Thursday, March 20, 2014

Life is beautiful...

I think you will feel the "joie de vivre" that Grace expresses in her last report to complete our High School Diploma Program. Grace lives in Divide, Colorado and graduated March 15, 2014.

"Well, February is gone and March is beginning.  It’s been one crazy awesome month.  I completed my painting for the congressional show and turned it in; the reception and awards ceremony is in a week.  Then as soon as that project ended we launched into heavy duty rehearsals for our play, 'A Night of Mystery', which we performed last night and will be performing today.  I’m still editing my dad’s book, but I’m a week behind now because of all the time I’ve had to spend on our performance this weekend.  On top of all this madness we’re moving this weekend to a new house in town!

'Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself, trying to be involved in so much.  Then I realize I couldn’t have it any other way.  I need this life, full of adventure and struggle.  There’s a sense of achievement and satisfaction that always waits at the end of a huge project.  Maybe it’s the light at the end of the tunnel, but then maybe it's just the sun going down after a long day.  I cannot even begin to describe the feeling it has given me to complete this painting for the congressional show.  I look back at the process and I realize I’ve been strengthened and refined by it in so many ways.  I found a way to put my heart and soul into the colors and lines.  I hope that if someone stares into my painting they will feel all of the words I try to say, but can’t, all of the emotion that doesn’t fit in common English.  I have a new confidence in myself.  I CAN do the hard things even when I’m tired.  I CAN bring something beautiful into existence even when the pain of the world is pressing on my shoulders.

"If I didn’t know it before I know it now.  I am a person who feels deeply.  With deep feelings comes the need for great expression.  Obviously I’ve found a lot of solace in painting out the feelings, but I’ve come to regard acting as the air my soul needs to breathe.  When I act, I make a connection with the characters I portray; I empathize with their feelings and strive for their goals.  In the end I always find that there’s a part of me in that character or maybe that character is part of me.  When you act you realize that humans are very multifaceted.  We’re all so complex and different, yet so similar.  In a way acting makes it easier to see myself as I really am.  When I act I look through another person’s eyes; for just a while I see as they see.  I gain a perspective from acting that is so different from anything I could conjure otherwise; I need that.  

"Just as February ends to make way for March, this play is coming to its conclusion and a new one is taking center stage.  We’re doing 'The Heiress', which is a Broadway classic.  I get to play the heroine, and I already know it’s going to be the most challenging part I’ve gotten so far.  It’s a drama so emphasis will be on the subtle emotions in the interaction between the characters.  This time it’s a teen/adult cast and that will be another first for me since I’ve mainly acted with kids younger than me up to this point.  We don’t have a lot of rehearsals between our first read-through and the performance at the end of May, but I think the deadline will help to keep everyone focused.  I’m really excited about doing this play for many reasons, but the biggest one is probably that the script allows for such poignant expression.  I just can’t wait to dive in.


"I suppose April will find me just as busy as ever.  There are always more art shows, always more long work days, always more blank pages to fill. Maybe if everything was more ordered, if we didn’t try to experience so much, if we didn’t try to love, then it would be perfect, but it wouldn’t be life.  Life is beautiful, so amazingly beautiful in a strange, crazy, vibrant way."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Isabella's Comments as an Unschooler

Here is what Isabella from Hawaii wrote in her educational biography about natural learning:

     "It is amazing how much school we do in everyday life. You wouldn't notice if you hadn't been un-schooled, but every time we buy something, sell something, check the time, or do anything as simple as figuring out how many hours are left in the day, we are doing math. Every time we read something, be it a sign, a newspaper, a book, or a poem, and every time we write something, from our name to a novel, we are doing English. Standing in nature, observing wildlife, standing on the beach and watching the tide, feeling the wind in our hair, that's all science. I could take my dog for a walk and that would be PE, I could listen to the old men in my neighborhood talk about the pool hall in 1919 that they cleaned as kids for their first jobs, and that would be history. The point I am trying to make now, and the one my mom and I tried to prove years ago, is that there is a difference between being taught something, and learning something. That difference, no matter how small, was the thing that kept me apart from those with the ability to learn in the classic school setting."

Monday, February 10, 2014

From Bullying Victim to Unschooling Freedom

Here is Josh's story of his educational experiences from Kindergarten as he reflects on the ups and downs of each grade. We don't often get to hear the student's perspective on how traditional school and the people who run it affect the student.

Josh writes:
1/30/2014
Josh ______
Longmont, CO USA

     The first few years of public school were enjoyable for me. Being a young child, I was very interested with the idea of going to new places, meeting new people and learning new things. I made friends quickly, had a lot of fun trying new things, and my teacher absolutely adored me. I had a strong desire to learn and really enjoyed going to school. Since I am a fairly optimistic person, I had assumed that the rest of my years spent in school would be similar. It turned out that I was wrong.

     Middle school proved to be quite a challenging experience. Bullying and other harassment incidents became a huge problem for me by the time I had entered 6th grade. Something about me made others feel the need to hurt me in ways I had previously not thought other kids to be capable of. Following the advice of school counselors, I tried to ignore it and just focus on my education. I felt like school was something I had to get through in order to be successful in life. As time dragged on the bullying became worse, more hurtful, and more dangerous. During this time I realized that not only are peers capable of bullying, teachers and staff are too.

     I had started getting into a lot of fights by the time I hit 8th grade. As if the experience of being in a fight wasn't bad enough, the staff handled it horribly. I was the one being sent home for 'provoking' the other students. The ones who were hurting me and hindering my ability to learn were the ones who never got in trouble for some odd reason. In addition to this, there was a lot of gang activity going on within the school. Of course, the staff was completely oblivious to everything that was happening. When I tried to talk with school counselors about the difficulties I was having, their solution was to have a meeting with the students involved. The meeting would take place and kids would promise to stop harassing me.  It sounded good, but their behavior didn’t change. 

     I didn't really like any of my teachers during this time. They always seemed out to get me and tried to place the blame on me. Myself, along with a lot of other students, were very concerned that these teachers weren't passionate about teaching at all. Some of them seemed to hate their students. This was further reinforced by the fact that one of our teachers told us that she was just in it for the money, and she didn't care if we learned anything or not. After she told us that, we filed a complaint, but again nothing changed. Trying to learn and grow in such a negative and hostile environment was definitely a challenge.

     Various incidents occurred over the course of middle school that caused me to question if a traditional public school education was right for me. The thing I had once enjoyed had turned me into a rather pessimistic and miserable person. The three years I spent in middle school wasn’t entirely bad. I did have the support of a few close friends that helped me through everything. I suppose that's why I ended up making it through middle school and into high school.

     Going into high school things started to get slightly better and my optimism had started to return. It became easier for me to learn as the bullies started to fade away. There were a few minor altercations, but it was nothing like what I had experienced back in 8th grade. I enjoyed the majority of my teachers and classes. I found it easier to make friends. High school brought along a new sense of freedom that I didn't know could exist in school. We were allowed a lot of choice in what classes we could take. I really liked selecting my own schedule too. Within the classes, we had some choices about what projects we could do. Things were starting to look up and I was hopeful about being able to complete high school.

     My promising outlook didn't last very long. After my first semester of high school, I became very sick. My sleep schedule became very sporadic and I was sleeping nearly eighteen to nineteen hours every day. I was not able to return to school because of my sickness. The doctors had diagnosed me with post viral fatigue, possibly from mononucleosis. I was essentially bed-ridden for almost 6 months. This illness caused me to miss out on my promising high school experience. Unable to attend school, I lost friends. There were even rumors going around that I had died.  What happened as a result of getting sick was one of the worst possible things that could happen to me.

     The staff at the school caught word of my sickness and they called my mom and me in for a meeting. They were seriously concerned that I was faking it. They threatened to take my Mom to court for not making me go to school. They had thought I was ditching class for several months and treated me like a criminal. They did not believe that I was unable to attend school, even after seeing the state that I was in. After the meeting was over, they escorted my mom out of the building and forced me to attend class. I was unable to make it through even one class, so I spent the day in the nurse’s office.

     I felt betrayed and confused. They didn't trust me nor did they trust the countless doctor's reports that we had sent them. It was at this moment that I realized I simply could not continue to pursue a public education. It was also the moment I realized that I had actually been hindering my own opportunity to learn by attending a public school. I wanted to change the course of my education, but had no idea what direction to head. The public school system had failed me. I was not a problem kid, but they assumed that I was. Instead of working with me to figure out a plan for my education that would help me, they just let me fall through the cracks.

