Monday, June 09, 2008

Field trip to high school

Because two of Erin's friends are graduating from the local K-12 school this year, she was invited to the grad ceremony, and her interest was piqued by talk during the awards part of the ceremony of the Facilitated Learning Centre. The FLC offers a wide range of high school courses in a very loosely structured computer-lab / self-directed classroom environment, individually paced and open-ended, with no attendance requirements. In a high school of ~40 students, classroom-based course offerings are, as you can imagine, very minimal. The school offered no Grade 12 science classes this year, for example. So the FLC fleshes things out by providing students with pre-packaged self-directed courses.

Erin has decided she would like to try taking two or three courses next year to add some structure to her week. She'd set up a schedule for herself of what days/times she'd go, and use some nearby space to practice her violin during the same away-from-home stint. She's trying to replicate for herself the kind of environment that she's thrived in during summer music workshops ... a university-like set of expectations without high levels of teacherly control, situated in a learning environment apart from home. She finds that this motivates her to apply herself during the specific times she's carved out for herself from her day.

We went for a tour today. The teacher's aid who showed us through assumed a Dogwood (BC governmental high school diploma) was the goal and was first astonished and then delighted to hear that Erin is not interested in a Dogwood and yet still has confidence that her future/post-secondary academic prospects will be wide open, that anything is possible via a self-directed, learner-motivated, off-the-beaten path track. He seemed really open-minded.

Next I called the guidance counsellor to discuss the possibility. I explained Erin's disinterest in jumping through the hoops required for a Dogwood and the possibility of her taking, oh, say, Fiction Writing 12, Biology 11 and/or Psych 11 as a Grade 9'er by age, without any previous schooling. And coming and going at will, missing all of January & February, every Tuesday, and every 4th Thursday & Friday, and any other day she has something more important to do. Amazingly enough the counsellor was receptive, even enthusiastic. Part-time enrollment is not legally provided for by the Ministry of Education, so Erin may either be a full-time student with copious 'excused absences' or else advanced to Grade 10, from which point part-time enrollment is allowed. The principal, as is normally the case, is the rule-stickler. We'll have to see what transpires as this proposal moves up to the next rung on the approval ladder.

For whatever reason this doesn't feel at all momentous to me. It doesn't feel like the end of an era, or a shift away from homeschooling, or unschooling, or like 'sending her off to school for the first time', or anything of the sort. It feels like a fairly natural progression -- a case of applying some of the format that works well for her in her music studies to a couple of academic areas, on her terms. At this point it's tentative, but I think it'll be good for her if it works out. But not the end of the world if it doesn't.


  1. it seems like so long ago when I pulled Emily out of school and found the hs community at TP, including you, I think Em was 5 and Erinn was 7, and now both you and I have high school happening in the near future. Oy how time goes by. I will be curious to hear how it all comes about at your end. Your situation sounds ideal though. Wish something similar could be done here, and I am sure it could be but it seems Em wants the "real deal" so that's how we'll start out. So to me, even though it's a year and a bit away, it is feeling like the "end of an era". I know of 2 homeschooling families in town whose kids are going into the system next year, and to read about kids who I have watched grow up online (like Erin and a couple of others) jumping in too just adds to that end of an era feeling. I'm sad really, yet I know these kids who have been home for so long know themselves well enough to make their own decisions and to make the decisions that are right for them. Best of luck to Erin!

  2. Not sure if this would be of interest to any of you, but my husband works for a BC Ministry of Ed non-profit called the Virtual Schools Society. Their website is

    I haven't used it myself, but it sounds pretty neat from what my husband describes. It's free to everyone in BC and offers a HUGE range of classes for anyone at any level!

  3. KEM, the virtual schools are a great option for some kids, but definitely not what Erin's looking for. DL courses appeal to kids who want a course-like structure without the school. Erin wants the opposite, a school-like place with a minimum of course-like structure. In her ideal world she'd have a school where she could go an do the things she already does on her own terms -- violin, piano, choir, music harmony, novel-writing, self-directed exploration of things like psychology and environmental science -- no courses. But in order to access such a place she has to choose coursework, and it's a hoop she's willing to jump through.

  4. Debbie, I don't have the same "end of an era" feeling I guess because Erin's looking at taking maybe two or three courses, way less than a full load of 8, and taking Tuesdays off for Nelson and every fourth end-of-week off for Calgary, and two complete months for the trip to SE Asia. All that adds up to her being about a quarter-time school student and three-quarters an out-and-out unschooler. It feels like a small shift rather than the beginning of a new era in her education. It may be the first of several accumulating shifts, but somehow it doesn't seem that way. Time will tell...

  5. Gotcha. I've just been reading about Sudbury Valley type schools - sounds like it would great for your daughter if there were one nearby. Alas, there isn't one here, either - I think the closest is North Van. :)

  6. Anonymous11:24 am

    I think this is a wonderful example of self-directed learning in an older student. It's so neat to see how your kids are working their way toward their goals, and it gives a really nice model for those of us whose kids are still young.

  7. Anonymous4:01 pm

    good for you for being open minded about letting her explore different choices. My oldest 2 boys never went to school at all. One (he's 22 now) has taken continuing ed classes at the art college but has no formal education apart from that. The second went to paramedic school and is now in university and planning on medical school. My younger 2 boys have both chosen to enter the school system at the high school level. We are 2 years into that experiment after being unschoolers previously through the younger years and grades.
    I am still unschooling my 11 year daughter.

  8. That sounds very interesting!


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