Friday, April 30, 2010

Brandon's Bio and Reports Reveal One Talented and Busy Teen

Brandon, a 17-year-old  senior in New York, was homeschooled his whole life. He starts of his educational biography this way:

"Let me tell you, being homeschooled is by far the best gift one can be given when it comes to their education. While most kids sit in classrooms doing (or pretending to do) work, most of which will prove inconsequential in their adult life, the homeschooled child gets to experience hands-on learning based on their interests and educational needs. While most kids are only half way through the school day, the homeschooled child finishes early to go off for a trip with other homeschooled kids.

    "This is precisely the gift I’ve been given, and I’m thankful for every bit of it. For as far back as I can remember, my learning has been a family affair. In the early days I would sit down with my mother and she’d work with me to make sure I understood each subject. She’d make special tools to help me with math, and often my father would help me through the tougher problems. I believe his explanations could very well be the only reason I understood it at all. The same is true for just about every subject; I owe my great understanding of many things to their dedication.

    "When it comes to my textbook learning, I’ve become a lot more independent, taking care of most of the work without any help at all. I no longer sit at the counter with my parents to do my work, but just knowing that they are still there if I need their help is a huge comfort. Now, however, my parents are playing a huge role in my real-world education. Much more significant than anything you’ll learn in a book,  my mother has taught me life skills like cooking, cleaning, organizing, scheduling, and so on. Many people who are very ‘book smart’ don’t make it far in life because they lack basic life skills like these."

Brandon goes on to talk about his interests in electricity and computers. He started building websites, eventually turning it into a neighborhood business. Later he got into podcasting and started his own show. Then he started a web design business. When the iPhone came out, he created a movie showtime application for it, which is widely used today by iPhone users: "GoMovies". Brandon is now in the advertising design business with a partner and they run a firm called Ipsum Creative.

Since November of 2009, Brandon has learned to drive, bought a car, and started a restaurant job in addition to doing his design business and academics. He has been learning time managment skills, to say the least - sometimes the hard way! Here's how he summarizes it:

"This is a constant struggle for me: figuring out what’s most important in life. It can often be more difficult than one might think. Beyond that, trying to find places to squeeze in the things you want to do among those that you need to do is a challenge. I devised a system by the end of the month. Basically, I found that I need to list everything I need to do, prioritize it, and try to eliminate some things from the bottom of the list. This way I always have a concise list of my priorities in my head."

Come March, Brandon's report shows another aspect of his learning. Read on!

"March was a month of hard work for me. As I continued with my job and other duties, I learned to perfect many of my skills and to balance my efforts even more effectively. I was working five nights a week and loved making the extra money. I was also helping a friend remodel their kitchen on the side, teaching me a lot about various types of work.

    "This job was proving to be quite educational. First off, I was starting to really observe a lot about the inner workings of the restaurant, and ask questions. I wanted to learn about the industry, as it was one I was always interested in. I watched the chefs prepare dishes, I noticed how the managers handled various situations, and I really started to absorb everything that went on around me while I was doing my job. I was actually inspired to reconsider being a chef, something that had always been a possibility for me. This thought had been developing since I started working there, but by now I was really tempted. It seemed like the chefs had such a great time and I could imagine nothing better than cooking for a living.

   " As for my remodeling work, my friend and I started off by painting. There were actually several rooms in the house that needed a fresh coat of paint, and we both had experience painting, so we got some rollers and off we went! In addition to walls, I learned about the process of painting cabinets, something that is much more involved. We had to remove all the cabinet doors, organize the hardware, and pretreat the wood. We used a product called a ‘de-glosser’ that etches the original finish of the wood, making the paint adhere better. We then got to work with our paint brushes, and a few days later the old 1960s cabinets looked as good as new (or better.) We reattached the doors, which in itself is a lesson in organization. It’s essential to label the doors, or else it’s difficult to tell which ones go where.