     It was during early summer that my sickness had begun to fade. I started to have a little more energy and was looking forward to feeling good enough to enjoy my summer. I was only sleeping 10 to 12 hours a night and felt a little better.  My doctor said that I was coming out of the worst of it and I would slowly be able to rebuild my strength in the coming months. During this time my mom received a call from my high school. They informed her that it was mandatory that I attended summer school. If I didn’t, then I wasn’t going to pass my freshman year. I didn't really know what I was going to do at that point.

     Unaware of any other options, my mom worked out a plan with the school to send a teacher over to our house every day. I wasn't particularly fond of the idea, but it was still better than having to get up and go to a classroom. It was extremely hard work. I had to essentially do a full semester's worth of work in less than three months. The good news was that if I managed to pull it off, I would be able to pass my freshman year and resume my sophomore education in the fall. Despite the fact that I worked extremely hard on all of my assignments, they still did not pass me. They had betrayed my trust yet again. All of my hard work had been for absolutely nothing. I spent three months doing everything they asked me to do and when I completed what was asked of me, they told me that it just wasn’t enough and I would have to repeat the semester.

     It was at that point that my mom and I decided to pull me out of public school. I cannot express how grateful I am that we made that choice. My mom had heard about West River Academy through a friend of a friend. She did some research on the concept of unschooling and we decided it was a good choice. I was then enrolled in West River Academy from that point on. Knowing that I learned better in an unstructured environment, I took an instant liking to the concept of unschooling.  I once again was taking an interest in my education, now that my input was being heard. I loved being able to choose what I wanted to learn and when.

     It was as if nearly all of my problems faded away after leaving public school. Without the pressure of meaningless assignments in memorization, I was blessed with the time to find out who I was and who I wanted to become. I learned more in the first six months of unschooling than I had in three years of middle school. Information-based knowledge is great, but you simply cannot become intelligent without real life experience. Going out and enjoying life has proven far more valuable for me than memorizing outdated information from a few textbooks. Being out in the world experiencing life, rather than being locked in a classroom is very helpful and important for a person like me.

     I am no longer pessimistic, miserable or weighed down by the atrocities of the public education system. I am truly myself and I am free. I am allowed to learn about things that interest me and learn them in my own way. I discovered that I still love to learn, but am unable to do so in a rigid, outdated and controlling environment. I now have goals, aspirations and dreams. I have developed goals that I wouldn't have thought myself to be capable of. I think that public school made me feel like I was never good enough. Constant judgment caused me to feel like I couldn't achieve my goals. I felt that since everything I worked so hard on would be graded, criticized and deemed not good enough that I developed the attitude of “why even bother doing it at all?”


     It has been said that public school prepares you for life and helps you achieve your goals. My experience with the public education system has proven the opposite. While I do agree that it is important to be well educated, I believe that it is also very important to be able to go about it in my own way. I believe that people should be allowed to focus on their inherent natural talents and abilities, not forced to memorize facts about things that hold no interest for them. I am very much a hands-on learner, and public school didn't allow me the freedom to learn through exploration. Unschooling has given me everything that I've wanted out of an education. I look forward to creating my future. I am creative, optimistic and free, just like I was when I was a little kid.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Teen Reports on First Semester of Homeschooling


"I’ve highly enjoyed this semester of West River Academy and recommend it for anyone hoping to get away from the drama and biased social conventions of public school and the 4 years of stretched out teachings that most people will never use in the real world. I remember when I was in public school and they tried to scare me with the ideals and expectations of college, but when really they are just feeding you crap. Excuse my unprofessional language but now I know the truth that they are lying. I’m 15 years of age and I’ve already started furthering my education beyond high school level. Thanks to this program and much support from my mother I’ve jumpstarted my future by at least five years in the making...

"Thanks Peggy for giving me a totally new experience and a different outlook on the educational system and how it works...
Sincerely,
Mathew, Las Vegas, NV USA 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Budding Filmmaker's Self Education

Shannon is a 2013 graduate in Santa Monica, California USA who spent his elementary years at a Waldorf school, then did 9th grade in a public school, then chose to self educate through West River Academy. He used internet resources that may be helpful to others. Enjoy his story!

"After ninth grade, I moved to a different city to live with my Dad, who is a film director. It seemed logical to pursue a home-based education, which would allow me to follow my passion of filmmaking with my father. I researched online and found West River Academy, and it is a perfect fit. Now that I don’t have to conform to typical school hours, it allows me to split my time between school and filmmaking. I don’t think there could be a better way to learn about
filmmaking than actually working on real films, which is what living with my Dad allows me to do. At public school, each day of the week is tightly scheduled in a pattern that is repeated in exactly the same way every week. Now that I homeschool, every day is completely unique, so there is never a dull or boring moment. Schools that follow traditional schedules take three-month-long breaks in the summer, and due to budget cuts some schools are only open four days a week. Since I actually enjoy teaching things to myself, I don’t take any summer breaks, and instead I manage my time so that my work, study and play are in balance. That allows me to learn more in a year than I ever had before. I research all of my school subjects online. There are so many great ways to teach yourself anything online, whether it’s with Khan Academy,
Encyclopedia Britannica, or even YouTube. When I teach things to myself, I can learn things faster and more efficiently. I read hundreds of RSS feeds and thousands of tweets every day. I follow real people that are experts in the subjects I care about, like technology, science and more, and learn from their thoughts and what they link to. There is so much information available online, and there are so many ways to ingest it. I have recently been using a app called
ReadQuick, that only shows one word of a book or article at a time. You can control how fast it flashes the words, and as you use it, you are able to read faster and faster. I am up to four hundred and twenty five words per minute, and it saves me a considerable amount of time. I am also learning more things than typical high school subjects, things that are actually practical skills to have in the real world. I work with a small group of coworkers/friends, and I am one of
the people in the group who has developed an understanding for the technical details involved in producing feature-length media. Because of that, I am constantly being asked questions on a variety of detailed subjects, which has greatly improved my problem solving skills. Sometimes, I get questions that I can’t answer, so I have also learned to effectively research online and quickly
comprehend any knowledge that I need to retain.

"I recently watched an inspiring TED Talk by Sugata Mitra, who said “The education system is designed to produce identical clerks to run an empire that does not exist and a manufacturing industry that has gone away.” While trying to figure out how to improve education, Sugata did a test where in a foreign country he placed a computer in a hole in a wall. Kids with no access to education ran up to the computer, and started teaching themselves how to use it. Sugata came back after a few months and they had already taught themselves English, and they were learning about the complexities of DNA. With no help and only a computer, they gave themselves their own education. Sugata is now on a mission to build an online school in the cloud, where the students are also the teachers. One of the most important things I have learned during my
homeschooling is that I can start teaching myself almost anything immediately, using the power of the internet. Since I am working on films with hard deadlines, I have also learned the importance of finishing what I start. Missing the delivery date for a film is not an option. I have had to learn how to manage my time efficiently to make sure everything gets finished on time. In the past three years, in addition to learning about the main high school subjects, I have started my career as a filmmaker, and I have developed practical skills that I can use as a adult. Of all of the different schooling methods I have experienced, I believe I have learned the most by teaching things to myself during these past three years."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lifelong Homeschooler Describes Learning Challenges

Lauren, from Morrison, Colorado USA writes aboutlearning challenges that she has faced head on and dealt with in a most inspiring way. I hope her educational biography will encourage others who are struggling.

March 14, 2013

Dear Peggy,

My name is Lauren Smith and I am 18 years old. I have been homeschooled all my life and I am glad that I have had the opportunity of having a unique way of learning that does not involve the same system as regular schools. Mostly, I'm thankful that homeschooling gives me the freedom to learn at my own pace. I don't think I would be doing nearly as well as I am now if it were otherwise.

In my family, we have a disposition toward what many consider learning disabilities. My father, three of my brothers and I all face challenges concerning information integration, memory, and output; for me it is mostly output. We all have varying degrees of these challenges and they occur in different ways depending on the subject matter. Some things we are perfectly fine with while other things just don't stick easily. With integration, information comes in but our brains don't necessarily have a place to put it, which leads to difficulty with memory; if it's not stored, it's not retained. Output issues involve knowing the information is stored, but not being able to retrieve it and/or communicate it. As you can imagine, this can be very challenging and frustrating at times! 

