Our teen daughter (you know, the one that had all the bad grades and social problems, constantly in trouble last year and had me pulling my hair out? Yeah, that one…) is now homeschooling. It’s actually not traditional homeschooling, but “virtual school” through Connections Academy. I don’t work for Connections or anything, but to any other parents out there who are struggling with an out-of-control child or teen, this might be a great alternative for you, too, so I wanted to pass the info along if it can help even one other person. This new way of schooling has changed everything for us — for the better.
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Her day starts out like this: wake up, eat breakfast, watch a little TV and “wake up.” Then she heads to her computer (in a room adjacent to my home office) and logs in to her school online. She checks her virtual planner, showing her what classes she has for the day (usually 4-6 subjects per day) and what kind of assignments they are (quiz, test, assignment, etc.). She chooses what to do first. She usually decides to do the assignments first, almost like a warm up, and saves quizzes or tests for last. Sometimes she may also have what’s called a “Live Lesson” for a course, which is like a virtual or skype meeting — a new window opens and there are a slew of “classmates” logged in. Everyone wears a headset with a microphone and the “class” can all hear the teacher giving the lesson while they watch the lesson slides on the screen. There is even a chat window and emoticons for “raise hand,” “slow down,” and “thumbs up,” for students to communicate with the teacher during the lesson without having to feel embarrassed about interrupting.
Once she marks a lesson complete, it comes to me (her “learning coach”) for my approval before the grade is logged or goes to the teacher for grading. If I see she’s gotten only 1 question correct out of 4 on a geometry lesson, for example, I can mark it incomplete and it shoots the lesson back to her to re-do (though this will not change her grade) to make sure she understands the concept and what she did wrong. Once I mark it complete, the grade is logged. The system updates every night so we always know what her grades are, how she’s doing, where she may be struggling and what is coming up next. I also have to log her attendance daily — it says that high schoolers should spend an average of 4-6 hours per day on the lessons and that’s about right; she seems to average 4-5 hours, but some days are 3 and some days are 9. Now I can’t help but think… if it takes her 25 hours a week to get her work done, what was she doing the other 13 hours of the school week last year? No wonder she was bored! Now I’m actually questioning whether she is ADHD or if she was just a product of her environment and happens to learn better when she can go at her own pace?
Oh, and did I mention this is all completely free? Since Connections Academy is a public school and part of the Houston ISD, our tax dollars pay for it and it hasn’t cost us a dime. Anyone in Texas can apply (they don’t offer grades 11-12 yet, but hopefully by next year they will). Connections even mails the whole stack of textbooks, though our daughter never uses them because the text is all stashed in a virtual library on the school’s website also — but at least they have the option of online book vs. tangible book.
I cannot even begin to tell you how much this has improved her grades, her productivity, her attitude, our home life, her social life, etc. She spent pretty much the whole of last year grounded for grades and since she was grounded, had very little social life. Being a teen, she took the attitude of, “I’m going to have to get all of my social time in during school, since that’s the only time I’m going to see my friends,” and so the vicious cycle began. We told her time and time again that if her grades improved and we saw better efforts, the rest of her life would improve too and she would hear “yes” out of us a whole lot more. Always the cynic, I guess she thought we were full of it because she continued to use class time as social time all year long and her grades showed it. Now, when she asks to do something with friends or invite them over, we are saying yes about 90% of the time. She was so floored at first and is now settling in nicely to her new life as a “normal” teenager — finally — and has told us, “I’m going to keep making good decisions and good grades because I want to keep this whole ‘yes’ thing up forever.” Sigh. She gets it.
PS: Yes, I’m still here! I took a hiatus while I was working on writing a book. It’s off to the publisher now and will be out in Spring 2011 – yay! It’s a DFW travel guide I co-authored with a friend, not a tell-all memoir or anything, but still, it’s cool to know that I wrote a book! I’m also still running my invitation business from home and loving the work-at-home mom life! Back on the weekly Mom2Mom cycle now. :)