Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Hybrid Family: Preparing for Change!

It’s true.  After 10 years of homeschooling, we’re now embarking on a new journey, becoming a hybrid family.  What I mean by that is that starting in September, I’ll have one in school and 2 at home.  I know.  It’s a huge change for us.  It’s been a big emotional transition for me, so I’ve waited to announce it on my blog until I could better wrap my mind around it.  Here’s how it went down…it all happened so fast!

My oldest, Hayden, will be turning 14 in August.  All of my kids have always been homeschooled.  He was my first, and we began homeschooling right from the start because he was such a hyper little boy.  He has ADHD, and I knew sending him to public school in the beginning would have been a disaster.  I drove a school bus at the time and saw what it was like for hyper little boys.  I didn’t want that for him.  He was very bright, and I didn’t want his education to suffer for his behavioral challenges.

Fast forward to now.  He is about to start high school.  A whole new kind of panic set in for me.  While I’m now considered a veteran homeschooler, I knew homeschooling high school was going to be a whole different animal.  While I felt prepared to TEACH high school, I felt a lot of trepidation about transcript preparation, a homeschool diploma, and how that might impact his future college and job prospects.  I signed up to attend the HEAV Convention in Richmond so I could attend the high school workshops to better prepare myself.  I also purchased all of his curriculum (a LOT of $$$) and got everything ready to begin our new school year on June 17th.  But then something else happened during this process of making preparations.  A news story.

My husband gets his news on his iPad.  He has this app that randomly grabs current news articles so he can get a sprinkling of what’s happening locally, across the country, and around the world.  So one night at the end of March, he sees this local story pop up about how they had just held an information night regarding a proposed new public charter school that the city hoped to open this fall…right around the corner from our house.  That was news to us!  So hubby sends me the article and tells me to investigate it further.  So I started researching online.  No one I knew had even heard of it.  It appeared that if the state approved the charter application, it would be a fast process of taking applications to fill the 100 proposed slots that were only open to rising 9th graders in the fall.  I was intrigued.

The idea of a charter school intrigued us both.  There has never been a charter school in our city.  I was surprised that the city would even consider it, much less complete the application process.  We got as much information about it as we could from online research.  It sounded like a wonderful educational opportunity with a serious focus and SUPPORT for individualized education.  If we were ever going to consider sending a child to public school for high school, this would be the only way I would want to do it.  So we continued with our plans for homeschooling while we waited to see how this new school panned out.  Hubby and I decided that if it was approved and we had a chance to apply, we would, and we’d pray about it and let God guide our decision.

Then at the end of May, the state approved the charter school, and the next week, it went to the local school board for final approval.  It passed!  The charter school was now a real thing that would open in September with 100 9th graders.  I had signed up on the website to get notification when the application process was opened for students, and I saw they had posted it while my family was away for a mini-vacation to Alexandria where we visited Mount Vernon together. 

So when we got home, I got the notice that we could now apply, and applications would be opened up for just about 10 days.  Hayden was totally against the idea…adamantly so.  But we told him that we had discussed it and felt it was something we had to do, and we’d see what happened.  So he reluctantly signed the application, and we turned it in.  They said that the application process was open to all rising 9th graders across the city, and the students would be selected through a random lottery-style drawing, giving each student an equal chance of being selected.  There was no merit involved.  The only prerequisite was that the student must have successfully completed Algebra I by September in order to attend.  Then we received an invitation to attend the lottery drawing as a family, so we made plans to go.

In the auditorium of the existing high school where the charter school would be housed, we sat and waited as the names were drawn.  On that night, they announced that they’d decided to take 125 students instead of 100, due to the fact that so many of the applicants were districted to attend that high school already.  As the first 100 names went by and Hayden’s name was not called, I saw him start to relax.  And then there it was…Hayden Burgess…#112.  Wow!  The realization that he wouldn’t have made the list if they had not extended it to 125 students that night really hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had prayed to God and asked Him to make His will known to me at the drawing, so there’d be no doubt in my mind that this was meant to be.  How much clearer could it have been? 