My education as a whole has involved a great deal of repetition and patience as I am not always able to learn at the pace that I wish. However, I have learned that everyone is unique in every way, including the ways we learn, so it is better to persevere than to despair in the lie that we aren't as good as everyone else. Everyone has different strengths as well as challenges to overcome, and although my brain doesn't fit as well into a traditional educational structure as some, there is nothing wrong with it; everyone's brain is unique. Some people are wonderful at traditional academic subjects while others are wonderful with a more hands-on approach; either way the world needs both to thrive and each is very beautiful in its own way. It has taken me a long time to understand this and every once in a while I forget it, but I always come back to this realization.

When I was little, I remember school was a fun thing to do. I don't really remember why, but it's most likely because at the time it involved a great deal of art. I have always been fascinated with art, and although I wasn't very good at it when I was younger, in these recent years I have pushed myself to learn more of it. I used a variety of crayons, markers, and paints back then, and whether I was learning my A-B-C's or 1-2-3's it was usually very colorful and more fun than work. This lasted until I started learning how to read. I don't remember the details, but I do remember it was a big struggle. It was then when I first started having difficulties with learning, and suddenly learning wasn't quite so fun anymore. My mother has told me that my brain had a hard time associating letters with sounds, but all I remember is the frustration and tears. After reading finally clicked for my brain, I discovered the joy of the fictional worlds that books contain, and my nose has been in books ever since.

I also have had similar difficulties with math. Adding and subtracting were a fun game, especially when I was able to practice it with M&M's. However, once multiplication and division were added to the mix the numbers would not compute. I have had difficulty with math ever since because it has involved a great deal of almost never-ending frustration, hammering away at a subject that has at times seemed nearly impossible. Along the way I would find hope and encouragement as my brain would finally get it and it all fell into place, then I would move onto the next part and start the process all over again. These days I do fairly well with my Algebra 2, getting mostly A's and B's while I now tackle Geometry. The biggest lesson I have learned from math is to choose a positive attitude in discouraging times. I may not be able to choose all of my challenges, but I can choose my frame of mind while overcoming them.

Thankfully, not everything has been as difficult as reading and math!

Once I became a little older we started focusing on science and hands on activities. I loved learning about plants, insects, and the little creatures that the ecosystem needs in order to thrive. It was fascinating to plant beans and corn as well as other plants and watch their sprouts grow bigger each day. Once they got big enough we moved them from their little peat pellets to the garden and eventually ate the delicious food that they produced. One of my favorite places to go was to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. Sometimes in the spring we would get up early and spend the whole day out there looking at all the different plants, bugs, and occasional wildlife. If there is anything that instills more wonder and beauty in my eyes than art, it's nature and life itself.

Another thing I enjoy doing is art. Growing up we always had water color paint, markers, crayons and colored pencils lying around. Every now and then, my siblings and I would sit down together and attempt to paint things that we liked, or something from outside, or whatever we could think of. Although I loved art when I was little, I wasn't necessarily good at it. It wasn't until about four years ago that I decided to apply myself, learning how to draw and learning digital coloring with a photo manipulation program called GIMP. I have come a long way since then, and although I haven't found the time to do much digital coloring this past year, my drawings have greatly improved and I am also looking to explore different kinds of traditional artwork besides pencils.

I am currently working on completing the courses I need to graduate. I have to admit that I do not enjoy subjects such as English, Civics, and Geometry as much as I enjoy History and elective courses such as International Cooking and Art; in other words, my favorite courses have subject matter I can experience while learning. My most favorite subject in my education has to be PE. I have found that physical activity, whether shooting, Tae Kwon Do or riding horses, tends to come more easily to me than bookwork.

I started riding horses five years ago, cleaning out barns and working on general tasks around the stable. After a year or of that, I enrolled in a precision mounted western drill team youth organization called Westernaires. Horses have taught me so much and helped make me into the person I am today. While riding horses, riders need to learn to stand up for themselves otherwise horses won't listen. I learned how to be firm and yet kind, to be calm even in the face of danger, to have confidence in myself, and to trust my equine and human partners. Drill riding also has taught me a great deal. While riding in teams in Westernaires, sometimes riding with fifty or more girls on a team, I have learned to speak up, to pay attention to detail, to have spatial awareness, how to work as a team, how to better myself in order to reach a goal, how to be a leader, and so much more! Horses have given me so much experience in life, and have helped me to grow so much more than I would have ever hoped. 

In thinking of what to do for my future I thought about getting a job and going to college as well as moving out. I realized that in order to do those things I would likely have to take out a loan in order to pay for it all and I don't want to have to worry about working off a debt. So, I expanded my career options to the military because of the many benefits it offers such as traveling, having a well paying job, a place to stay, food, education, insurance, and financial aid to complete a degree if I so wish. On top of all that, I am able to serve my country.

In looking at possible military options there was a great deal to consider. I’m not interested in combat, so I decided that the Army or the Marine Corps probably weren't the best fit for me. I was more focusing on either the Navy or the Air Force because they offer the opportunity to travel, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Ships and the vast open waters of the ocean are wonderful; however, that's not really my interest. The Air Force seems to be a better fit. That branch of the military involves incredible airplanes and interesting intelligence jobs, hopefully out of harm's way, with the opportunity to travel so I decided to choose the Air Force. 

After I graduate high school, I will begin preparing for the ASVAB test. To prepare for it I'll be filling in gaps of knowledge in: electronics, such as the basics of electricity, electric circuits, and electric devices and systems; auto information, such as automobile components and systems; shop, and general mechanics. My goal is to achieve an ASVAB score in the high 90’s like my brothers, for two reasons: it offers more job opportunities and, honestly, I really want to beat my brothers’ scores.

I know that when I join the military I’m not guaranteed the career that interests me the most, however I can put myself in a position to better my chances at obtaining the job I would most like to do by learning a language that they would likely end up teaching me if I did get the job. For instance, I would like to be an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist. According to the airforce.com website, an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist's primary job is to receive, record, translate, evaluate and report on foreign communications and intelligence using a variety of locations, both foreign and domestic. To help me achieve my goal I am studying the Persian language, also known as Farsi. I am learning Farsi now so I can have a head start in case I start having difficulties with it. So far, the speaking and listening have been sticking quite well. The reading and writing is harder to remember because of the Arabic alphabet, but I am also making progress in that. 

As of this moment, I am not certain of what I will be doing after I complete my service in the Air Force, but I plan on using the life and educational experiences that I learn to help guide me to find something that I will greatly enjoy doing.

My education to this date has taught me many lessons, mostly about myself. I have learned that being unique is something to be celebrated, not discouraged. I have learned that with perseverance and a positive attitude I can overcome most challenges that come my way. I have learned to be patient with myself and most of all, not all lessons are in the classroom. Life itself is an education if I choose it to be, and I choose never to stop learning and never to stop growing. I am grateful for the education I have had thus far and look forward to continuing it in the future.

Sincerely,

Lauren

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ben, 13-year-old Unschooler, Reflects on his Year


"One important aspect of this year is the drastic difference between my middle-school/learning experience and other teens I know. I have been able to grow academically, socially, and emotionally, without the level of teenage angst of my friends. I think it is because I am in control of my learning, my day, and my life. Being in control helps me understand who I am and what I want in my life. For example, I tend to get very anxious in large crowds. I was able to recognize and work on my fear of crowds because I was in control. I have to decide when and how to push myself into healthy social environments. For instance, I volunteer about twice a month for our local L.G.T.B. center's library. I also participate in a circle of “Indigo Children" held once a month at a metaphysical bookstore in town. A friend, also unschooled, and I also organized a large yard sale. This gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to many people. It was fun working with my friend Anna and getting to know some of my neighbors. I made about one hundred dollars, too! What I have learned about myself emotionally this year is that emotions are just states of mind. They do not need to control the outcome of my experience by controlling me. 

"This year I became very interested in foreign languages, language acquisition, and linguistics. These subjects have always been very interesting and it is great to be able to focus on them for as long as I want. In the year, I have learned some aspects of Russian, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese, but I mostly studied German. To understand language acquisition I took these languages apart and reassembled them into a constructed language with its own vocabulary, grammar, and numeral system. I met native speakers along the way that helped me achieve a basic understanding of German, Hindi, and Russian, as well as working on an internet site called LiveMocha.com. LiveMocha is neat because I get to talk to native speakers from all over the world and I helped many of them with English. 

"My interest in nutrition and health led me to plan and plant a garden. From that sparked an idea to build a terrarium for some exotic plants. All of that taught me about how ecosystems work. The curiosity I had about meditation lead me to the philosophy of Buddhism. Their teachings of forgiveness and compassion inspired me to incorporate them into my life. The teachings also took the "you have to be perfect or worthy" out of my life and education. The only analogy that fits what I felt about this school year is I blossomed into myself. 