    "After the painting was finished, we moved on to the floor. We decided to lay down some tile. To start, we had to rip up the old linoleum. Since the floor was already falling apart, this took nothing more than a little elbow grease and the back end of a hammer. Once the subfloor was exposed and clean, we had to lay down backer board. We mixed up a bucket of adhesive, learning somewhere along the way that it is important to follow the mixing directions properly. Soon after, we put down the first board and screwed it in. Once we hit the first place where we couldn’t fit an entire board, I tapped into my math and geometry brain to measure and cut the boards to the appropriate shapes and sizes. Throughout the project this became my job, as I was quite good at it, even in complexly shaped spaces.

    "Once the backer board was down, we moved onto the tile. The measuring was once again my job. I marked each tile and my friend cut them on the wet saw. We did a ‘dry run’ before laying them down, and they fit together like a perfect little puzzle. Although I wasn’t around for the laying and grouting, I was still proud of my accomplishments in my first ever experience with flooring. I learned about how to work with each type of material and got to flex my brain a little with the measurement and marking. All-in-all it was a great experience that may come in handy some day if I ever want to lay my own floor.

    "While not the most exciting in my life, this month was full of learning that will be very useful in my later life. In fact, it may have even changed the career path I take. I’m still loving life, and looking forward to April!"

Brandon has one more report before he graduates. You may join me in looking forward to the final installment of his exciting homeschooling career!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chilean Senior Enjoys Monthly Writing

Students who wish to graduate from West River Academy must write an educational biography, describing their educational life, followed by 6 monthly reports detailing what was learned during the month. This occurs during the last 6 months of their senior year. Students may resign themselves to this task, not knowing what to expect, or not looking forward to the work. Often, however, the students tell me what a valuable experience it has been to write about their lives and learning. It prompts them to think more about themselves, their relationships with others and what they want for their future. This student from Chile expresses such sentiment. I'm publishing it in its original Spanish. He says it's been fun for him to write about the activities he enjoys, what he thinks about issues, and his day-to-day life, knowing that someone far away will take a few minutes to read what a Chilean adolescent has been doing and learning.

In his words:
"Como último me gustaría decir que ha sido entretenido escribir todos los meses sobre las actividades que me gustan hacer, lo que pienso de algunas cosas y lo que es mi día a día, se siente agradable escribir todo eso y saber que alguien que está muy lejos de acá  va a tomarse unos minutos para leer las cosas que ha hecho y ha aprendido un adolecente chileno. Gracias."

~ Diego, Isla Negra, Chile

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WRA student Madison Moellers co-stars in The Mentalist 4/29/10

Madison Moellers is a 7-year-old WRA student who is co-starring in the April 29, 2010 episode of "The Mentalist". It's on CBS this Thursday evening. The April 9th Entertainment Weekly has a full-page spread of Madison on the set, with this caption:

Baker and Robin Tunney tried to have fun with co-star Madison Moellers, but – stop the presses! – the pint-size  actress wasn’t falling for Baker’s charm. “She wasn’t very interested,” he concedes. “She was playing tough with me. She was a sassy little girl.”

Congratulations, Madison! We hope to see you on the big screen soon!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mom Can't Stop her Kids from Learning

A mother of 4 in Colorado, including a graduating senior, writes:

Thanks again for WRA! I am so relieved that despite some ups and downs here at home, we are able to school the kids this way. I can't keep my kids from learning. They are learning ALL the time, no matter what I do, or don't do! We will continue to travel, read, and learn as much as we can for the rest of our lives. I am thinking about going back to grad school, and we'll just figure out how to mix it all up and enjoy the journey!

