Friday, August 14, 2015

Back to School An Alternative Way


I love learning. The easy way. The hard way. All of it. The only lessons which ever really bother me are the ones about opportunities which offer more than they realistically can. Even though I'm guilty of doing the same, I consistently set my mind on taking stock of what is realistic and authentic for me, and I make it a goal to embrace and communicate that. Generally speaking, the same is true for situations and individuals which disappoint me, so I respond with compassion. One glaring exception to this is the public school system.

This kids heading out to school 8/15.
As both a student and teacher, I've witnessed that the public school system both sets unrealistic expectations and has no apparent motivation to recognize and change this. Some educators excel at making the best of the guidelines they must follow, but virtually none of those who stay more than a handful of years focus on changing the guidelines themselves. In principle, this is fine. The "make the best of it" teachers set a good example for coping with life and can make school a meaningful experience for most students. However, this isn't (and wasn't ever) enough for me.

I wanted an education which would rip me apart and then show me how to piece myself together again, with more depth, grace and understanding than I would have held otherwise. No one school was ever quite up to the challenge. However, I did feel very fortunate to attend grades 2-12 at Darlington School, where the teachers challenged me in delightful ways and where I had the freedom to wander through creeks between classes, edit a magazine on the weekend and (on many counts) make my own way with a very enriching set of creative and academic tools at my disposal.

A similar approach could work for my children.  However, a few things have changed in the 15 or so years since I graduated from high school. First, the economy has suffered, making local private education both more expensive and more standardized. Second, homeschooling, un-schooling and hybrid schooling have become increasingly viable and dynamic alternatives to both traditional public and private education. Third, on a personal level, my children each have auditory processing differences and receive speech language therapy. My son Valor also has a sensory processing disorder which requires occupation therapy and has resulted in many developmental delays. In public school, my children would most likely have waited around 6 months to receive individualized education plans which allow for limited accommodations within a large inclusive classroom or which mandate their admittance into a separate program which keeps them apart from other students. Private schools likely would not accept either of them until steady therapy and time result in them scoring different admittance test results. This is why my children are legally home school students who are making use of some excellent non-traditional learning centers to have a balanced and fulfilling K-12 education.

Yes. It requires me to travel a bit, but I welcome the changes in my scene as much as my children do.

I want to spend the rest of this post giving props to the organizations which make my children's education possible. If you live in Northwest Georgia or Atlanta, please check them out as well. If not, I suggest you search the internet for terms such as "hybrid schooling," "nontraditional education centers," "after school programs" and "home school enrichment groups." I was so determined to find an alternative for my daughter back when she was in kindergarten, I felt like I Googled Education Play Station into existence. Here are the details.

Education Play Station: This is the foundation. It meets 5 days a week for my 7-year-old daughter's 1st/2nd grade hybrid class & 3 days a week for my 4-year-old son's creative learning preschool. The program is half day with optional opportunities to continue learning much later into the afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays. EPS also offers family-centered field trips throughout the year, a spring recital and camps in the summer. It has Christian undertones but is accepting of people from a variety of faiths.

SoulShine Homesteading: This after school program offers full time and part time enrollment from 2:30 pm - 6:30 pm daily with extended time available during school holidays. Children receive help with homework, complete creative projects, contribute to a community garden, go on field trips, play outside and make believe in a secular and inclusive environment. There are also opportunities to collaborate on service projects with Heifer and the Atlanta community.

When my children are learning, I'm working from my lap top and spending time caring for myself by going on nature walks, reading or contributing to my passions. This puts me a good space when I pick them up, and we are often ready to do more educational exploring together. Some of the other places we learn and play are these:

Imagine It! Atlanta Children's Museum

Fernbank Museum of Natural History

Georgia Human Rights Center 

Tellus Science Museum

Lake Claire Community Land Trust 

High Museum of Art

Wonderoot

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