Our Home School Journey- The First Week of School!!!

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The First Day of School! Both of my kids sitting at their own work space; my daughter is on her father’s computer and my son is working on the brand new computer sent by the Georgia Cyber Academy.

A few weeks ago, I announced on my blog and other social network platforms, that my husband and I made the decision to take our two youngest kids’ education into our own hands. After several months of disappointment and watching the standard of education grow increasingly worse, we decided pulling them out of the traditional brick-and-mortar school and enrolling them into a home school program was what we needed to do. And after one week, I am more than sure that our decision was the best for our kids!

Before I go any further, I have to say this: When I un-enrolled my kids from their middle schools, (my son was in a regular middle school, while my daughter was in a Magnet middle school), I was not only irritated, I was very disappointed in the negative feedback the schools counselors gave me when I told them about our decision. Did I walk in the door singing the praises of home schooling and telling them to their faces how disappointed I was to ask my kids every day what they learned and their faces went blank, only to hear about all the negative issues they experienced when NOT getting their questions answered or understanding what an assignment was all about? Did I go in throwing teachers names around, complaining about the lack of communication, help, and attention my kids had received? No, I didn’t. I simply walked in, notified them of the need to withdraw my kids. Simple. Then the conversation went like this:

Counselor: So what school are they transferring to?

Me: We’re home schooling them. They’ve been accepted into the Georgia Cyber Academy.

Counselor: Home school? Do you know how many parents pull their kids out, get tired of it and come running back crying to enroll their kids? They should have left them here.

Me: *Quietly fuming and holding my tongue, trying my best not to tell her exactly how I feel about this school because going off on her would not be setting a good example for my children at this moment.*

Counselor: Some parent’s bite off more than they can chew. Well, just know, once they’re enrolled, you can’t bring them back until next year.

Me: I don’t plan on bringing them back. My husband and I have made a decision that’s best for our kids. We’ve got this.

Counselor: *smirks as she walks off to get the paperwork completed*

I can’t tell you the amount of cursing that went on under my breath! Did I ask this woman for her personal opinion? Who was she to tell me that I would fail in undertaking this journey? I carried my children in my womb for nine months. I gave birth to them and have taken care of them all of their lives. My husband and I know how intelligent our kids are and how to work with them to help them understand in ways teachers don’t. All we need are the tools to guide them in the right direction. And that is exactly what the Georgia Cyber academy has given us. For FREE!!!!

Sorry to rant a bit, but that seriously pissed me off! So, parents…if you decide this path is what you want to take, your school is going to feel the need to have something negative to say about it. I’d like to think it was because they were truly concerned about my kids’ education, but let’s be real. It’s all about numbers. The more kids they have enrolled in their school, the more money they can get from the state. Period. Personally, I prefer my tax dollars to go to the program that’s working for my kids!

Now, onto the good stuff! There is so much information to share! I can’t do it all in one post, so for now I’ll stick to the basics of this week.

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‘Live’ Life Science class where the teacher is revealing blacked out answers to questions she’s asked the students.

Our first day back from Christmas Break starts with enthusiasm from my daughter, and grumpiness from my son, who was under the misguided impression that ‘home school’ meant sleeping in and getting work done when he decides to get up….NOT!!!

I dive in with gusto and make a nice breakfast, excited to get the day started. Once the kids wipe the sleep from their eyes, they realize they are about to embark on a new experience. It’s no longer something we talk about…it’s happening…right now! Their eyes beaming, they are in their seats by 8:30 and ready to go! (My goal is to keep them on as normal  a schedule as possible, so they don’t feel the need to forget the daytime is about learning, not chilling out and getting to it when they feel like it.

Like all schools, there is a brief adjustment period for new students and their teachers to get to know one another. My kids are enrolling in the new semester, joining other kids who have been here since school started in August. Just like enrolling into a brand new school, it takes time to get schedules set up, and home room teachers assigned. But with the Georgia Cyber Academy, they take it a step farther.

The first week is all about the teachers assessing the students and their individual learning abilities. The kids have their own log in profiles, (to which the parents have complete access to through an account of their own), and a day-to-day outline of activities in Science, Math, English/Language Arts, and Social Studies. The assignments for the day are outlined in their student accounts, and is also available in the parent’s account.