"Meditation and Yoga have been a large part of my year, too. I play several instruments like the ocarina, didgeridoo, and different drums and I incorporated them into my meditation. Each instrument adds another feeling in meditation. For instance, the didgeridoo is played using circular breath and knowing how to circular breath has advanced my breathing technique during meditation. This year music was an offshoot of meditation but next year I want to make it more important by relearning the violin and advancing in the ocarina. 

"'Discovering new ways to discover and evolve'--this statement perfectly fits my year. I dived into old paths and found new trails to follow. I found courage to flower and expand into myself. Most importantly, I learned without much distress from my old mindset of "I'm not learning enough". In conclusion, I must say, I am positive that I will learn so much more next year and I am thankful for this new experience."

~Ben, Fort Collins, CO USA

Friday, August 10, 2012

Colombia Student Graduates a Changed Young Man


Here is a letter from a parent of a graduate in Bogotá, Colombia. It is in Spanish. Santiago's mom tells of her son's early desire to learn and his success at doing so--up until he started his final two years of high school. He was no longer the happy student who had enjoyed sharing with his teachers and peers. He was bored. They found "Open Doors" on the Internet (a tutorial program in Bogota that works with WRA) and together they designed a program that was perfect for him. His self-esteem returned and he excelled in his work and on exams. Nine months after joining Open Doors and WRA, Santiago is mature, sure of himself and happy--eager to take on the next stage of his life.

Peggy, buenas noches.

Es difícil como padres hablar de nuestros hijos sin que parezca arrogancia o  amor  paternal. Trataremos de ser objetivos.

Desde muy pequeño Santiago mostró una enorme capacidad intelectual.  Aprendió a leer a los tres años, casi solo, preguntando los sonidos de las letras que veía en una laptop  y formando coherentemente las palabras.
Su vida escolar transcurrió casi toda en el mismo colegio, hasta cuando  decididamente, faltando muy poco tiempo para terminar su bachillerato, pidió que lo cambiáramos de plantel.

Empezamos la búsqueda, conscientes de que lo que él estaba necesitando era un tipo de educación diferente.  Su rendimiento era excelente, pero ya no era el muchacho alegre al que le gustaba  compartir con sus profesores  y  compañeros. Ir al colegio se convirtió en una tortura que desencadenaba en conflicto. Buscamos mucho, pero no era una decisión sencilla. Nada nos gustaba, nos parecía muy complicado pasarlo a otro colegio igual al tradicional, porque sabíamos que no iba a funcionar. Pensamos en hacer que terminara en el  que venía, pero en realidad estaba bastante aburrido. Por fortuna, encontramos en internet la página de Open Doors (http://www.cdiopendoors.blogspot.com/). 

Tuvimos una cita con Open Doors y nuestra primera impresión fue muy buena, coincidíamos en lo que esperábamos de la educación y tres meses después decidimos dar el paso. Santiago ingresó a Open Doors en septiembre del 2011,  una época muy difícil para nosotros, pero gracias a Dios allí encontró otra  familia. Le brindaron una hermosa acogida y volvió a recuperar su autoestima.
En el pasado mes de abril presentó las pruebas de estado y obtuvo un resultado  que aunque esperábamos, nos llenó de emoción y orgullo. Agradecemos a su colegio anterior, pero sobretodo a Open Doors y su equipo, que con mucha dedicación ayudaron a Santiago a lograrlo.  

Tuvo un corto receso, y terminó el programa que diseñaron para él también con excelentes resultados. Por lo anterior, hoy, 9 meses después, vemos a un Santiago más maduro, seguro de sí mismo, alegre y con ganas de enfrentarse a  esta nueva etapa con mucho entusiasmo, es decir, “listo para graduarse. Con las dudas propias de su edad, pero también con valentía y mucho coraje. Damos gracias a Dios porque nos llenó de bendiciones con el hijo que nos dio y porque nos permitió terminar esta fase con éxito.

Mil gracias a ti Peggy, por trabajar con Juliana (Open Doors) en este proyecto  tan interesante y por ayudarnos a conseguir que nuestro hijo lograra sus objetivos de una manera amable y feliz. Igualmente por certificar el grado de Santi.

Esperamos  estar en contacto contigo y  que sigas teniendo  toda clase de triunfos.
Un abrazo,
LUIS  y SANDRA, Bogotá, Colombia   

Thursday, May 31, 2012

First Year Homeschooling Mom's Anxiety


Shawn is the mom of a 13-year-old who just completed her first year of homeschooling in Fort Collins, Colorado USA. I loved what she wrote and asked if I could share it here. She replied yes and added, "if there is a parent that needs to talk and bounce frustration off someone, I would be happy to talk or at least listen. I'm pretty open to anything...it's all a learning curve, so the more support we get, the better we do."

Here is her letter of May 29, 2012

Fear and anxiety are the words that describe me on the first day of homeschooling as a mother teaching her child. I will admit, I wanted everything to be perfect and in order. As the year started, it was perfect and orderly, and then we hit some technical difficulties. And what I thought was in order turned unmanageable.  Then “school” became other than mundane, I became frustrated and questioned myself about the choice I made regarding my daughter's education. We started to have” conferences”, sometimes once a week; we became a real team with communication, and less pressure to please on either side. Talking about each other’s expectations was the key for us. Ten months later I stand tall beside my daughter and place her on a platform that I thought would never be reached.  Not only for her but for myself.  I have absolutely been in awe over the challenges she has overcome and the commitment and the motivation she has displayed.  With that I believe in my daughter unlike ever before and her drive to become anything she desires has truly inspired me.  Throughout the year I learned as much, if not more than she did.  Words come to mind to sum up the year like motivated, trustworthy, independent, strong, inspiring, confident, prideful, successful. And more importantly, the bond we have built by our communication can never be torn down. The challenges we faced through the year led us to a learning process that has come full circle. As a mother, I have seen my daughter become strong in herself with pride and confidence. And it’s refreshing to see her not in the stereotype of other kids her age group. She has an opinion and can speak with confidence and pride.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

THE ROCKEFELLERS “BOUGHT” THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM

For those of you who are curious enough to go beyond what happened to freedom of choice in educating our children to wanting to see how that fits into the history of the planet, check out this extensive investigative article by the author of the best-seller "The Source Field Investigations", David Wilcock, at this site:

http://www.divinecosmos.com/start-here/davids-blog/1023-financial-tyranny

Below is what he writes about the loss of our educational freedom in the past century.
 
The Federal Reserve created the National Education Association via the Rockefeller family:
 
 
 
By way of grants, they spent millions of dollars -- money which was used to radically bend the traditionalist education system toward a new system that favored standardized testing over critical thinking, toward “scientific management” in schools.
 
This was part of a calculated plan to make the schooling system benefit corporate America, at the expense of the American school child. Powerful foundations with private interests, such as the Ford Foundation, continue to support, and thereby influence the policy of, the NEA to this day.
 
Additionally, an unprecedented U.S. Congressional investigation into tax-exempt foundations identified the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations engagement in an agenda for vast population control.
 
Norman Dodd, Research Director for the Congressional Committee, found this statement in the archives of the Carnegie endowment:
 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Good News for International Grad

We produced 5 transcripts for a 2011 graduate from Canada, had them notarized and then sent them for apostilles from the state capital. (An apostille verifies the authenticity of the document for international purposes.) They were submitted for the destination countries of Croatia, U.K, New Zealand, Germany, and Spain. I learned that the transcripts were accepted by the universities they were submitted to. Here's what Ester reports:

"Good news. I managed to gain admittance into the University program I had been planning on! I have to say, the apostille came in handy for getting accepted into a UK university and I am very pleased with the ease with which I was accepted. They found my work examples and grades to be satisfactory and after 2 weeks I was admitted into the program. 

"I just wanted to once again thank you for making it possible for a homeschooler/unschooler such as me to have the same opportunities for further education as those with public education credentials. You have never failed me and were always there when I needed help or when some of my worries or concerns needed comforting. At first I thought it was too good to be true, but all that you promised became a reality in the end. Through this method I was able to get the credentials needed and still not risk losing interest in or becoming frustrated with schoolwork. Your school is not the alternative, it is the model upon which all schooling should be based. Too bad there are no Unschooling Universities around, though."