Hayden immediately began to cry…right there in the auditorium.  I felt all kinds of emotions, but my heart broke for him that it made him sad.  And part of me was sad, too, because it meant that he would no longer be at home with me like he’d always been.  It feels a bit like that first day of kindergarten that I never experienced with my kids…where you send your child off, hoping all will go well and that they are safe outside of your loving arms.  It’s just been delayed for us.  But at the same time, in my gut, I felt it really was the right choice for Hayden.  He has fallen into some typical teen habits this last year or two of staying up late, sleeping very late, and lacking in self-motivation.  He hasn’t really been applying himself the way he should be.  He’s been saying assignments are done when he hasn’t been doing them for some time.  He’s been putting a lot less effort into his work than he is capable of doing.  I have been disappointed…very disappointed.  I feel we’re at that point where it’s crucial for him to step it up and begin taking more responsibility and taking his life more seriously, establishing a work ethic that will take him into adulthood.  We’ve had many heart-to-hearts about this, and yet he hasn’t made any efforts to change it.  So deep inside, I see this as a positive thing.  He will have to be accountable to someone other than mom, and I think that will make all the different in the world to him.

So we began the process then of accepting this new reality and preparing ourselves mentally/emotionally for the changes to come.  We turned in our official acceptance letter, signed up for classes, and attended a registration night with team-building activities with his peers.  He blended in nicely and took a leadership role in his assigned group.  It was nice to see that.  Steve was very pleased with how he interacted amongst his peers.  We both felt a little more confident that this could be a really good thing for him…a chance to shine, and to WANT to do it.

Hayden @ GRCS Registration Night #1Hayden @ GRCS Registration Night #2

The next step is to meet for a 30-minute private session with the Head of School to get to know one another and to discuss his educational needs.  I’m going armed with lots of paperwork to show his CAT test scores over the years and the courses he took in 8th grade.  I want to make it clear that we are very involved parents who expect a lot of academic achievement from our kids.  Hayden was the only homeschooler selected in the lottery drawing, so I don’t want any stereotypical misconceptions about the quality of his education up to this point.  I have a strong feeling that they will want him to take some sort of SOL test or final exam or placement test for math, just because Algebra I is a for-credit course, and I doubt they’ll just take our word for it that he completed it successfully, given that it’s a requirement to attend the school.  Hayden took it two years in a row, in fact, because he struggled with it.  He still does.  So his dad got his hands on the student and teacher’s manuals for the Algebra program the school system here uses, and he is tutoring Hayden in the evenings with sort of a crash course between now and then to make sure he is prepared.  Everything could ride on that.  We didn’t want him to have to retake it a third time in summer school, so it’s very important that he be given credit for it now.  Sigh.  Something else to fret about.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at.  I initially thought I’d have Hayden start his new school year with us on June 17th, proceeding just as if he were continuing to be homeschooled, just in case things don’t work out in the school this fall.  Then we could just bring him back home and proceed as if nothing had changed without being behind in his lessons.  But that seems burdensome, given that he won’t have the frequent breaks from charter school that he’s always had at home.  He deserves his summer off.  Plus his dad needs to focus on the Algebra with him this summer.  So although I’ll be starting with the other two kids on Monday, I think Hayden will just be doing some minimal things just to keep him busy…maybe the online Wordly Wise, just because I already paid for it, the algebra studies, and he can work on the programming courses he wanted to take.

The other side of this is how it impacts the REST of us.  Holden, age 5, whined and sniffled on the way home from the lottery drawing because he said he didn’t want Hayden to go away to school.  They are joined at the hip at home.  That will be a big change for both of them.  We will no longer be able to take a family vacation to our cabin in the mountains in October.  We’ve gone every year for the last 6 or 7 years.  This is a big change for us.  But the charter school only allows him to miss 4 days ALL YEAR, and even those must be made up on Saturdays via video sessions.  Kind of extreme, but the contract we have to sign says we’ll make school attendance a priority.  So I don’t know what we’ll do for a family vacation going forward.  We’ll either have to go to the cabin in the summer or during spring break in April when it may still be snowing up there, or we’ll have to do something entirely different.  I don’t know.  But we’re all very sad about that.  Very.  It seems clear that at least THIS year, there won’t be any vacation at all.  It’s good that we did those two days at Mt. Vernon.  At least we had that.  But it’s too late in the season to plan a summer trip anywhere, and I wouldn’t even know where to go.  Plus we’re broke.  Ugh. 

