Monday, August 15, 2011

Things to Remember so that I Don't Freak Out

School officially starts for LaVCA students on Wednesday – this Wednesday. As of right now, none of my three K12 students have their classes loaded on the OLS (on-line school).  I wouldn’t be panicking (as much) if I didn’t know that quite a few other students had all their classes loaded almost 2 weeks ago. 

This is a case where on-line support groups are anti-helpful. We are all new. No one knows much more than anyone else. We have no helpful advice to give each-other. So when my stuff looks different from your stuff, I start to freak-out.

Certainly there must be a place I can go to calm my fears. I can’t keep calling the teachers every time something doesn’t seem just right. I don’t want to be one of those mothers! 

So I’m looking around at the K12 tools on the OLS and see theBigThinK12. It’s where all the K12 parents and older children from around the world hang-out on-line to get advice from each other. There are people there who’ve done this and been there and hopefully learned a thing or two.

I started poking around, found a bit of information that helped me compose myself and I thought I should share it in case anyone else is freaking out.

First 2 to 3 weeks: For everyone, no matter what K12 school you are in, be it LaVCA, CAVA, OHVA or any other state’s K12, the first few weeks are always a mess for many reasons.
  1. Some folks decided at the last minute that this is for them, so they’re all registering at once.
  2. There are perpetual teacher seminars to get teachers used to K12 or simply update them on new policies. 
  3. Those roving bands of statewide orientations sent the teachers all across the state for two, or was it three, weeks. 
  4. Then there are the technical glitches: students classes not loaded on the OLS, Study Island not working, attendance record not working or anything else you need on-line not working.
These things are all normal. Before the end of the first month, it all gets sorted out.

Worst case: School officially starts on the 17
th, and I still don’t have my books or classes. According to the old-timers, they pro-rate your start date and school for you doesn’t start until you get your stuff. Don’t panic that you’ll be behind.

I don’t get my child’s classes straightened out until after school starts: as soon as your advisor (usually the homeroom teacher) makes the changes, it takes up to 24 hours for the changes to go into effect. As soon as they go into effect, it’s processed at the warehouse and you should get your supplies within a week. Until then, your OLS should be correct and you can get a jump on doing the online stuff.

Study Island isn’t Working: Study Island does a big launch every year. K12 will kmail you the information to get you signed-in, but they have to wait until Study Island launches for it to start. From what I hear, it’s not subtle.
Things on my OLS aren’t working: It’s always bumpy that first week. The system rolls over from summer and there’s going to be a glitch or two. K12 will work the first week to get that sorted out.

I have all my books, but my OLS classes aren’t uploaded yet: Let your teacher know, and until then start in on the books and workbooks you have. It’s pretty much a lesson a day for most subjects. Sometimes they load things early, but quite a few people don’t get theirs loaded until day 1. It’s a pain in the tush as far as far as planning goes, but they’re not expecting us to jump in on day one with both feet if the OLS has just been loaded.  Also, from what I hear, the classes are often loaded at midnight – probably when they push updates through the system.

My child’s teacher is really busy and won’t call me back: The virtual schools are for the most part closed in the summer, just like a b&m school. When the teachers come back, there’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to do in a short time frame. The ILP (individual learning plans) for each student, scan tron tests for 3rd to 10th graders, making changes to schedules, fixing glitches with their students’ classes and non-stop orientations and meetings.  Add to the list that this is the first year K12 is in Louisiana, so most of the teachers are new to K12. Training, training and more training. Most things will be fixed by the end of week one. Those that aren’t should be fixed by the end of week 2.
When you finally do get your teacher on the phone, be polite but firm. They weren’t avoiding you; they just have so much to do in very little time. Back up what you discussed with your teacher by taking notes during the conversation and sending it to them in a kmail. They are human, and we all often forget what we talked about two minutes ago. Think about it. They probably went from talking to you to talking to another parent with similar but different problems. Kmailing them a run-down on what you talked about is a polite thing, not a hassling thing.