From both my parents and I: Thanks Peggy.
Sincerely, Ester

Monday, January 16, 2012

Homeschooling: Why and How


I met a lady via email who was introduced to me by one of our moms in the Philippines. Her name is Gail Nagasako and she has just had a book published called "Homeschooling: Why and How". The first part of the book is about all the many reasons people homeschool, with sections on traditional schooling, socialization and academics.  That chapter ends with pieces from other homeschooling parents and youngsters and 64 reasons we homeschool. The second chapter gives you the basics of how to homeschool in range of ways and describes unschooling in detail. It ends with a questionnaire for parents and kids to help you learn more about your children and yourself and set up a learning strategy.  An appendix gives an exhaustive array of resources for all sorts of needs from unschooling to formal curricula to special needs.  Gail tells her easy-to-read story in a way that offers sound advice to parents and assurance that their unschooled children will turn out just fine. 

Gail's son is now 28, a professional athlete (ThumperNagasako.com) and an event videographer by trade ( http://hifocused.com/). 

On a personal note, it was fun for me to get to know Gail and read her book as it parallels my philosophy and journey so closely that it's scary! Both of us married Japanese men and have bi-cultural kids. Her son is 28 and my oldest (of 3) daughter is 27. Both moms started support groups mostly for the kids' benefit, we wrote articles and set up calendars of events. We both counsel others and have spoken at events. We even both paddleboard! We may have a chance to meet in person soon. 

Please check out her website and order the book. It will be a friendly, reassuring companion for you whether your child is a youngster or a teen, whether you are just starting out or have been at it for a while. 

Gail's email is: gailmail@hawaii.rr.com

Khan Academy

A homeschooling family alerted me to Khan Academy, a free educational site that uses videos for teaching. The site is: www.khanacademy.com. I checked it out and it looks great. A student in the Diploma Program wrote about it in his report, so here's what he says:

"So one of the things that I want to share with you to day is Khan Academy. It’s a non-profit organization with the goal of giving a free world class education to anyone! I use it all the time for anything I am having trouble with.  It is just easier than a book sometimes because of the in-depth explanations.  The guy that does the extensive video library is an amazing teacher.  He is able to break things down until it is very basic and so much easier to understand.  It is really nice to have the option of this site, because in my experience with some people if you don’t “get” a topic you get the vibe that they think you are just stupid.  We all learn differently and what works for me may very well not work for the next person.  I like that I have the option of the tutorials for the times when I just don’t “get it” otherwise.  Along with their video library they also provide practice sets for all the videos.  So after you are done you can do the exercises on what you just learned to help commit the information to memory.  I feel like it is similar to having a personal tutor."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unschooler's Comments on Going to School in Japan

Caleb, an American living in Japan, comments on his new experience attending high school. Here is what he observes:


"Most of my entire life I've been taught through my mother's and father’s experience and unschooling methods--that I am so thankful for. In fact I like it beyond belief, so much so that small words alone cannot express my gratitude towards my parents for not putting me in the underworld of public schooling. Up to age sixteen, home schooling and unschool learning has been my life. If I found something interesting, my parents would enable me to explore it further--like judo, book writing, drawing, cooking, computer programming, dirt bike riding and other varied experiences. At the beginning of my homeschooling, my mother tried different learning techniques, such as textbooks and doing homework on a schedule. When I was young, math always seemed to pose a problem for me and I remember quite vividly complaining that I would not be able to understand it. That was sixteen years ago. When I hit seventeen, just like my mother had predicted, something clicked and suddenly math made sense. So now I would propose that everyone learn at their own pace. Public schooling seems to make you lose two of the most important aspects of learning: the urge to learn and the passion for reading. 
"I can attest to this because in Nihon (Japan) I just went through an American public school for the first time in my entire life. When I first started I had to adapt to being a high school student while most of the other kids had been public school students for their entire life. Even though everything was new, the responsibility and education I had through unschooling and real life lessons gave me an ability to jump right in. Needless to say, I was a 3.5 G.P.A. student, burning though some classes while taking others more slowing, such as my Nihongo (Japanese) class. I am speechless when it comes to public school; in fact it can be a complete waste of time unless you are going there for specific items of learning. Mostly it consisted of me doing nothing for about seven hours of the day, sitting in a chair that was way too small and contemplating imaginary ways to escape the building, which of course I did not really try because I do wish to make my parents happy. Whew! Okay, outburst over. Now for my reason to attend a public school, quite simply I wanted to know if I would do well, being homeschooled my entire life and jumping feet first into public schooling with no idea how things would turn out; but my experience proved to me that I could do well even in unfamiliar territory."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

US Marines Require Extra Testing for Homeschoolers

Here's what one future US Marine had to deal with as a homeschooler. Is this really happening in 2011? Here's what his mother, Kathy, writes:

Hi Peggy!

We received the diploma and the transcript, and the Marines got their transcript, too.  Thanks for sending those out!  Jacob took his diploma in hand the day after it came and gave it to the recruiter to get the ball rolling in joining the Marines. Just yesterday, he passed the ASVAB test with high marks, allowing him to have his pick of jobs within the Marine Corps. They actually require homeschoolers to score 20 points higher than other students to be accepted!  Doesn't seem right, but he beat that score, too!  Tomorrow he must take another test exclusive to homeschoolers, to see if he is "socially awkward" or not.  Wow. Really?  Feels like discrimination to me.  Jacob just laughs it off and is practicing his awkwardness for fun! But really, he'll behave and our homeschooling friends are dying to get the details of what the military deems awkward.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Erica Learns More About Herself at a Human Brain Exhibit

Erica, a 2011 graduate from Westport, CT USA, wrote her final report about a learning experience that related directly to her own experience. Her entire educational biography was posted just before this one. It was titled "Special Education Student Triumphs and Graduates."
                                       
Dear Peggy,
    As I begin to write my latest and final monthly report, I want to say that even though my education got off to a bumpy start, I am happy to say that all of my high school years have been positive, and filled with wonderful experiences and opportunities. I realize that I most likely would have never had these experiences, had I not been homeschooled.
    One of the recent opportunities that I have been very fortunate to experience was an exhibit on the human brain at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The exhibit was so informative and enjoyable, and I would love to share with you a few of the things I learned from this exhibit.
   Amazingly, the average human brain has 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) specialized nerve cells, called neurons. These cells swarm inside our brain every time we do something, even if it’s just breathing. Neurons make up the central nervous system, and send signals and messages from the brain out to the rest of the body, and vice-versa. They also send messages to the muscles from the brain, and even distribute signals from one area of the brain to another. Just a single neuron can channel hundreds of these signals per second, so it’s no wonder we can think of and change topics at speeds that make high speed internet seem slow.
   Two main areas of the human brain are the Basal Ganglia and the Cerebellum. While these two areas have numerous roles, the Basal Ganglia plays a major role in motivation, while the Cerebellum is responsible for motor control and movement, like walking or riding a bike. When there is damage to the Basal Ganglia, this can contribute to a lack of self-motivation, and when the Cerebellum is damaged, this can cause issues with movement, equilibrium, posture, and motor learning. This was of particular interest to me since I know someone who not only profoundly lacks self-motivation and interest, but also shows movement issues. Even though I haven’t been told that these areas are indeed the regions that are affected in this person, I always had a feeling that it was due to possible brain damage. By learning the exact brain regions that control these functions of self-motivation, interest & movement, I could understand what parts of this person’s particular brain were quite possibly damaged, and in turn, understand the reason these profound issues are present.
   Learning about the ramifications of Cerebellum damage also caused me to have a major “ah-ha” moment, yet this time, the revelation was about myself. I realized that my Cerebellum was probably one of the areas affected by the Grand-Mal seizures I have suffered. The reason a light bulb went off inside my head, was because I realized that I most likely have a mildly damaged Cerebellum, and that’s probably one reason why I have issues with motor learning, motor planning, regulating my equilibrium, movement and posture. This newfound knowledge helps me have a much better understanding of my disabilities, and myself, in turn making it much easier for me to “be good to myself” (as my physical therapist Mike often advises me). 
   Another fact that was of great interest to me was the relationship of the brain and fat. I never realized that the brain is 60% fat, with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a type of Omega-3 fatty acid, being the main fat. Hearing this statistic, one might come to the erroneous conclusion that they need to put their brain on a strict diet to reduce the amount of fat. And yet, while it is important to not have excessive fats in our diets, it is also important to keep healthy amounts of fat (especially DHA) in ones’ diet. There are various health reasons for this, but in this particular case, it is so that the brain can remain healthy and function properly. A lack of fat in the brain can lead to neurological disorders, as well as cognitive decline. On the other end of the spectrum, too much fat and being overweight also affects the brain. Research has shown that when compared to people who are at a healthy weight, overweight people had 4% less brain tissue, while those who were obese had 8% less brain tissue.
   Until this exhibit, I never realized the neurological effects of a well-balanced diet and keeping ones’ body at a healthy weight. Not only was the brain exhibit extremely informative, but it also helped to give me a better appreciation of how my own body works, as well as those of others I know. It helped me to more fully understand the intricate workings of my neurological system, and to have an even greater desire to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. It also sparked my interest to continue learning about the relationship of the brain and cognitive, emotional and social disabilities, as well as medical advances to help those who suffer from these particular disabilities. I truly believe that my interest in helping those with these kinds of disabilities is fueled by the fact that I know firsthand what it is like to have a disability. I also know God has plans to use me in ministering to others with special needs. I know that the brain exhibit was just one piece of the puzzle in my quest to do just that.

