Monday, June 14, 2010

Keeping it local

I've written before about how much I love our local school for its common sense community-mindedness and for the flexibility it has granted Erin in her funky high school program. I haven't mentioned the amazing generous creative people who teach there, but that's a big part of it too. I believe in public schooling whole-heartedly. Much like I believe in hospitals. I think both types of institutions should be vital, friendly, healthy, well-funded, humane places. I don't plan to need either for my family much of the time. But I think that it's important that we have both, for those who need or want to avail themselves of such services.

While I love the SelfDesign DL program that we're part of, I've always felt guilty that being involved in SelfDesign means that government education funding on my kids' behalf was going out of district. It wasn't supporting our local school. With enrollment dropping I often wished there was a way to homeschool while still supporting the local school in some tangible way.

A few weeks ago a bunch of parents, staff, students and interested community members were invited to a round-table discussion at the school to discuss ways to keep it viable in the face of further declining enrollment. As the parent of a high school student I was invited to the round-table. There were some open-ended discussion topics and small-group sessions. It was kind of fun. The administration, including the school district superintendent, were very interested in hearing ideas from others.

At the meeting I raised the possibility of our local school offering a Distributed Learning program. I explained briefly what a DL program is, and that we're part of one based elsewhere, and that if such a program were offered in our town, I'd be all for it. Eyes lit up. Enthusiasm was expressed. The consensus seemed to be that a DL program would totally fit the community-minded tradition of innovation the school has built, and that there were staff who would jump at the possibility of facilitating a "beyond the walls, family-based" educational program. The principal and guidance counsellor both called me the next day. We talked back and forth. I sent them samples of reports and learning plans to illustrate the kind of program my kids are in right now, and a couple of long letters detailing what I value most about the program and what concessions I would be unwilling to make in joining an alternative local program.

Basically I tried to give them a crash course on homeschooling, to open their eyes and make it clear how much of the schoolish mindset can be dropped in a homeschooling context. You know it all already, I'm sure... My kids don't learn by grade levels. They don't learn by subjects. We don't try to "cover prescribed outcomes." We don't test. They don't produce output for grading. I know they're learning because I live with them, we have conversations, I see them happily engaged in things. I didn't want the school to set up a program for homeschoolers full of expectations for school-like output and evaluation. I though maybe I'd scare them off, but it didn't happen. In fact, a couple of them lit right up: "This is exactly what I wish we could do more of within schools too! It makes so much sense."

So a couple of weeks ago there was a meeting between the school and homeschooling parents in the area. It was long, because they invited us to talk about our kids, and talk we did! We talked about who are kids are, what they value about homeschooling, what their interests are, their personalities, their learning styles, what they are looking for in the future, what role the school might play in their lives. "Just so it's clear," said one of the organizers, "this isn't a veiled attempt to reel your kids in as fully-enrolled school students. We just think we can support you in what you're doing." They asked us what we wanted from them. They listened. They took copious notes.

There was another meeting today, and it's all in writing. They have created pretty much exactly the program we asked for. It looks like we will be getting a program very similar in its flexibility and open-mindedness to the SelfDesign program we've loved for so many years. And on top of this are additional perks if we want them: easy access to courseware, textbooks, learning tools, school facilities, tutoring, field trips, extra-curriculars, busing, electives, the downhill ski program, increased social connections with local kids, and so on.

It looks like there will be 8 children from three families jumping aboard this program. The numbers sound very small, but we'll increase the school's enrollment by almost 10% in one fell swoop so from a community standpoint it's very significant. While I am a little wistful about leaving SelfDesign, it's a no-brainer for me. We love this local school and the people who comprise it ... and the community it supports and invigorates. We can now support it with our tax dollars.

I still feel a little weird that it was my voice at that meeting in April that started this whole thing. I dream big, but I'm happiest acting in small ways. It was slightly terrifying have someone pick up my dream and quickly turn it into a reality that now affects me, my family and numerous other people. I think it's a good thing we've got going, though.

6 comments:

  1. That sounds very interesting!

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  2. Oh, that is such good news! The PS here seems to look on home school as anathema and any sort of publicly-funded program such as IDVA (Idaho Virtual Academy) is basically school-at-home with highly regimented schedules, lots of testing and all supervised by a "certified teacher." It is exactly opposite of what we want to do. I have written several blog posts on how frustrated I am with our current system and how inaccessible the PS is to us since they are so far from being flexible in that way. They just built a new charter school, making two of various ideologies, and that is as "flexible" as they have gotten. But we do have a large homeschool population, both religious and secular and school enrollment is declining here too. So perhaps they would be willing to listen someday and to work with families as yours is doing. It would be wonderful if we (the public school and the homeschoolers) could work together instead of being at odds like we are now.

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  3. Your small actions are going to create huge inspirational changes...so awesome to see your creative wisdom shine and support positive learning opportunities. That is truly great, Miranda, and yes, I'll miss your "voice" around the Village of SD, but will still follow along here. :-)

    Best to your family in this new branching out adventure!

    ~Erin

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  4. Miranda, that is fabulous! There are two elementary schools in villages near us from two different school boards and they are both facing dropping enrollment. This would be a terrific option for them! Even for the schools in the small town we live in, this would be terrific! Unfortunately, I've been told by others that our school board is not very homeschooling friendly, so I'm not sure they would even listen to such a suggestion as a DL program. I can dream, though! The way things go for me, it'll be something that happens way after my kids would have grown past that stage of being able to take advantage of it.

    Sometimes the benefits of being in Ontario and not having any hoops to jump through mean we also don't have these sorts of cool options for our kids. I'd love for my money to go to the local school and be able to use some of their facilities and programs. The mindset just doesn't seem to be that open.

    One family I know has even heard comments from their community about 'wishing people wouldn't homeschool' because of the dropping enrollment at the local school. Sad.

    Good for you and congratulations, too!

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  5. What really amazes me is that it's not just teachers, but apparently entire school administrators who have no idea that Self-Design and other programs like it exist here in our province! I'm so pleased to hear about what you've accomplished with your local school. It sounds wonderful!

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  6. I laughed at you finding it "slightly terrifying" to have your ideas taken up so enthusiastically and quickly. But lovely that they are so open to new ideas.

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