~ JoAnn, Longmont, CA  USA

Monday, April 26, 2010

Spring 2010 Offer

I am offering an early bird discount for enrolled families for the 2010-2011. An email went out a couple days ago so I hope families received it. The offer is that if you pay by check or money order made out to WRA/M.Webb and have it postmarked by May 31, 2010, you can save $40 on the enrollment fee. So instead of $325, you pay $285 for the whole family for the year. Also, you can pay for as many years as you wish at this price.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Un estudiante chileno recuerda el terremoto de marzo 2010

Una nueva alumna que vive en Santiago, Chile escribe en su primer informe:

"A principios de este año estudiantil, fuimos afectados por un terremoto, que no dejó tranquilo a nadie. Eran ya el principio del año estudiantil para muchos jóvenes, pero el gobierno de Chile decidió atrasar un tiempo el inicio de clases en los colegios. Esa noche fue la mas larga que recuerdo, y muy chocante. Recuerdo gente corriendo por las calles; el sonido era una fusión de gritos, ladridos de perro, cosas cayendo, gente llorando. Yo estaba muy afectada emocionalmente; fue increíble lo que pasó. Nadie sabía de las familias, cientos de mis amigos estaban perdidos, y empecé a buscarlos por un buscador de personas que habilitó el famoso buscador de “Google”.  Hice perfiles de mis amigos para que sus familias supieran de ellos y sus amigos también, etcétera. Semanas después mis amigos estaban muy agradecidos por mi labor."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Californian's month of Chinese, Literature, Cuisine and Early Childhood Education

A 17-year old young lady from California has impressed me with her writing style from the time she submitted her educational biography right up to this monthly report for March 2010. The report must be one full page, single-spaced, and it must focus on the learning that took place during the month. I'm including hers in its entirety to give an example of an outstanding and captivating essay.

"My March calendar was loaded with so many countless events that I thought it might burst.  Being incredibly busy, it wasn’t until now when I stopped to think that I realized just how much I learned this past month:  so much more than I imagined!

In world news and events I studied the mistreatment of women.  I learned more about the terrible domestic abuse and human rights violations against many women in the Middle East as well as of the horrors of the Thai sex trade.  Such atrocities are horrendous and I will continue trying to find ways to help.  I also educated myself further in Chinese current events and culture.

The amount of Chinese I’ve managed to learn in only a few months thoroughly amazes me.  It seems as though each week I become progressively faster at learning Mandarin!  So, during March I especially improved my Mandarin skills.  Last month I had the wonderful privilege of meeting my friend’s aunt visiting with her non-English-speaking husband and two little children from Shanghai, China.  Listening to the family engage in Mandarin and being able to understand snippets and even chunks of their conversations was utterly thrilling!  I was especially excited to find that I could understand quite a lot of what the children were saying.  Although I was too scared to venture speaking a little Chinese to the adults, I managed to work up the courage to partake in limited Chinese banter with the five-year-old girl, Anna.   She was so shocked and excited to hear me speaking her language that she decided to practice a bit of English with me!  It was absolutely adorable.  She even brought me one of her beautiful drawings for me to write my American name and Chinese name - 楚睿恩 (Chǔ Ruì ēn) – on.  Anna was quite happy discovering that part of my name睿 (ruì) was also part of her Chinese name.  Since January I have acquired and – to my great delight - retained the knowledge to read and write over 160 Chinese characters, over a third of which I learned in March.   I utilized these skills as I handwrote essays and dialogues in Chinese characters for exams.

Learning so many Chinese characters also helped me with not only reading and writing Japanese kanji, but also in understanding the origins of many Japanese words.  Though Japanese and Chinese sound very different, the more I study Chinese, the more I come to realize the many seemingly subtle similarities between the two languages.

Whether I sing in Chinese, Japanese, or English, the emotion of my voice consistently grows deeper in expression, and its clarity rings stronger and stronger.  During March I constantly sang in front of class, learning to sing various styles of music.  Performing  in an encouraging environment has helped me better learn to manifest nerves in a such a way that is not destructive to one’s health or performance and to build more courage to sing in front of audiences.  I’ve experienced development of my singing technique and the quality of my voice, both of which continue to improve.