Also, we’re now tied to the public school schedule.  No Fridays at Busch Gardens, no long daytime outings or mid-day field trips.  We’ll have to be home so I can pick Hayden up from school.  We live in a poor area with tons of at-risk youth, and I don’t want him riding the bus with the general population of the high school where the charter school will be located.  That’s just not an option for us, because it’s an easy thing to overcome by providing our own transportation.  Not to mention how much harder it will be to schedule things like dental appointments. It took multiple calls and juggling to figure out when they could fit all 4 of us in on the same day AFTER school. It wasn’t possible since our dentist is an hour away. So I had to figure out a school holiday where we could all go when Hayden will be off school. That was the only way to make it work.

The good thing is that the charter school, called Green Run Collegiate School, will be holding classes down a single hallway inside of Green Run HS, so things should be kept pretty separate from the rest of the school.  There won’t be any passing in the hallways or anything like that.  It will have its own teachers, its own principal, and they will only interact with GRHS on a contractual basis for services like the cafeteria and so forth.

So here are the advantages that drew us to this school:

  • IB (International Baccalaureate) Program for 11th-12th grades
  • IB MYP (IB Middle Years Program) for 9th-10th grades
  • AVID Program (Advancement Via Individual Determination) to provide support for the other classes
  • IBCC (IB Career Certificate) Program
  • a mentor is assigned to every student
  • 11th-12th graders will be given special college and career counseling
  • all classes are advanced
  • smaller class sizes and lots of individual support so kids can success with a rigorous educational plan
  • the school requires lots of parental involvement, and parents are required to evaluate the teachers 4 times per year
  • flexibility to have a different school calendar, to have different hours, and to hold Saturday school when needed

The contract we have to sign as parents says we must join the PTA and participate in at least 2 PTA events per year.  The contract Hayden has to sign says that he will also participate in community service.

Now because this school is an IB school, there will be some additional costs we will incur out of pocket along the way.  In 10th grade, we’ll have to pay some $400 for IB testing and evaluation of the student project and 4,000-word essay that is required.  The evaluations are done by the IB organization, not by the school, so we’ll always incur those costs.  But the school itself incurs the annual cost of administering the IB program and the annual cost-per-student to provide the IB program.

The one thing that we have not really seen is the true content of the curriculum that will be used.  We signed up for classes, but the course descriptions were really a bunch of hooey that didn’t really tell us anything.  I want to know what textbooks will be used, and hubby says that’s the first thing he plans to ask at the meeting with the Head of School!

So this is where we are.  I’m starting school on Monday with Haylee and Holden, and Hayden will have some time off to prepare himself for the changes ahead and to sharpen his math skills.

It’s definitely a big change for all of us, and of course, I’m nervous about the negative aspects of the public school experience.  One excellent thing is that Hayden will still be able to play baseball and soccer with our homeschool sports league.  The director said she would not turn him away now that he’ll be going to school.  He’s already a part of the organization, and there’s no reason to leave him out.  That was a huge relief for everyone, because access to homeschool sports is a BIG thing for Hayden.  He can still hang out with his homeschool friends there, and there are other high school kids on his team that have also made the transition to public school, so he’ll have that in common with them.  We really appreciate the wholesome Christian environment there, and we want him to still have that in his life.

Big sigh.  The realization that my first-born is now in high school is upon me.  I think this will be a positive experience for him.  It will give him an opportunity to gain some independence from us and begin to see the differences between this family environment he’s existed in all these years and the REST of the world…a chance to decide for himself who he is and who he is going to be.  I will certainly be praying that the Lord will be with him every step of the way to guide him and help him make the right choices!  And of course, I’ll be right here by his side with loving arms, waiting to guide him, too, and watching him grow into the young man I know he can be. Smile 

Now we’re a hybrid homeschooling family!  Wish us luck as we embark on this new season of our lives.