Sincerely,
             Erica

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Special Education" Student Triumphs and Graduates

I am posting this educational biography in its entirety. It is long, but it is so beautifully written by a 2011 graduate who faced a lot of challenges and triumphed. Stay with it and you'll be glad you did!

Dear Peggy,
     I am so happy to have this opportunity to share part of my Educational Biography with you, so that you may get to know me and some of the experiences that have shaped me into the person I am at this point of my life.
     My educational journey began on a really bumpy and broken highway. After a fun experience at preschool at the Congregational church in my town, which left me with  many fond memories, I began kindergarten at one of the local elementary schools. Because I lived between two of the elementary schools at that time, my mom was able to choose which school to send me to. She chose Coleytown because that school housed the Special Education offices. I needed the services of Special Education due to my processing delay, learning differences, sensory integration disorder, as well as the effects from treatment for epilepsy, which I was diagnosed with at the age of 10 months. Even though I was in special education, because my disabilities weren’t highly complex, the staff made the decision to include me in a regular classroom, otherwise known as inclusion. Inclusion is public school speak for placing a special education student into a mainstreamed classroom, and then taking the student out of that class for certain therapies, classes, or extra services.
     While I loved my kindergarten teacher, Miss Bell, as well as my personal aide, Mrs. Dubee, I hated school. When we’d have circle time, and Miss Bell would talk to us all about a certain subject or topic, it would take me longer to raise my hand to ask a question because my processing delay took me longer to process the information that was given to me in the first place. By the time I would ask the question, they had already started talking about a new subject or topic. After I would raise my hand and ask my question, my teacher would always answer by saying “Erica, that doesn’t have to do with what we’re talking about now.” That really frustrated me, since my question did have to do with the previous topic. However, because it took me longer to process the information, it took me twice as long as my classmates to figure out the question I wanted or needed to ask. Even the rare times when I did raise my hand when we were still on that particular subject, I was either the last one called on, or Miss Bell would move on before calling on me and listening to my question.
     Learning to read was something that wasn’t really a struggle for me, since my comprehension and vocabulary has always been above my grade level. I actually enjoyed reading with Miss Bell and a few other classmates. We’d read books like Henry and Mudge, as well as other books appropriate for kindergarteners.
     Even though my comprehension was (and still is) excellent for my age, writing was a different story. I struggled with writing due to not being able to write fast and for a long period of time. I would have constant trouble spelling words. My aide would always have to stand over my shoulder and help me with spelling. If she was not there for some reason, I would just simply scribble instead of sounding the word out.
     While I had all those negative experiences in kindergarten, it was also filled with its’ share of fun times. For example, I loved art, music, and going for story time at the school’s library.
     By the end of half-day kindergarten, I was exhausted, emotionally drained and completely over stimulated. That exhaustion often left me too tired to go to ballet class after school, even though I was in ballet with my best friend, Haley.
Although kindergarten was very difficult for me in many ways, first grade was even worse.
     The struggles I had in kindergarten with writing, I struggled with even more due to not being able to write fast and for a long time. I continued to have constant trouble spelling words (the “sound it out” and “spell it like it sounds” approach never worked for me and often caused havoc with my spelling).  I had constant trouble with visual-spatial relationships and spatial awareness, like spacing between words, how much room was needed for a particular word, judging the space left until the page ended and trouble tracking lines. Because of my constant struggle with visual-spatial relationships I would often forget to leave a space between words. Once this was brought to my attention by my aide, I would separate the two words with a cursor-like line, which would often be mistaken by my teacher and family members as a capital “I”. That misinterpretation would make people tell me that I misspelled the words, leading to more frustration for me. Like most children of that age group, my penmanship was on the bigger side. However, even though my writing was large, it was still readable for the most part.
     Math was the absolute worst subject for me. While I understood addition & subtraction for the most part, I could barely grasp multiplication tables.  Division was a living nightmare for me, since I couldn’t understand it at all. When I would be solving a problem, because it was often overwhelming for me to figure out the steps needed to do the problem, my default answer for equations like 7x7 was “a lot”, even if I understood the concept. It didn’t matter if it was subtraction, multiplication, division or even more complex addition, that was the default answer I would give if I didn’t know the answer or was simply too overwhelmed to be able to figure it out.
     The other thing that was frustrating for me, was the special education services the school provided for me, both in kindergarten and in first grade. As I mentioned earlier, my kindergarten aide really helped me. The superintendent at that time allowed her to come in just for me, since she was my aide in pre-K as well and I already knew her. However, before the start of my first grade year, the superintendent changed and the new one would not allow Mrs. Dubee to continue being my aide. They insisted on having Karina, one of their existing paraprofessionals be my aide for first grade. Unfortunately, I did not find her helpful at all.
     One of the other ways the special education at Coleytown failed me was when I got pulled out of my mainstream first grade classroom. I would sit down at a long table, where I was given a pencil and piece of paper with those extra thick lines that had a raised dashed line in between the lines (the dashed lines were to aid in the correct way to print upper case & lower case letters). The special education teacher would instruct me to write about what I was going to do after school that day. Each time that direction was given, I would write a description of my after school activities. I described how I was going to go home, have a snack and then play with my favorite dollhouse in my room with my mom. The special education teacher (or Karina, at times) would say to me, “Erica, you wrote that yesterday. Write something else.” That bothered me deeply, since my after school routine was the same every day, being that I thrive on predictability and routine. What they didn’t realize is that by telling me what not to write, it would throw me for such a loop and I would basically just shut down. Karina would end up telling me what to write, which of course, wasn’t even close to what I was thinking of writing. 
     All of this took its toll on me, especially emotionally.  Just about every day, upon returning home, I would cry and download my frustrations to my mom.  My descriptions of daily frustrations at school helped my mom realize the havoc that public school was wreaking on me. My mom soon realized that the school’s approach was not addressing either my emotional needs or my educational challenges. These factors made my parents decide to pull me out of public school. I finished first grade at Coleytown and left for summer vacation, very happy that I would not be returning for second grade in the fall.
     My mom decided to homeschool me for second grade, since the private school she thought would be good for me, Eagle Hill Southport, did not have room for me to attend until the next year. That year was pretty stress free for both my mom and me, as far as education was concerned. My mom did join a few homeschooling groups and we did a few field trip activities with them, some of which my mother organized. Early on in the homeschooling process, after trying the method of following the similar structure as public school, my mom figured out that that particular style was not at all the way I learned best. She tried the unschooling method with me, and that was the biggest success. My mom went at my pace, taking her teaching cues from me, and I began blossoming and learning things that I hadn’t been able to master in public school.
     During second grade, I began therapeutic riding sessions with Pegasus Therapeutic Riding. I was very anxious about riding, but my mom promised me that if I got on the horse and didn’t like it, I could get right off.  That reassured me.  A few weeks later, I mounted one of the therapy horses for my first session, and with the help of others walking along side me, rode the horse around the ring, wearing the biggest smile.
     I fell in love with horses and riding, or as the saying in the horse world goes, “I caught horse fever!” My therapeutic riding sessions with Pegasus continued weekly and I went from needing three people walking with me, to only one person leading the horse and one person on my side, and finally, down to only needing someone leading the horse.
     Later that summer, the summer before I was to start Eagle Hill, the school thought it would be good for me to attend summer school there. Summer school wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that my math teacher wasn’t helpful at all. Besides that, who wants to spend their summer at school?
     Shortly before school started in the fall, I went to meet with the headmaster one afternoon. I remember asking him, “Will I get to have show and tell?”, since “show and tell” was my favorite thing from first grade. He didn’t answer my question at all, but rather gave me a “run around” type of answer. I had so much anxiety afterwards because all I wanted was a straight answer from the headmaster about “show and tell”.