What has also grown stronger this past month is my ability to write stories full of vibrant detail, and intrigue.   Reading well-written, engaging literature created a cycle as the reading improved my writing and the writing improved my reading.

I’ve also improved in quickness and efficiency of cooking dis,hes and meals, and have improved in making them appear even more appetizingly beautiful.  With ease, I now can quickly de-scale and debone a salmon before using a new, pretty wrapping-style to wrap my mushroom wontons.  To my amazement, such a wrapping-style holds the wontons together quite nicely.  With sugary or fattening foods I’ve unveiled more tricks to make the treats healthier while deceptively delicious.  These tricks are especially handy when I cook for the children I babysit.

One new chapter in my continuing saga of Early Childhood Education involved  a great deal of hands-on experience, as for several days I cared for a flu-stricken toddler spewing his half-digested breakfast all over his dinosaur pajamas as well and anything else that happened to be around him.  Using a very stubborn 8-year-old boy as my guinea-pig, I also found ways to discipline effectively without resorting to punishment.

I feel accomplished and satisfied with how hard I worked to learn in March and will strive to do the same during the remaining weeks of April."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Graduating senior realizes the importance of family

West River Academy's High School Diploma Program requires students to write an educational biography detailing their years of learning and then to submit monthly reports on their learning activities. Here is an excerpt from a report that came in today:

"A very important part of this month was my being able to finally visit my grandfather, Paw Paw. He has been in hospice care for the past couple of months. My family was unable to visit him though, due to scheduling problems. So when spring break approached we were finally able to take a week off to visit him. He lives in Oklahoma City, and it is difficult for our family to schedule trips when we can all go. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life. My grandfather is losing his eyesight and is mostly deaf. He is also unable to walk, and is in a wheelchair. The only way he really knows who we are is through sound or feeling. We all spent time holding his hands; my grandmother says it helps him feel safe. My siblings took turns playing the piano for him, and I knew then that those hours would be some of the last memories I would have with him. As I sat there and held his hand, looking into his eyes, I realized that in this life the only thing that really matters is family. Despite our living far away, because we are family we are bonded by a love that keeps us close. Looking around the nursing home, I could see many other faces of people with no family there, and then I would look at how happy my grandparents were for us to be there, and I realized that no matter where we go, I will always love them because they are my grandparents.
    "While we were in Oklahoma City, we also visited many other places. One of the most prominent places is the Oklahoma Science Museum. As a child, my parents took me to this museum almost every week. It is better than I remember. They have added countless new exhibits and the old ones have been well kept. My little siblings were running from one thing to another, they had too many things to see and too little time! It was incredible to see their new found interest in science, and it sparked mine as well. I remembered how curious of the world I was as a child, and it was very touching to see the innocent and curious nature of a child’s mind. It was a very educational trip. The Oklahoma Science Museum is packed with exhibits that educate and challenge the mind. From math to science to history, it covers nearly anything you can think of. The best thing about the museum is everything is hands on. Their motto is “Please Touch,” which is fantastic, because the best way for children to learn is for them to try things themselves. Throughout my first two years of high school, I was trying to educate myself because my teachers told me to. These past two years of home schooling, I have been trying to regain my thirst for knowledge. This museum has definitely helped spark my curiosity with science and I hope to take that with me to college next year."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New homeschooling mom gets it and son thrives

Here's an email from a new homeschooling mom. It shows what happens when we let the kids lead:
"Evan had asked me what a photon was. I mentioned to him that I knew it was part of physics but I wasn't sure exactly what type of particle it was, so we should look it up together. He mentioned that he heard about it from a cartoon. We got into a long search and discussion which turned into a lesson that lasted a few days about quantums, quarks and the formula for the speed of light (which to this DAY he still has was almost 2 weeks ago) . After all was said and done, he joked, "That'll teach me to ask YOU a question!" we both got a big kick out of it and he really took notes, which was something he doesn't relish. We both learned a lot. :)"