Why Not Me?

Standard

Last week a student sat in the hard wooden chair to my left, brow furrowed just a bit, focused on the notes, violin under chin, playing away. Her dream is to go to college for veterinarian medicine. Fiddling is her fun hobby. Her mother said she wants to get into a really competitive school. Only certain top students get in.

A few weeks ago, my own son toured Notre Dame University, wide eyed and lovestruck with the culture the school oozes from its very own pores. Notre Dame accepts 18% of their applicants yearly. The current freshman class beat out thousands of other applicants, over 100 of which graduated high school scoring  perfect SAT’s and ACT’s.

What would change if my sweet violinist and my gifted son ask themselves – Why. Not. Me?

Somebody is at vet school. In fact there are lots of people at vet school or it wouldn’t exist. Lots of somebodies make up that 18% that Notre Dame tells YES each year. What if, instead of looking at the wall, we looked at the opportunity?

How could simply changing the dialogue change the outcome?

Where in your life should you be asking Why. Not. Me?

What Single Decision Changed Your Life?

Standard

There was an essay contest, and I wrote a piece for it.  And then, I wrote another piece.  And what I couldn’t rectify is that my life isn’t really made up of single decisions.  It is a world of decisions each and every day that could have gone differently.  Little moments defining and shaping character in the mundane.  And in my quandary and my inability to edit my writing, I missed the deadline to win my $3000 and a trip to New York.  Alas, all is well.  Because now I still own my writing and can share it here, with you. Here is one of several answers I could have written.

What Single Decision Changed Your Life?

“Are you Christian or hippie?”

I stared, a little confused, not understanding the question.  She went on to explain that the only other person she’d met that homeschooled children had told her that all homeschoolers were either Christian or hippie.  (That other person turned out to be my future homeschooling momma friend who falls squarely into the hippie category.  I mean, she’s certified La Leche and she makes her own sunscreen.)

Meanwhile, I was standing in this woman’s Annie Sloan paint shop, holding a quilted cloth bag I had sewn myself, wearing a tank and shorts and a bandana doorag for hair decor, when she asked me that question. And I believed in Jesus. Oh, the indecision was excruciating!

The main problem with my internal struggle was not exactly how I might answer the question, but that I would have been mistaken for any kind of homeschooling momma in the first place.  I hadn’t actually started homeschooling anybody just yet.  It was summer.  All I had done to that point was pay sixty five dollars so that I could legally pull my kids out of the public school system and join a private accountability group.  So maybe, technically, I was a homeschooler. But seriously, I was clueless.

It all started when my husband, Michael, took a job that moved us from our big capital city with a NASA public school and a park in our front yard to a small farming community with an overtaxed school district and overcrowded classrooms.  One small, southern Baptist, private school offered our only nearby alternative.  While touring the public elementary school, I just kept asking over and over again how they met the needs of their students.  The principal, my tour guide, continued to point out the new iPads and bulletin boards in order to reassure me they had it all under control.  In the first grade, the student ratio could be as high as 28:1 before the district would send in help.  No assistants.  One literacy coach or reading recovery employee per school.  In order to qualify for thirty minutes a week with said employee, a student must be two grade levels behind in reading.  Coming from my sweet suburbia with a 12:1 ratio in first grade and assistants provided and support staff available, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Our little one struggled with reading, but at this rate, he wouldn’t qualify for help. The principal offered the PE coach as a tutor, if we got to school before 7am.  All I could think was that I had quit my sweet part time job to do this whole move for the husband’s career, and now that the little one was going off to school, I had plans.  Career re-entry was on my horizon.  It was time to go back to work.  And that school tour was messing with me.

At the end of the tour, I shook that principal’s hand, told him thank you, and that I’d see him in the fall.  He answered back with doubt about our reunion and went back to his office, leaving me wondering what in the world he could mean.  There were only two choices – his school or the southern Baptists – and I really wasn’t aiming for devotionals in math class.

Back in the city, several friends had gone the whole homeschool route, and I had laughed, saying they were C.R.A.Z.Y.  Yet somehow they must have planted that seed, because some nights later, I told Michael I wanted to consider homeschooling. His main concern was that I would become overly stressed and take it out on him when he got home from work.  Or worse yet, make him teach the kiddos something.  I promised that just. would. not. happen.  (Wives and husbands everywhere know I was totally lying through my teeth at this point.)  We agreed to let the idea sit with us for a week before making any rash decisions.

The next morning, the kiddos had soccer, and when I walked up to the field, an old friend was standing there. First thing out of Dee’s mouth, she blurted, “Don’t think we’re crazy, but we’ve made a big decision.  We’re homeschooling next year!”  And with Michael standing right there, I ran up, hugged her, and exclaimed, “We are too!  How wild is that?!”  Poor, poor, Michael.  He never stood a chance.  

In that brief moment, a random encounter with a rare friend in a parking lot out of town, I impulsively declared a path that changed my whole family.