The program has sent everything they need to ensure they have full access to the state’s mandatory curriculum. Test books, student work books, literature books for reading assignments (no need to run to the library or book store for a specific novel!), as well as the fun stuff, like a microscope, slides, rocks, sand, and various other items typically found in a Science class room. And my favorite….a brand new computer and Ink Jet printer! The point is, my kids have everything they need to continue getting the same type, if not better, education in the comfort of home, as they would if they were in a brick-and-mortar school.

My husband and I have access to books of our own – learning coach guides- which deal with the breakdown of each subject they are studying, along with answer keys to the worksheets done for practice. There are also plenty of online recordings for us to take advantage of when we need help, live support classes, and the ability to email the teachers or other parents for one-on-one assistance and encouragement if we get confused or discouraged.

The first thing my kids do when logging in to check their daily schedules is see what classes require online ‘live’ class participation. Simply put, that means they follow a link from their schedules which takes them to a virtual class room filled with other students in their grade. There are two teachers in the room along with however many students log in at that time. The classes are recorded for those who may not be available to join at that time or for students to return to in case there is something they don’t understand. Awesome, right?

Instead of the traditional chalk board seen in brick-and-mortar schools, the teachers present Power Point presentations. They can use a virtual mouse to point to different things and use a virtual ‘pen’ to write on the ‘white board’. At times, they turn on a function that allows the kids to use their mouse and write on the board as well. All of this can be seen by other students. There are many opportunities for class participation through reading out loud. How is this done? The teacher can pick a student, or they can raise their ‘virtual hand’, and the teacher will turn on their microphone (also provided by the school) so they can read from the slide presentation. How cool is that? My son loves this and takes advantage of it as many times as he can.  There are also review questions asked where the students answer by putting their comments in the chat box. The teachers are quick to acknowledge their responses by calling their names as their answers hit the screen. Students are also sent study guides and the Power Point Presentation which they can save to their computer for quick reference, or print out for their folders.

As I said, there is a lot of stuff to share, but one thing I know for sure, this next week will be different. Remember when I stated the work they did last week was a part of evaluating their learning abilities? The teachers have reviewed their test (yes, they have online tests taken per unit, and believe me, how that works is an entirely different story!) From now on, the teachers will tailor their weekly assignments to them specifically. Can’t wait to see how that goes!

Oh and one more thing, and this is amazing….

My son and daughter, ages thirteen and twelve, who have fussed and argued nearly every day during Christmas break, spent the week laughing, helping each other if there was something in an assignment the other didn’t understand, and even worked together doing chores….only ONE ARGUMENT during the entire week!!!! If I had to guess, it was because for once, they were not under any negative influences or stress they dealt with during a regular school day. And that among everything else, makes this entire experience worthwhile!

Look out for my next post in two weeks!

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MJ

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Home Schooling vs. Traditional Schooling…Yep, We’re Making the Change!

homeLast week, I posted this message on my Facebook page:

Over the last few weeks, my hubby and I made the decision to pull our youngest kids out if school and sign them up for home school. They just got accepted into the program this week. So after Christmas break, no more traditional education.

This morning I got an automated call from the middle school saying they have upgraded security. You can no longer walk into the building without announcing your presence by calling the number listed on the now locked front door. The building had already been locked down, only allowing access to the front office. At this moment, I couldn’t be any prouder with our decision!

To my surprise, thirty-one people liked it and many commented, sharing the fact that they too were home schooling their kids. I had no idea!!

My husband and I have toyed with the idea of home school off and on for the past five years. Then our oldest got accepted into a Fine Arts Magnet program for Orchestra when in the ninth grade. For four years he participated in the program and we watched what started out as a wonderful opportunity start to slowly go downhill as the county had issues with funding and teachers. At the beginning of his senior year, the amazing Orchestra teacher who had been a part of the program left just two weeks before the start of the school. For several months, the program was without a qualified teacher and my son, who had worked hand-in-hand with his teacher, stepped up to handle the class as much as he could until they found a replacement. But, it was never the same. He has since graduated and is now attending college to get his Bachelors Degree in Music. His goal: become a music teacher.

One of my daughters followed in his footsteps and joined the Fine Arts Magnet Program three years ago and is taking Art. Her skills are amazing and she has learned a lot. Now in the eleventh grade, she has only one year left before graduation.