     I started Eagle Hill that September, when I was 8, and right from the beginning, I had struggles during each school day. For instance, when the bell rang, the loud sound of the bell would scare and bother me so badly, that I would have a panic attack trying to get my trapper, homework, etc. off the desk, so I could go onto my next class. If the students came into the classroom I was trying to leave, all chaos would break out in my mind. By the time I’d eventually get to my class, I’d not only still be in a flustered state, I was also late.  This made most of the teachers get on my case for being tardy. There was also one instance where one of the older boys walked over to the desk I was gathering my things off of, and in this really mean and rough voice, barked, “Leave!” at me.  That was so startling and scared me so deeply, that I was even later and more emotional going into my next class than normal. The kid scared me to tears, yet the teacher whose class I was exiting, did nothing! I thought that was such a horrible way for him to handle that situation.
     For my first year, I was assigned to Miss Hontz her for Tutorial class. We were doing our “contracts” which were more like reports, on US states. I was drawing a picture of the state I was doing mine on for the front page of my contract. I raised my hand and asked Miss Hontz what color that particular state was.  Since I had noticed that most classroom maps of the 50 states have each state a different color, I thought this was a very logical question.  She replied to my question by asking, “What do you think?” in a voice that implied, ‘How could you be so stupid to think that states are a certain color?’  Upon returning home that afternoon, I was completely fried and upset. I was up in my room with my mom and we were playing with my favorite dollhouse. I was so upset from what Miss Hontz said and how she made me feel, that I had the biggest meltdown and I told my mom that I didn’t want to be in her class anymore. My mom saw my distress and called my advisor’s office and left a message on her machine, explaining the situation. She also said in the message that she would greatly appreciate it if I could be switched to a different class with another teacher. I was indeed switched to a different class, but first my advisor had to interrogate me about why I needed to switch out of that class, making me feel even worse than I did when Miss Hontz said that to me. To make matters worse, for each of the next two years, I was assigned to Miss Hontz’s class and my mom would once again, have to call my advisor, and get me switched.
     Each student at that school was assigned to a particular advisor for all the years the student attended the school. I was assigned Mrs. Grant and she was my advisor for all three years I was there. The role of the advisors was to help students with anxieties, issues they might have in a school day, etc. As a child, and especially during the three years I was at Eagle Hill, I had a lot of anxiety, trouble with time management skills, and lots of fears, (especially a fear of being kidnapped, which probably stems from my seizures and frequent hospitalizations at an early age). Mrs. Grant, while being a very nice person, wasn’t helpful to me with anything, no matter what the problem.  Rather than helping me solve some of the issues I faced, I always felt as if she was blowing me off and discounting me.
    It was hard for me to learn at Eagle Hill, mainly because none of the teachers, my advisor, nor anyone else for that matter, succeeded at educating me as a whole child; not just mentally, but physically and emotionally as well. Even though there were one or two teachers at Eagle Hill that I did like, it is unfortunate to say that they too, failed to educate me as a whole child, body, mind and spirit.  They didn’t seem to understand the impact of noise, environment, schedule deadlines, peer group challenges and positive reinforcement on my success or failure in learning.
     Speaking of educating the whole child, the physical education program at Eagle Hill, a school for kids with learning disabilities, left much to be desired.  Their so-called “adapted” physical education, in my opinion, was beyond awful. I felt it was awful because they didn’t know how to adapt physical education to each student’s individual needs.  Even when my parents and my physical therapist complained that they needed to adapt it more for me, they gave my parents lip service.  For instance, it had taken me years of working with various therapists to help me even be able to perform some of the most basic physical maneuvers.  Every day, for as long as I could remember, I did numerous exercises, with therapists, with my mom, as well as alone, to begin to be able to move my limbs across the midline of my body, or to balance on one foot, or move my eyes without moving my entire head or body.  And yet, despite Eagle Hill being aware that I had these, and other problems and gross-motor challenges, they forced me to play soccer on their travel team.
     Even though a few of my friends were on the team with me, practice was torture for me for numerous reasons. First of all, to warm up, the coaches made us do jumping jacks. I would always freeze inside because I wasn’t coordinated enough to motor plan how to do one jumping jack, never mind 10 in a row. Secondly, we had to run around the baseball diamond that was in the other corner of the field.  At that point of my life, I couldn’t run far at all because I had such low muscle tone.  So after taking just a few steps, I would feel as though I was going to collapse.  Trying to motor plan running, as well as attempting to get my body to work rhythmically, seemed impossible to me.  I was always lagging far behind all the others, and was physically drained to boot.  Thirdly, and as silly as this may sound, there was a convalescent home next to the area of the field where we would have to run. I didn’t know it was a nursing home, and therefore I was convinced it was a psychiatric hospital and that one of the patients would hop the fence and kidnap me, and that no one would rescue me. This fear made the task of running before practice even worse.
     Once we actually started practicing, things only got much, much harder for me. Not only was it difficult enough for me to run, but the combination of having to kick the ball, judge the amount of force needed, figure out where I wanted to kick it, along with the overwhelming noise of my teammates screaming “kick it to me” while the coaches were telling me to kick it somewhere else, was practically impossible for me. Rather than being able to perform what was being required of me, even at some basic level, I would just shut down, because I was so overwhelmed and over stimulated.
     Making things worse, was the constant yelling by my coaches, all too often because they had to correct and “discipline” one of the boys on my team. As if all of this wasn’t taxing enough for me, the soccer field was on a busy road, which meant that cars, trucks and motorcycles were whizzing by all afternoon long.  Since I have always struggled with auditory processing, and have acute hearing (I’m not called ‘Bugs Bunny’ for nothing!), this added traffic noise just further complicated my ability to perform physically. All of these factors not only made practice extremely hard for me, but games as well. Since my eyes could not track objects as they came towards me, at that point in my life, seeing 20 players running towards me was a lesson in confusion, panic and turmoil.  Not only would I lose track of them, but I could not predict where they would go and what they would do, nor did I have the skills to react and adjust myself accordingly.
     In an attempt to continue to have me participate and be a part of the team, my mom asked the school to simply let me be the water girl or scorekeeper.  Yet they refused, taking the stance that I needed to keep playing on the chance that someday I might be a true soccer player!  That position seemed totally ridiculous to my parents, my therapists, and me as well, even at the young age of 8! It finally got to the point, after weeks of struggling, where I would constantly ask my mom to fill in the permission slip saying that I didn’t have to go to the games.
     On rainy days, or during the winter months, we would all have indoor gym in the local YMCA. It is hard to believe it would be possible, but I actually hated gym more than soccer. Because of the physical struggles I previously mentioned, along with other physical challenges, it was torture.  I could not follow the dance and yoga steps, do the required push-ups, or not always get hit in the face while playing dodgeball.
     As my 5th grade year (my third year at Eagle Hill) started to end, I was at the end of my rope and needed to leave. Of course, it was a build up of the day-to-day struggles, but the two things that were the “straws that broke the camel’s back” were the ways they handled soccer and having to read Harry Potter.  For me, a child who had always struggled with anxiety and fear, who had always been scared of the dark, who had visions of people coming through the windows to steal me, the last thing I felt comfortable reading was a book about wizards, magic, and evil.  I had spent a good deal of energy trying to overcome the many fears I had.  Reading a fantasy book filled with fearful beings and events would not have been something I could have emotionally or mentally handled at that point in my life. The school completely disagreed, taking the position that it was part of life and I would need to learn to deal with it at some point, so it might as well be then. While I now understand their position, I was not in a place at that time to be able to handle that challenge.  Finally, one day, I came home from school and told my mom that I wanted to leave Eagle Hill. After talking about it for a bit, both my parents and I agreed that homeschooling would be best.
     The decision to leave was not without mixed feelings, because my friend Shannon started there at the beginning of that year, and we had become best friends. Even though it was difficult to leave my new best friend, in my heart, I knew that leaving would be best, especially in the long run. I informed my adviser that this would be my final year at Eagle Hill, and told her that I’d be homeschooled next year. She frowned upon the fact that I would be homeschooled. At the school’s end of the year ceremony, they handed me my engraved nameplate that served as the ID on my locker, a folder with a “diploma”, and a fabric “E” letter patch (the kind for varsity jackets). I was extremely happy to be out of Eagle Hill. No longer did I have panic attacks on Sunday nights or on the last day of Christmas break. I became much happier and less stressed every day. Just as in second grade, my mom and I did the unschooling approach, which once again worked wonders. I continued to see Mike, my physical therapist, who is actually a Certified Adapted Physical Educator. My sessions with him were twice a week for an hour. I also continued to ride with Pegasus Therapeutic Riding on Thursdays, which I loved as well. The highlights of my week were going riding and seeing Mike.
