Monday, January 16, 2012

Dilemma

Over the years, I have announced many educational decisions here on this blog:  We have been homeschooling, but now we're putting this kid in public school; now we're pulling that one out, sending this one to private school, and doing the virtual school with this other one.

I suppose I could worry about consistency and gaps in our kids' education, but I prefer to think that responding to their needs each year--even each semester--is more important than thoroughness.  Especially when I quiz them on things we learned three years ago--memorable things like big projects and field trips--and discover that they barely recall them.  So much for thoroughness!  Their minds retain the most-used skills and information, plus whatever random facts and experiences stick.  I think providing an environment rich in learning opportunities is something I strive for more than consistency.

We're at another of these crossroads, now, where I feel that something is not working anymore for one of our kids.  Usually, I feel a pretty strong sense of what they need, and that intuition seems to come through prayer, accompanied by a sense of peace about the decision. Papa R has always been very supportive of me and of homeschooling, and he tends to prefer it for our kids, but when I feel it's not working for some reason, he listens and prays with me about other options.

I am grateful that we have such a variety of options to consider, but this time, I'm really having trouble discerning what is best for B12, in 7th grade.  He'll be B13 in a month.  He's enrolled in iQ Academy, a virtual school here in Wisconsin, which worked really well for him last year.  It was just the right amount of challenge--more and bigger assignments that required more writing and critical thinking than he was used to--yet they weren't overwhelming, and the teachers were pretty easy on the grading.

I thought this year would be a piece of cake for him, now that he knew how it worked; plus this year he has the companionship of B16, who's enrolled in the same program, in the 10th grade.  B16 is doing fine with it, but B12 is really struggling with motivation and focus.  One assignment can take him all day, or two days.  He lets himself get distracted very easily--nothing new, for him--but it's also as if his engine is idling and just can't accelerate when he needs it to.  He's kind of mopey.  Nothing seems to motivate him.  He hasn't been allowed to see his friends for weeks, because every weekend, he still has homework left over from the week. He started guessing his way through the multiple choice assignments, I discovered, rather than looking up the information.  So half the time, he's just not learning anything.

He's much more motivated if I sit with him and we work together; but that's not something I have time for every day!  I'm committed to doing his math with him--and geometry with B16--because math is the subject they get the most frustrated, confused and lost in.  But it's my least-favorite subject, and too much math just fritters away at my sense of contentment and well-being, and then I need a break to go do a refreshing load of laundry, or some errands, to ease the anxiety about all that I'm not accomplishing while I sit and do math.  Social studies or science assignments do not have the same easing effect for me, especially when they tend to be time-consuming, and I have to hold myself back from writing the dang essay for him, just to get it over with.  But they are the ones that take him soooo long.

So what to do with B12?  I think he needs a classroom to boost him out of his slump.  Ideally, there would be stimulating teachers, wholesome students and lots of time in class to do assignments, with minimal homework so he would still have time after school for piano, theater and soccer.  The Christian school is not known for minimal homework or for a particularly stimulating curriculum--too much memorization for memorization's sake, in my opinion.  (Even a retired teacher, who was staying with us once and who helped Blondechick study for a test, couldn't believe the detail she was asked to memorize.)  It was not a bad thing for Blondechick or B16, but the cost was steep for what was not a totally ideal educational experience.  Plus they put 7th-12th grades together there, and from a social standpoint, that would not be good for B12.

So we have the public middle school, and our biggest concern about it is probably the other kids.  B12 is pretty innocent, although he does share a room with a not-so-innocent teenage brother, so I know he knows stuff.  But he's a pretty deep pool, and the surface waters are relatively tranquil.  They're likely to stay that way, I think, even if we put him in public school.  But the wrong friends can do a number on any kid this age.

In the past two weeks, I've discovered that we know three girls in the 7th grade at the middle school that he would go to. I've talked to them and their mothers, and I've heard how much their girls love middle school--more than their elementary schools--and their teachers, and their friends there. "Everyone is so nice," two of them said.  "I feel like I'm learning a lot," one said. "The teachers have been fabulous," two of the moms said. I heard from a Christian high school girl that the kids who come out of this middle school are "all the best kids" at the big high school.

