Monday, September 27, 2010

A Daring New Adventure

Ok, Sorry folks this post isn't about the famous (or is that infamous? Kidding!) Kolbi. This is about a new, somewhat frightening adventure that out family is undertaking this year. We are homeschooling for the first time ever. There's your connection to Kolbi the High Goddess of Homeschooling. At the moment I am only homeschooling Alonzo who is 10. In fact today is our first ever day of homeschooling. Alonzo is busy at the dining room table working on his assignments, I am trying not to hover.

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.


Z. Marie said...

I know from being homeschooled that it's a tough road, sometimes as tough for the kid as for the parent. But you have to do what you have to do. There are other ways of making friends, as hard as they might be to come across there. And I think it's important to be open to different situations in the future. (Obviously your circumstances aren't going to be changing in a matter of months, but I thought I'd mention this only because of homeschooling conversations I've had with others recently.)

LeesOnTheGo said...

Bravo to you for being keyed into what your kids need and doing whatever it takes to meet that need. I am so sorry for all of the frustration that it's taken to lead up to this point. Hopefully now that you've started down this path you'll find ways to make it work out just right for the both of you.

Keep us posted!


PS~ I would have sat in those meetings with handcuffs on b/c of my inability to keep from SLAPPING someone every time they said something OUTRAGEOUS. Which apparently happened a lot. You're a better woman than me...seeing as there were no handcuffs.

Camille said...

What a bunch of morons! You are amazing for not slapping anybody - or rubbing it in their face (I TOLD you he should be in fourth!). Maybe there are other homeschooling parents out there and you can all get together and go on fieldtrips or something? Best of luck!

Jill said...

I can't even begin to imagine how frustrated and crazed you must be with these turn of events for A's schooling. Schooling IS a big factor when we choose a post. It IS something we research when we talk to our kids about our next few years. I'm sitting here reading this with the most dumbfounded look on my face, seeing more than a few stars over how you were all treated and informed.

Best of luck as you enter this new foray of homeschooling. I hope that all goes well during your tour - may something great come out of it.

A Daring Adventure said...

Oh my gosh, girlfriend...

I am SO sorry about everything that has happened.

A committed mother makes up for a whole world full of educational ills.

Boys are well known for crying when handed pencils. None of them want to perfect their handwriting or write essays. They are squirmy and active, and sometimes I think that the educational system out there is created for sweet little GIRLS who can sit still, learn, and behave well and that normal, active boys are punished when they can't... be girls.

But, then again, my ideas on education are bizarre and strange and if I continue in this vein, I will attract hate mail in your comments box. Which I would never want to do! Because you are a dear, darling thing going through your own challenges.

Rest assured that all Alonzo needs is a mother who loves him enough to give him the time and attention he needs to in order to learn and grow. And - good news! He has that. In spades. :) So all is well, though it may not seem that way at the moment. But yes... all is well.

A Daring Adventure said...


"Infamous" would be the correct choice.

A Daring Adventure said...


Now you have ME looking at Calvert. Goshdarnit! And I thought I was DONE with choosing curricula!

This is all your fault. ALL. YOUR. FAULT.

Gosh DARN it, Calvert's expensive!

Monica said...

so sorry, friend. but, it sounds like this is the best fit for lonzo. would like to give you both a hug. ;o) ed might have some PT tips on handwriting that you haven't tried. now he deals with WAY more involved kiddos, but before when he assisted a few teachers, he had a few tricks that even i didn't know. ;o) GOOD LUCK to you both. you will succeed. you always do. ;o) xoxoxoxo

Unknown said...

Wowza! Seems like you made the right decision. Best of luck to you! Keep sanity tight in your hand! ;)

Becky said...

What an ordeal! You will do an awesome job. It sounds like you know your kid and what he needs. It is great that you are working to help him have that, in a school or at home. Hang in there!

Becky said...

And if not liking handwriting and composition makes for an LD, we are in a world or hurt over here. Our son isn't in love with either (but minds composition much less when I let him type on the computer). He also loves posting to our blog. (It's locked though.)

It is a bit funny to me that you are homeschooling because I was looking at pics of your backyard the other day and started pestering my husband about going to Africa next. I just kept thinking about how cool it would be to finish school and go play out there with the kids. Good luck!

Elaine said...

I'm an old gray special educator and mom of two children who were both bright yet struggling. Our son was eventually diagnosed with 'dyspraxia'--and it was pretty severe. Basically, his motor patterning and coordination were very poor (even his eyes weren't working together reliably.) How could we have missed this? Well, his elder sister had a ischemic spinal cord injury during heart surgery and didn't walk for a long time, and then w/o normal gait; so our son, who was pretty much the drunken sailor, looked to us like he was doing fine! In any case, handwriting was absolutely the worst, and as speed and fluency were more and more a requirement (i.e., third and fourth grade) it became a serious problem. The teacher insisted he did not know his 100 basic facts...but of course, he just couldn't write 100 of anything in 5 minutes. Instead of finding out what he knew, they were finding out what he could not write. Oh, the stories....

I'll cut to the chase here--both kids were National Merit Scholars; our daughter has a PhD and is a research physicist; our son earned a BS in Math and a BSCE in computer engineering and is now fully employed (but had to sign nondisclosure, so we know little about his work.) On the other hand, arriving at this happy spot was not a walk in the park.

Calvert materials are an excellent choice. It is great that Alonzo is math-gifted, but do be careful not to let that get the lion's share of attention. Occupational therapy may in fact have something to offer your son if you can access this service. At least a good eval with give you some helpful direction. Our son did benefit from motor patterning work along with step-wise instruction in some skills. I used a program called The Benbow Method (an OT helped me get this) that gave our son some legiblility...but I also taught him keyboarding skills. At that time there were no tutorials, so I made one up; it's not rocket science, after all. This bypassed his very real problems with the motor task of writing, allowing him to actually enjoy composition.

I would be very willing to e-mail and share some pointers....I might even be able to help you see how fun fractions are! (Most of the students I got had problems, but the biggest one was Fear and Loathing of Math in All Forms.) Feel free to contact me if I can offer any help from my own experience or professional background. (I'm retired, but I miss the kids!)

TulipGirl said...

Oh, my. Crazy.

I am sure you are making the best decision for your son.

(And. . . I'm feeling a little more nervous now about when my boys go from homeschooling to school when we move to Kenya. . .)

And. . . we really, really like Sonlight. *grin* Have never used it in full, but love the resources and the world-wide focus and great literature and history!

Jen said...

Wow! I am so sorry you had to deal with that. I'd say I can't imagine, but I have heard similar crazy stories. I guess at least the up-side will be that you will still receive funding from State....and, of course, that A will have a great teacher :-)

Hope it's going well thus far....

Anonymous said...

UGH! I hate stuff like this! Of course he's not behind--why on earth didn't they put him in 4th like you requested?!?!
I'm sure you'll do a terrific job homeschooling! Hang in there!