Four years later, we have started another year of homeschooling.  We’ve all grown up quite a bit in these past seasons. I work harder than I have ever worked before. Life is very, very different than any of us imagined. Our educational lessons now extend far beyond classroom walls and seven hours for 180 days. We can also more easily handle the questions thrown at us, such as Christian or hippie?  Inclusive is the correct answer, by the way.

We are inclusive.  We soon discovered that homeschoolers are what I affectionately call fringe people.  People that dance on the fringe of society.  Fringe People.  There are a lot of reasons to choose to educate children at home, and no one family holds the same reason.  Therefore, it is easy to band together as a minority, but it is also easy to segregate because of the plethora of differences.  We have attempted fitting in the various boxes to no avail.  Years one and two hosted many trials with other people’s boxes.  Year three held the dream for something more.  And this year, we embark on a new journey, an educational cooperative that two friends and I designed ourselves.  It is aptly named Learn Bravely.  

Sometimes we play the What IF game at our house.  And then we thank our Jesus we chose the winding, hippie, occasionally rocky, path we did.  Me with a spontaneous declaration to a trusted friend, Michael with his support for his slightly off kilter wife, and the kids with their enthusiasm for adventure – I wouldn’t change any of it.  And none of it would have been possible if we hadn’t made the leap, however C.R.A.Z.Y. it may sound.

The Zoning Board

Standard

I took the kids to another public meeting last night.  This time we went to hear the zoning board.  Lucky for all involved, first we went to the library, so the boys had something to do.

Just to give a little bit of back-story, I was recently asked to join the board for Friends of Historic Brattonsville after volunteering for two years and getting to know several of the long time board members.  Now, Brattonsville is owned by the county as part of their museum system, but Hightower Hall, which sits on a part of the Historic Brattonsville site, is owned by the Friends of Historic Brattonsville.  Since I joined the board, that makes me a Friend, and a representative for the group that owns Hightower Hall.  Hightower Hall is a huge plantation style 150+ year old home on beautiful grounds, and is used for weddings, events, and yearly Civil War reenactments.  The entire operation for all of the combined property brings in quite a bit of revenue and, in 2014 alone, hosted over 26,000 visitors.

Well, right down the road is a landfill/ mining business of sorts.

The current dig and dump site is about five acres and has caused significant trouble for the neighbors.  Back in the day (you know – the 18th/ 19th century and such) Brattonsville Road started out as a trade route, then became a main thoroughfare, and is now a paved country road that was never made to handle dump trucks carrying gravel or logging trucks carrying full loads of timber.  But with the mining operation, that is exactly the kind of traffic travelling up and down the road, which runs right through the middle of the historic site.  The trucks have caused huge pavement issues, and the digging has caused soil degradation and water runoff onto the Friends property already.  This is all not to even mention those 26,000 visitors that cross the road twice on their tour of the grounds.  Needless to say, there is significant foot traffic on a regular basis.  Did I also mention that every publicly schooled third grader in York County is part of the pedestrian visitors crossing that road that the gravel trucks travel?

I am thinking plain sense tells people that these are not ideal neighbors.

Friends of Historic Brattonsville isn’t feeling neighborly love, that’s for sure.

And yet, Mr. Dig and Dump wants to expand his operation.  Double it?  Nope.  Quadruple it?  Nada.  He wants to expand it to around thirty acres.  Six times its current size.  And.  He wants to dig down seventy feet.  And.  He wants to only provide the minimum easements required by the county.

This gets us back to the zoning board.

Apparently only immediate neighbors have to be told about zoning issues and said neighbors are given a week’s notice.  The neighbors including Friends of Historic Brattonsville.  Plus, it is spring break, we just finished a major event, and guess who is the only board member available for Thursday night?  The homeschooling mom.  The one member that has been to one whole board meeting.  The one that has never in her life been to a zoning meeting.  The one that embarrassed herself in a TV interview nine years ago and has not been on camera since.  Me.  (I feel like this would be a good time to mention Jesus using the weak and such.  Just saying.  But I did volunteer to go, so I could also mention the whole have faith and be available part as well.)

So…here we are, sitting in the meeting, and there is of course a TV camera to follow up on the newspaper article covering the dispute, and I am quickly trying to figure out what to say when it is my time to speak, and all I can think of is what I tell my kids when we go to the grocery store.

If your fun infringes on others’ shopping pleasure, you aren’t having fun.  You’re being obnoxious and rude.

The meeting starts, business happens, and then the first item of new business comes up.  It is another company that wants to expand their mine on their land, which is in the middle of nowhere on well paved roads with their only known neighbor being an actual member of the zoning board.  They want to dig twenty feet deeper than they currently have permission to dig.  They want to provide double the minimum easement around their entire three hundred acre farm, and only thirty acres will actually be the mine.  The rest is to remain farmland.  They want to keep the mine as a dig only site.  They want it written in that they will not be a landfill.  No dumping.  Their mining is going to be used in part for state and county road projects.  (Our roads are terrible, so improving them would be appreciative.)

Item one gets approved.

We’re item two.

Representative for Mr. Dig and Dump stands up.

And he asks for his request to be deferred indefinitely.  Item one was beautiful.  And in it’s beauty, his ugly stood out.  Not to mention the entire section of dissenters and landowners and museum employees ready to speak on behalf of Hightower Hall might have been a signal that he didn’t have community support.