So basically, be persistent with your communication, but keep calm. All of these things we are panicking about are normal. It's not a case of "our child's stuff is totally messed up."  It will get sorted out and you won't fall incredibly behind. Breathe in, breathe out (repeat).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Getting Sorted

I knew going into this adventure that the first few weeks getting started would be hard, but I thought it would all be on my end. Since this is LaVCA’s first year, they too are having a good bit of growing pains.

Meme and Jojo took their assessment tests. Jojo, like anything I ask her these days, replied “I don’t know” to the question of how she did. Meme, never very forthcoming with the words, didn’t say much, but I overheared her tell her best friend that she failed the unfailable test. 

Supposedly, as soon as the child is finished taking the test, the scores are sent to the teacher, who reviews them and comes up with an ILP (Individualized Learning Plan). 

I figured that I would hear from the teachers in a couple of days post-test.  Silly me. All these teachers have pretty much been in training meetings for the last two weeks. Top that off with every child being new in LaVCA this year (since it’s year one), so every ILP has to be made from scratch.

So my anxiety doth run over my cup. I know I fret, but I had a major fret episode. Yesterday, Friday, I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I called both Meme’s and Jojo’s teachers, left a message on their voicemail (they were in another meeting) and waited.

Meme’s teacher called back a couple of hours later. Of course, I’ve been trying to convince K12 that she needs to be in seventh grade, despite her age. We have not yet done seventh grade work with her, and I don’t think she could handle eighth grade work.

Well, she actually did okay on the assessment test. Compared to other eighth grade students, Meme’s on the high end of average for reading comprehension and just below average in math. Considering that we haven’t yet gotten to sixth or seventh grade math, that’s not bad. And since she didn’t start reading until she was 9, being on the high end of average for other eighth grades is pretty good.

Her teacher and I talked for while, discussing what this means. One of my worries is that she won’t be able to handle the eighth grade work in science and history. The teacher said that since her reading comprehension is fairly high, all things considered, and since science and history are all based on reading stuff and understanding that stuff, she can do the work. That does make sense.

We agreed to keep her in the eighth grade. In a weird way this means that she’s skipping a grade simply for the fact that we haven’t done anything for seventh grade. Oh well, it’s all subjective anyway.  She still needs a bit of remediation in math, but not as much as I thought.  She may need some extra help in writing as well, but the teacher’s philosophy is that if she’s reading on that level, she can emulate what she reads and write on that level too.
Meme is actually pleased with herself.  So I can officially call her an eighth grader now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Ball is in My Court

I received an e-mail from K12 with instructions for the assessment tests for Jojo and Meme. They are taking them tomorrow, and I’m down-playing it so that they won’t be nervous. 

I looked through Meme’s language arts text book, and it doesn’t look that bad.  And the reading books (Diary of Anne Frank, Romeo & Juliet and Fredrick Douglas’s writings), they’re certainly right around the level of books I’ve been assigning her for the last year.

It certainly looks doable for Meme.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m not such an utter failure as a homeschool mom. (I gotta love these pep talks I give myself).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meme & K12

I’m feeling more confident today in exploring K12 for Meme. Her teacher is setting up on-line assessment tests to see exactly where she is. No decisions will be made about grade level or work level until she takes these tests. I’m comfortable with that.

I admit it’s a huge relief actually talking to her teacher and beginning to come up with a plan of action.  Things happen, and we can’t do anything about that. It’s been hell on me the last few years trying the juggle moves, job hunts, childbirth, learning disabilities . . . I could go on, but I’ll sum it up with “loads of not fun crud.”

Despite the fact that it should have been, education was not always the top priority. Sometimes we were focused on simply surviving the changes going on in our lives. The thought of someone guiding me through this “catching up process,” which has daunted me for the last 3 years, is comforting. I like that Meme will have someone other than myself to be accountable to.

