January 15, 2015

A New Normal

Our Steven Ray has attended four different elementary schools in his short school-career. And this month, he began at a fifth. It's in our home, though.
After moving to Las Vegas a few years ago, we had a few concerns about the quality of education our children would receive through the school district. After leaving Abilene, where we knew our kiddo was getting an amazing education, we were a little taken back by the statistics coming out of Clark County School District. However, we did not feel the immediate need to make any drastic decisions and decided to enroll him in our nearby elementary school for first grade. We did this with the mindset that if it didn't go well, we'd pull him out and figure something else out. But first grade went quite well! So, we put him in for second grade and he had another great year with a fantastic teacher. However, at this point the elementary school was beginning to have an issue with overcrowding. There was a fourth grade class at his school with 38 students in it. And just one teacher. There were portable buildings taking up some of what was formerly play-space outside. I'm sure the students in these small rooms all had fun and learned all their schooly things just fine. But, it just didn't seem like the most awesome school environment to us. So, when this school year was drawing near and we were looking to have three children attending, we decided to try to get the kids into a charter school. Since no one is zoned for a charter school and they only take "so many" students, we thought this would be a great way to get a smaller student to teacher ratio. The kids all got into a local charter school not far from our home and we were pleased. When we went to the meet-the-teacher night, I realized that Jack was in a Kindergarten class with 30 other students and there was no teacher's aide or assistant. And that Steven's third-grade class contained nametags ready to go for 32 students. Wow. That's a LOT of children in one classroom with one teacher. But, it went well. Jack was a little bored after a few weeks. As a fluent reader, tracing the letter M and counting things was not really his idea of a good time. Gabby only had 24 kids in her class but that teacher we met on meet-the-teacher night (and gave a gift card to for classroom supplies!) never re-appeared and Gabby had a long-term substitute in her classroom until Christmas break. Steven came home with some good-looking history and geography lessons for homework but his math left Steve scratching his head. He was kind of just going back over concepts he's already been over for months on end last year...and the year before. Then, social media started blowing up with our school district's new proposal for sex-education curriculum that was slightly beyond disturbing. The parents of hundreds of students stormed school board meetings demanding and begging for their voices to be heard regarding this issue. It was about this time in the school-year that Steve and I started talking about the idea of homeschooling.
 It kind of surprised both of us as we had written off homeschooling LONG ago as something that was just not for us. We're not extreme. We like people. We don't want to hide in our house covering our kids' eyes and pretending the world isn't out there. We don't want them to grow up not knowing how to small-talk or deal with difficult people or comfortably socialize in a large group. We don't want them to get to college and go, "But my mom said this is how you do it." We had quite a list. Also, I don't wear dresses that often. And my hair isn't long and I don't make clothes. We have tattoos. We listen to inappropriate music sometimes and we yell at our kids. Homeschooling was just not for us.
At first, we weren't sure why we were talking about it. Are we thinking of homeschooling because Gabby has had a substitute all year? Is it because Steven's not moving on to new concepts in math and it seems like he should be? Is it because of the large class sizes? Is it because we see how the content of our kids' education is left to a school board and we don't have as much control over what they hear and see in the classroom as we feel like we should? Is it because getting up early and taking them to school is lame and I would like to sleep a little later? The thing is, none of those reasons is enough to stop life in it's tracks and flip our family-life upside-down and change our entire function as a family. Those reasons are good and important and real (except maybe the sleeping-in one). But they are not enough. Not enough to get us through a really rough patch of parent/teacher: child/student conflict. Not enough to sacrifice the one part of school my kids' adore: their friends. Those reasons are not enough for us to make this change. But the fact that we knew God was leading our family this way - the fact that our hearts felt drawn toward this decision even when our heads wanted to send us running and screaming in the other direction - was enough. We feel that our faith in The Lord, our desire to please Him in our parenting and in growing our family, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit was what led us to pull our kids out of the classroom and take over their educational needs in our home. So we did. We let them finish out the calendar year and the last school day before Christmas was their last day at school for a while. We don't know for how long. We don't know where we'll be by the high-school years. But we know that right now, this year we are doing what we are supposed to be doing for our kids. So, here we are. With a teacher's manual, some new pencils, a bunch of little books and a half-naked toddler running around, we are in our second week of homeschooling our three kids. And so far, we are all loving it.