know I am doing great in leading them, and that they are learning well. What I am also against is how tired I am of my “partnership” with the school district. For my 5th grader. I am doing all the work, but still have to report to them. The 3rd grader, I am supported by a thoughtful mentor.

Most of the perks promised are not here. One promotion was as SWAP students we’d get to visit the farms and learn things at the outdoor classroom. That was taken away in November, before Thanksgiving, when the district closed the campus again. The few children in school in person were banished to home once again (the Kinder students went 2 days a week in person for a couple of hours). The promised in person math classes for 5th grade were canceled abruptly. The admins keep changing the goals, and what we as parents must do.

If our county, which is mostly rural, had high Covid numbers, I would understand. I would have empathy. But we don’t. The farm time was outside, in the freezing cold.

Meanwhile…the school district has spent much of its free time becoming obsessed with being “equitable” to save those farthest from “educational justice”. Just as they were obsessed with making sure everyone knew their preferred pronouns the year before. During the first part of this year I was sent a survey for the 3rd grader about bringing him back to school (it was based on various factors: having an IEP, poverty, if one was homeless….and if you were of any group outside of “White”). I took the survey and answered it honestly. For my children are not of all “White” descent. And oh, what a factor that is. I am of Asian descent, and my husband is of non-Latino Hispanic descent. My son was invited to return to school for 2 days a week with a small group. I have to think my checking those boxes moved us up the list. Equitable my butt.

Except for….all that “return to school” was…was the children sitting in a meeting room, 6 feet apart, and doing remote learning at a desk. With para employees watching over them. This wasn’t school! This was glorified babysitting. Yes, for some children this would allow them to stay focused and do their work (for children who were not showing up online for school at home). But it was not having students taught in person by any means.

But it didn’t last more than a few weeks, and they shut the schools down in a titter.

I truly do not think the school district will go back to school this school year, even if a vaccine works and is actually taken by many, into spring. They will keep finding reasons to keep it remote.

All while the students get farther behind, more depressed, isolated and lonely.

Alistaire asked me the other day while we were out walking for PE….if I would homeschool him in 4th grade. Yes. Yes I will. It’s an honor.

But for now….I keep teaching them, expanding their world often.

And finding that homeschooling has been an amazing thing. I am guiding them. I am seeing them grow. And I get to be with my children every day.

And the final bonus? Since leaving the school Alistaire has had zero asthma attacks. He used to need his inhaler 1 to 2 times a week. Not once since. Literally not being in school has been healthy for him.