So why are we homeschooling you ask? Good question! At this point I will show great restraint and try to explain without resorting to four letter words, partly because the school here IS working for some people and partly because I do still have two children enrolled in the school and you never know who may be reading this. All the same I need to share this because 1) I may explode if I can't share with someone and poor Dave is really tired of me venting all over him so you get to listen (read?) to me vent. Lucky You! and 2) Someone reading this may be considering coming to Malawi and end up facing the same situation. Being informed of what is really going on at post is always helpful when deciding on where to bid.
Way back in February we submitted our applications to Bishop Mackenzie School* here in Malawi. We applied for 4th grade for Alonzo which only makes sense because he was in 3rd grade at the time. You finish third grade then move onto fourth grade in the normal course of studies.
We arrived at post four days before school started to be informed that Alonzo would be placed in his "age appropriate grade". This is a bit tricky since we had him retained in 2nd grade. What they were really proposing was that he skip a grade and enter into FIFTH grade instead of fourth. They then proceed to tell us they were a bit concerned he may have some learning difficulties because he didn't do very well on the placement tests. Umm...DUH! Maybe because he should have been tested for fourth grade not fifth?!?! We protested he should be in fourth not fifth. At which point we were informed that there was no room in fourth, even though we put our applications in early, even though he is an embassy kid and the school is supposed to have a working relationship with the embassy, there was no room. Period.
We spent our first weekend in Malawi going over our schooling options. Please understand there are really no sports teams outside of school, no extra curricular activities except those associated with school, no parks, no cub scouts, no American club, really very few options to meet other kids outside school. This was a concern for us. It is important to us that our kids have a chance to play and interact with other kids. Other parents told us he could probably handle it as the school wasn't academically challenging. Now that would have been something helpful to put in the post reports.
Alonzo was adamantly opposed to the idea of homeschooling at that time, he wanted to go to school and make new friends. So Monday morning with heavy hearts we loaded him up on the school bus and sent him off to fifth grade. We visited one of the other schools in town that same morning. The ABC School campus was bright and welcoming, the staff friendly and professional, but there was a waiting list. Sigh! We decided to adopt a wait and see attitude.
Towards the end of the second week the school we were called in for a conference. We were told Alonzo wasn't meeting the standards for fifth grade and NOW they wanted to move him to fourth grade. After he made friends. After he was already looking forward to the upcoming overnight field trip. After he had already begun to settle into the new schedule. After he spent the whole summer hoping and praying he would do so well on his placement tests that he would be able to skip fourth grade and go straight to fifth grade. After his dream apparently came true, THAT'S when they wanted to move him down a grade??? Relax, we didn't let them do that to him. We did agree to allow him to continue in fifth grade with help from a support teacher. It wasn't enough. Last week we had a very tough meeting with the teacher where we were told that our child had some very serious learning problems and needed all kinds of testing and intervention strategies and lots preliminary diagnoses were thrown around. We decided enough was enough we would be homeschooling.
I taught school long enough to be able to tell the difference between a child that has a serious learning disability and a child that just needs to be held accountable. He doesn't have gross motor delays or pervasive developmental delay for goodness sake! He was riding a bike without training wheels before he started kinder. He runs, plays tennis, swims, shoots a bow and arrow, jumps rope, climbs trees, plays soccer, talks nonstop, he even plays piano with both hands, thank you very much.
What he needs is consistent handwriting instruction and lots and lots of practice writing until he can write legibly and quickly so he can finish assignments in a reasonable amount of time. He doesn't need someone to feel sorry for him and take dictation instead of forcing him to do his own work. Poor handwriting is not a major learning disability nor a cause to recommend occupational and physical therapy.
He reads every thing he can get his hands and comprehends what he reads very well. His bed is always heaped with books he sneaks in to read under covers after bedtime. No he doesn't read aloud smoothly but that is a matter of practice. He routinely reads books on the fifth and sixth grade accelerated reader lists without difficulty.
He does need to work on writing compositions. I will happily agree he is below grade level there. We will be writing lots of stories, letters, and essays in the coming months. Grandma and Aunt Teri get ready for you mailboxes to be full of letters from Alonzo. He also needs to be forced to sit and work until it is done. If he knows I am willing to let him sit there all blessed day until he is finished what ever is assigned then pretty soon he is going to pick up the pace so that he can go do something a bit more fun. I know this from homework battles. He used to sit and cry and whine trying to get out of homework. My attitude is he could just sit there until it is done. I don't care how long it takes. For a while it was taking hours to do homework. Sometimes he would even have to go to bed late. Lately homework is finished within thirty minutes or so. The homework hasn't gotten easier he has just figured out I am really going to make him do it so he might as well get it done.
He is on grade level for math, the fourth grade level that is. No, he doesn't get division, maybe because he has never had instruction in division. Now there's a thought. I will be ordering a ready made homeschooling curriculum that will help make sure that my instruction is on grade level and that I don't overlook something important, like maybe fractions. UGH! I hate fractions but it must be taught.
In case anyone cares I think I will use Calvert as the principal curriculum and supplement with Sonlight because of it's literature. This seems like a good starting point for an initial foray into homeschooling. Sort of a scaffold for me to lean on while we are figuring this whole thing out. I taught school ages ago. I think it might have even been in a different lifetime. It's different to teach my own child who will not be going home at 3:00. I am as nervous today as I was all those years ago facing a classroom full of 20+ students. Anyone out there who has hints or helpful advice feel free to share. I will be entirely grateful!
*Bishop MacKenzie is the school which most embassy kids attend. There are in fact two other schools here. ABC is a christian based school. There are a few embassy kids attending there and the parents seem happy. Please note is run by missionaries so the Christian atmosphere will not work for everyone. The Acacia School is a British system school that just opened this year. There are a few embassy kids there mostly at the preschool level. At present I think it only goes through third grade but they will be adding grades each year as the students move up. Since this is it's maiden year only time will tell if this will be a viable option in the future.