     In the 11 years since I’ve been unschooling, I have seen a transformation in my learning and myself. Most of, if not all of the things that I couldn’t get in public and private school, due to a lack of individualized education and instruction, I have been able to learn. I would have never been able to understand these things, had I not been unschooled by my mother. She has helped me to see that I can learn and overcome challenges and get to the next level. I’ve been able to learn without being forced or threatened, but by taking myself exactly where I am and making incremental steps to each new level.  She has helped me to better understand myself, and to be kind and accepting of myself, just as I am today.  She has taught me that, at times, I am just not ready to take a new step.  She has given me the courage to be okay with that, and the wisdom to understand if that is so in the particular circumstance.  She has helped me to not be ashamed to stand up for myself, and taught me how to better advocate for who I am and what I need.  Without the gift of homeschooling, I would never have had the time to spend with my mom, who has believed in me more than anyone else I know.  I would also never have had the time and space I needed to get to know myself and how I learn and function best.
     As well as making academic and emotional progress in multiple “subjects”, I have made tremendous gains physically. I still work with Mike twice each week (I’ve been his student for 13 years and counting). If I were to list all the things he has taught me, my bio would be about 40 pages long, so I’ll condense the list slightly. He taught me to ride a bike (at age 13 ½), and we often go on bike rides together in the summer months to work on these skills even more. Mike also was able to teach me how to do things on the trampoline, like sit drops and knee drops, as well as how to do what we call a “combo”; which is a knee drop, then right into a sit drop, or vice-versa. He also taught me a few “games” that he thought up himself. My favorite game, which I will request by name, is “the clock”, in which Mike stands by the edge of the trampoline at “12:00”.  I then begin jumping in the center and he calls out a number on the clock, and then I face 12:00, do a sit drop, pivot and spin to the number he called out, bounce up from the seat drop and continue jumping until he calls out another number. Thanks to Mike and his patient teaching style I am now able to throw and catch a ball, both with a baseball glove, as well as with two hands, sans the glove. My absolute favorite activity that Mike and I do is play catch. I was very young when Mike first taught me to throw and catch, and all my memories of playing catch with him are 100% positive, so it is a very enjoyable activity for me. Knowing how much I love catch, Mike will often suggest playing a game when I become upset, in order to turn my mood around. This “strategy” of his works without fail! On the days when inclement weather or cold temperatures force us to have our sessions indoors, we work in my basement, where I have various pieces of therapy equipment (therapy balls, a platform swing, balance board, “wobbler”, as well as other activities and small games).
     Even though Mike is my Adapted Physical Educator/Physical Therapist, he has taught me many things not directly related to physical education. He has taught and helped me to become a better listener. He has helped me become more patient and compassionate towards others. Mike has made my social skills stronger and helped me become a better friend to others. He is my personal “Dr. Phil” and “Mr. Fix-It”. Mike is the one I often turn to when I need to vent or need advice. He has made my confidence soar, given my dreams wings and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Mike has been there for me through everything and I thank God for him and for all the things I’ve learned from and with him.
     The other area that I have made remarkable progress in is horseback riding. Soon after starting unschooling, I “graduated” from therapeutic riding, and moved on to regular, “able-bodied” horseback riding. It wasn’t long before I began cantering and jumping, not only with an instructor who had a background in teaching riders with disabilities, but with the strength and help of a Quarter Horse mare named Stevie. Stevie was very patient with me, and helped me build my confidence, not only as a rider, but as a person as well. During those years, my then instructor Carol moved to Maine, and I continued riding my beloved horse Stevie under the tutelage of Barb, another riding instructor that had worked with Carol for years. Under Barb’s patient and kind instruction, I won a few blue ribbons with Stevie, but we mostly won each other’s trust and hearts. Altogether, I had Stevie as my “partner” for 3 to 4 weekly rides over the course of 3 wonderful years.  Shortly after my sixteenth birthday, Stevie, who was in her late twenties (which is almost 90 in horse years), retired and moved to upstate Connecticut. I was beyond devastated.  I felt as though a piece of my heart had been torn out of me, and I was convinced that I would never again be able to find another horse with whom I would share such a special bond of friendship and trust. After trying a few other horses that I didn’t match well with, Barb, who is very aware of my disabilities and understanding of me, told me that she wanted to put me on Casey and see how Casey and I meshed together. I went up to the barn on May 9, 2006, and tacked up (put the saddle and bridle on) Casey, a beautiful 15.1 ½ hand (5’1½”) Appaloosa/Quarter Horse gelding.  I mounted Casey for my lesson, and immediately felt comfortable with him. It was as if I was on Stevie again. Of course, Barb noticed how comfortable I felt with Casey, both mounted and dismounted. I fell “head over heels” in love with him. Ever since that day, I have been riding Casey and we have a bond and a chemistry that is so incredibly deep. Casey entered my life at a time when I needed him most, and he has truly saved my life. If it wasn’t for Casey, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable advancing my riding, and in turn, it would’ve made it difficult for Barb to teach me more advanced things.
     Aside from the tremendous joy and the skills and techniques that I learn in my weekly lessons, horseback riding has taught me many things like self-reliance, patience, time management, and has enriched my social skills (which has resulted in numerous friendships with others at the barn), just to name a few. Some of these “life skills”, such as self-reliance, patience, and social skills, I already had, but they weren’t concrete and I would sometimes fall behind in them. Other skills, like time management, I didn’t have at all, nor did I have a basic foundation to build on.  Riding has also taught me what’s most important in life, meaning that while it’s always nice to be the best or do well in a competition, life isn’t about winning or being the best. Once I realized and accepted that “winning isn’t everything”, I became a happier person. The TV cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants put it so well…he said, “It’s not about winning, it’s about fun.”  Oh so true!
     Because of homeschooling/unschooling, my mom and I have been able to do various forms of arts and craft projects, enriching and developing my creative skills and love for art. I am a self-taught jewelry designer, and I create pieces using Swarovski® crystal and glass beads, accented with Sterling Silver components. One of my creations is a beaded Swarovski® bracelet, with two “lobster claw” closures, that attaches to the ends of a Medic Alert® bracelet medallion. My inspiration came from wearing a medical bracelet for as long as I can remember, and wanting it to look prettier than a plain, flat link-style chain.
      I also love drawing, and I will spend hours doodling in my sketchbook with a pencil. Horses are my subject of choice, but I’ve drawn tropical scenes, flowers, models, etc. Some of my drawings get transferred onto canvas and painted, or simply outlined using a fine tipped Sharpie® and then colored in. When my parents and I go on long car trips, I listen to my iPod, get out my sketchbook and pencil and sketch away.
     I love graphic design and have developed a wonderful eye for digital designs. Over the years, I have been tutored in two graphic design programs, Photoshop and Illustrator, by two graphic artists. I have incorporated these two forms of art to design logos for family and friends, for digital scrap-booking, invitations and announcements, stationery, gifts for friends, etc. My mom taught a class at our church and I used my graphic design skills to put together the stationery for the class handouts and notebooks.
     I also write poetry, both for fun, and to help express myself. I write my poems in a college-ruled notebook, then type the poem using Microsoft Word. I will often add a header, using my graphic design skills. I frame the typed copies of poems that I’ve written about important people in my life, and give them as heartfelt gifts. Mike, among others, has received many of them and the recipients tell me how much my poetry touches them. That’s because it’s not just a bunch of words that I magically make rhyme; rather, my poems are gifts from my heart to their heart.
      Another favorite art form of mine is ceramics. I frequent the paint-your-own pottery shop near my house and have made lots of pieces, both for myself and as unique, heartfelt, personalized gifts for family members and friends. I paint a lot of mugs for myself and others, being that they are very useful. I combine my love and talents in sketching, drawing and graphic design when creating my piece, whether for myself or for a gift.
     While there are many other details I would love to share, I am so glad to have had this opportunity to share this brief overview of my educational biography with you.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have found pleasure in composing it, and I trust that it will serve as a colorful introduction to who I am and what makes me tick.  I look forward to sharing with you my monthly reports, and giving you a glimpse of some of the newer growth and learning that is taking place in my life at the present time.

Fondly,
Erica