In the end, we all stood up and left.  Never did understand what item three was about because the boys and I went for pizza.  We didn’t win last night, but we didn’t lose.  The boys are getting a wonderful education in current local politics, and I am experiencing small town government at work.  It really is quite fascinating when you know some of the players involved.  And the next time, I will feel much more prepared.  (But I may still say what I wanted to say – If your business interferes with our business, you aren’t conducting business.  It’s called being a bully, and even two boys in a grocery store know to be better than that.)

Why the Learn Bravely Inclusive Cooperative?

Standard

There are some revelations I have had in homeschooling my children.  Concepts, that as a public school parent following public school philosophies, I was unaware existed.  And today is the day I would like to share them with the world.  (They directly relate to the title.)

  1. I am more than capable of teaching my own children.  Because I am the expert on my child, and I am a capable and resourceful adult, I do not need to be the expert on specific subjects.
  2. Other families are not homeschooling for the same reason I am.
  3.  Homeschoolers are what I affectionately call “Fringe People” because they are on the fringes of society for WAY more reasons than homeschooling. (Relates back to #2)
  4. There are subjects I love facilitating.  Writing and math and art and history are some that come to mind.  And I hated history in high school.  
  5. There are subjects I’d rather pay someone else to teach.  For me this includes science and banjo.  I have no clue how to teach banjo.  
  6. The evolution and creation debate is a real thing.  
  7. I am in the minority as a homeschooler living here in the deep south by taking the Bible symbolically.
  8. Right before I started homeschooling someone asked me if I was on the “hippie” or “Christian” side of homeschooling. I didn’t understand the question.  Now I do.
  9. I have rediscovered who I am by giving up my daily ME time and instead keeping my kids with ME.  This is not to say that I don’t still need ME time….
  10. The relationships within our family unit have grown stronger, and I know my kids in a way I never knew I was even missing.
  11. 4-H is for all types of kids.  Not just the farm kids.
  12. Technology is creative.
  13. Screen time is important.
  14. My kids are motivated.  To learn.  Without my interference.  Saturday afternoons while I nap provide weekly proof.

Which brings me to: Why the Learn Bravely Inclusive Cooperative?

Our family has embraced homeschooling and looks forward to continuing.  Yet as my children get older, there are certain subjects I do not feel confident in teaching to a degree that would truly challenge my boys’ potential.  Knowing that AP Chemistry wouldn’t be my strong suit from the onset of this adventure, I have been researching options that homeschoolers use to teach higher level courses.

What I have found is lots of co-ops.  Co-ops are groups that meet weekly or more to study and socialize.  Most written work is still done at home, but students can work in groups and/ or receive the benefits of having various parents that ARE experts in some particular subject.

Unfortunately, the co-ops I have found do not fully align with my personal beliefs or are too far from where we live or are specifically secular or only meet one child’s needs.  Now, we have friends that participate in these co-ops and are thriving.  The ones I have considered are well run and offer some intriguing options.  These could be viable choices.

But.

In my heart there is not a creation debate.  My God’s creativity never ceases to amaze me, and it also does not cause conflict with evolutionary theory for me.  So when we talk about high school science courses, this becomes a conflict with some of my best co-op choices.

We really don’t want to drive an hour and a half.  My favorite co-op would require travelling to our state capital weekly.  This is just too much.  I also cannot handle two different co-ops in order to cover both children.  I need one, cohesive environment.

We are not secular people.  Religion and spirituality and faith and an idea of a being larger than ourselves fascinates more than just Christians.  Some of my most enriching experiences in life come from stepping out of my familiar and into another person’s reality.  Eating dinner with our Hindu friends and my father’s description of an African wedding ceremony and a Seder meal led by a Rabbi and the funeral spoken completely in Spanish for a sweet friend (complete with a Mariachi band) are cherished memories.  I want more than “secular” for my children.  If they mention faith or discuss spirituality in co-op, I consider that a rich blessing.

Because of these challenges, one day I started discussing with friends what I would love to see for my children in my “dream co-op”.  This included collaborative learning techniques and collaboration in the planning of courses among teachers and students, friendships, SCIENCE! classes, flexible structure, academic rigor, help in incorporating technology, stability, and accountability.  That day was the start of Learn Bravely Inclusive Cooperative.

Learn Bravely encompasses what I want for my children.  (See my list of revelations.)

It’s mission statement is as follows:

Learn Bravely seeks to encourage interests and develop friendships through a collaborative and structured learning environment for our children. We offer interactive classes using inquiry-based, student-focused techniques. Our online component allows students to continue exploring and collaborating between class sessions. We ultimately want our children to have the courage to pursue learning passionately and to think critically along the way.

By starting Learn Bravely Inclusive Cooperative, we embrace a new path for educating our children. Hopefully we can also help bridge gaps others may have also experienced through homeschooling their children.   For me personally, the title Learn Bravely embraces what it feels like to start such a venture, and we are very excited to see Learn Bravely grow through both the students and the families it serves.