My youngest children are in the sixth and seventh grade, one in a Fine Arts Magnet Middle school for Art, the other attends the local middle school. School has been in session for five months, and we are not satisfied with what our kids are learning or how the teachers are handling our children’s education. After listening to my kids, it seems more time is spent on handling class disruptions than education. The teachers are stretched thin, underpaid, and expected to stay on track with the curriculum. When a student doesn’t understand something, chances are they may or may not get a chance to ask questions and fail assignments because the teacher does not have time to go back over it. Yep, pretty sure a lot of parents have heard this story. So what happens? Your child is frustrated because they fail an assignment, their confidence is destroyed, and it’s harder to encourage them to see the value of their education.

Add the issues of bullying, disrespectful children back talking to teachers, threats of violence, and drugs…

Ask your child what they leaned today and the most you get is a story about yet another fight in class or the fact someone has on the latest Jorden’s and you have to wonder, what are you sending them to school for???

This year, my husband started a concerted effort to learn more about home schooling process. After several phone calls, emails, and online chats with the program coordinators with the Georgia Cyber Academy, we made the decision to sign up our youngest children for the program. Imagine our happiness when we got the approval email saying they were accepted! They have only one week left in traditional school. After Christmas break, they will be learning from home!

The whole concept of the Georgia Cyber Academy is new for me and is going to be as much of a learning experience for me and my husband as it will be for the kids. Here are a few of the preconceived notions I had in the beginning and what I’ve learned so for:

MYTH: You have to have a background in education in order to teach your kids from home.

False! The online programs are set up so that your children receive assignments and take their classes at home, on the computer. They have teachers assigned to assist them. They have scheduled online, real-time class participation with their teacher. If they have questions, they can call, email, or chat with their teacher directly at any time. Learning is more one-on-one than having your student get lost in a sea of 30 plus kids in a classroom. If your child has a learning disability, they have Special Education teachers who will work with you weekly, ensuring your children’s continued growth and education. Entrance exams are given which enable the teacher to develop a system of learning specific to your children’s learning abilities. So whether you child is gifted or needs a little more help, it’s all about them!

MYTH: As a parent, it’s your responsibility to sit and hold your students hand all day while they work in class.

FALSE! Yes, some of your time will be involved, but you will not have to hold their hands. As a Learning Coach, your job is to prep your students for their daily assignments, assist them as they need help, and from time to time, assist them in certain assignments (such as science experiments, etc.) With the higher grades (middle school and high school), and especially if your children are proficient with the basics of using a computer, you don’t have to sit holding their hands throughout each assignment. You are responsible for keeping track of the time it takes to complete an assignment and enter this information as part of their attendance record. There are parent/teacher conferences, Parent Support Meetings with other parents, and the ability to connect directly with the teacher if you need help explaining something to your child.

MYTH: My kids won’t have any friends.

FALSE! The home school community has plenty of programs, clubs, and activities that allow the students, and parents, to connect online and in person. Field trips, parties, and other activities are designed for not only the student, but the parents as well. It’s like a whole new hidden world!

MYTH: They won’t graduate.

FALSE! Home school students must still take the same standardized tests as children do in school, including the Graduation Test, and yes, there is a graduation. (Not sure off the details of the graduation, but I read about it. LOL, with a sixth and seventh grader, I’ve got a ways to go before we get there!)

And last but not least:

MYTH: I can’t afford to pay for the program.

FALSE! The program we are participating in, the Georgia Cyber Academy, is F-R-E-E!!!!!! They will be providing all of the equipment, books, even a computer and printer needed in order to get online.

So, 2014 is going to be an interesting year for my family. Did I mention we gave our kids the option of doing school online versus staying in school? When they found out the difference in the education (online interactive learning vs. standard textbook), the fact that they will have more one-on-one learning opportunities and be able to work at their own pace, they jumped on board! No coercion, no special promises or begging. My oldest, which has one year left before graduation, opted to stay in school and she has our continued support. You can believe there will be blogs coming out of this experience!

So, what about you? If you’ve had experiences with teaching your kids at home, I’d LOVE to hear them!

 

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Thank you for stopping by! I love to make new friends. Got questions or comments? Leave a comment, or connect with me online! If you’ve enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter by following this blog!

MJ

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