So now this school seems like a much friendlier option, and I'm wondering whether we ought to just move him there in a week, when the new semester begins.  Maybe plan on having him finish this year there and do one more in 8th grade. That's what B16 tells me we should do.  He thinks his own experience going to school for 8th and 9th grade was good discipline for him.  He learned he could do more than he thought, faster than he thought, and now he is able to focus and crank out the work when he needs to, and then have time for guitar practice, voice lessons, song-writing, theater rehearsals and other things he cares most about.

That's what I want for B12 too, and I fear he won't have time for other things if he's locked up in school all day.  But maybe the short-term pain will be a long-term gain for him.  He's not finding much time for other things anyway, when he's dragging out every assignment--and not because he's fascinated and learning so much.  Just the opposite--he's stuck in a swamp of lethargy. He is bright, and he's capable of taking an intrinsic interest in a subject, but he's just not feelin' it most days. Blondechick thought he seemed depressed, but I wonder if he is bored. I keep thinking that he'll come alive in a classroom environment. And if I'm wrong, better to be committed to only a half a year.

But he's not sure about starting mid-year.  He sounds more willing to try the public middle school for 8th grade, although he's torn because the virtual school may start a new program next year where they actually buy you a laptop and it's yours to keep (and get serviced at Best Buy, instead of by the school).  The prospect of his own laptop blinds him, even though B16 pointed out that he could still come back and do the virtual school for high school and get his own laptop then. He'd rather not wait that long, though, although he likes the idea of going to the middle school for one year, maybe.  Maybe for 8th grade, he says.

I think he may need more than one year of the structure and discipline that school would force upon him, so I'm leaning toward starting him now, but I don't feel perfect peace about it.  He wants another chance to redeem himself and do better second semester.  I think he would, and I know I would check in with him more often this time.  Since it was old hat to him, and all new to B16, I spent more time with B16 and trusted B12 when he told me he was caught up.  B12 insists he didn't realize he had skipped assignments, and while I find it hard to believe, I will check the gradebook more regularly myself, if we continue.

Another possibility is to go back to our traditional homeschooling model, which was a lot of reading, but not a lot of assignments or testing, except in math.  He tells me that's what he'd really like.  But in his current malaise, I fear he would learn only a fraction of what he should be learning for 7th grade.  We have friends that use Charlotte Mason's methods, with the Ambleside Online curriculum, and I could see B12 doing better with that because it would require more parental involvement--he needs the stimulation of other minds right now--and because of the other friend to discuss ideas with.

But he could easily fall into learning the bare minimum with it, too; plus the thought exhausts me, right now.  Papa R actually wonders whether he could be the one to take over B12's education if we did this--the dad in the other family is very involved--but we both know that the day-to-day pushing would have to come from me.  And with his traveling and responsibilities with the church, PR's evenings are often tied up. Though I'd consider this possibility further for the future, it doesn't seem like a good mid-year option to me--it feels like a gear shift that won't go smoothly.

So, no easy answer this time!  We have one more week before the semester ends/begins, and we should probably go in to the middle school and check it out.  If that's the way we should go, and I'm leaning that way, I'll pray for confirmation.  I already did, once, to ask the Lord if we should seriously consider it, and then He sent me those three girls and their moms, in a period of 4 days.

I'm telling myself it doesn't mean the timing is right, though.  Putting him in school next week will shake up our comfortable schedule. He will miss morning prayer with his dad and his brothers--B20and B16--which they've been doing a couple days a week. He'll be gone from 7:30 till 4:30 every day, and he'll have to go to bed much earlier.  That won't leave much time for homework or piano practice.  Not sure how that will work at all on theater and piano lesson nights--and he wants to play soccer again this spring instead of doing another show, which is two school nights (theater is just one). But it would be the same dilemma in 8th grade, and other kids manage somehow. Blondechick and B16 did, and I know they profited from it.  B16 is so much more appreciative and able to take advantage of homeschooling now!

Eh, this is too long.  But it helps to ramble it out, so if you're still with me, thank you, and feel free to share any advice or thoughts you might have!

2 comments:

momco3 said...

I'd think about depression, as Blondchick mentioned. I'll pray for him.

At A Hen's Pace said...

MomCO3, thanks for your prayers! We have given some thought to her suggestion. He was quieter over break, when she was home and we had so much going on, but day-to-day he is full of jokes and humor and creativity--we only see the uninspired side when it comes to schoolwork, and even then he seems to enjoy his assignments when he stops fooling around long enough to focus on them! Something to monitor, though. Thanks again!

~Jeanne