Of course, I haven’t yet told Meme that she’s going to be doing a virtual academy this school year. I’m a bit afraid of the resistance I’m going to get. 

Meme, my sweet Meme. She’s bright, creative, artistic, and imaginative but resists doing any work that she doesn’t deem is fun. Aren’t we all like that? At some point, most of us learned that there are a good many things that we’ll do on a daily basis that isn’t fun, but we need the end results.  From the daily: we need clean plates to eat off of; therefore we need to wash some dishes. To the lifelong: we want a comfortable life and a stable job; therefore we need to work hard on our education, which is just one step in getting there, but an important step.

The idea of being actually responsible and held accountable for her school work scares the heck out of her.  I need help motivating her. I need some structure at this point.

A large part of me, the long-term homeschooler part, feels like I’m betraying my fellow homeschoolers by using a public school virtual academy. I realize that it’s just pride who phrases this switch in terms of a betrayal. The reality is that I don’t want to admit that I’m failing in areas as a homeschool mom and some of my long-held beliefs about how children learn may not be correct – or at least not correct for my children.

A whole paradigm shift takes a while to adjust to.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Even in retrospect, we never know if we've made the right decision, but sometimes simply making any decision is better than perpetually being undecided. Yet I sit here still undecided about Meme doing a virtual academy. Well, maybe I’m not undecided about her doing one, just perturbed about the current circumstances.

I called Connections Academy early last week, and asked them the question I’ve been asking them for the past few weeks, “How far up on the waiting list is Meme? I need to know what her chances of getting a position are so that I can figure out what to do with her for next year.” Still no answer and I got passed around a good bit but to no one with any knowledge or authority.

Then I remembered the letter Jojo got about the Louisiana LEAP test. It had CA’s (Connections Academy) principal’s personal phone number on it. I called her asked her my question and still no real answer. She said that CA is going to BESE (Louisiana’s main school board) mid-August to ask for 400 more spots. Mid-August is after both K12 and CA start for the year. She asked that I pray they get the spots, and if they do then Meme should, not will, have a place.

Not definite enough. I can’t bank my child’s education this year on a long list of maybes. She couldn’t even tell me how far on the waiting list Meme is because she doesn’t have access to that information. If she doesn’t have access to that information, then who does? And who determines who’s next to call on the waiting list once a spot opens up?

On the K12 front: she’s been accepted into K12 as an 8th grader. I have no problem with K12’s system. It’s the lack of flexibility they’ve shown so far that I have a problem with. Friday, after K12 orientation, I decided to take a chance.

I e-mailed Meme’s teacher and laid everything out. I told her that she’s behind, what she’s behind in and precisely how far behind she is. I let the teacher know that if she proceeds to expect normal eighth grade work out of her, Meme isn’t going to do well. I recommended that she be placed in seventh grade since that would give to her the best chance for success.

She e-mailed me back in just a few hours (kudos for promptness), and the e-mail sounded encouraging. The teachers are having a conference with other teachers today, and she’s supposed to bring up Meme to see what they recommend and what they can do within this system. Her words were encouraging: “We don’t want Meme to feel overwhelmed. We want her to succeed.”  Let’s see what happens. If K12 is willing to work with the situation, then I’d be more than happy to have Meme use them.

That brings me to Jojo. I’m pretty set about her being homeschooled for another year, but she’s still registered for K12. When I tried to pull her out a few weeks ago, they said that since she’s been accepted into the school we have to wait until her teacher contacts us to withdraw her.

Right now we’re in limbo. I was actually encouraged by the K12 orientation.  The speaker painted K12 more flexible than I had thought.  Maybe they can work with the girls despite the problems. My big fear is that she’s entering high school and mistakes she makes will be on her “permanent record” and her TOPS and college opportunity may be harmed.

Lots to think about. I’m still pretty sure we’ll homeschool Jojo, but I don’t want to close our doors until I know what’s behind them.

K12 LAVCA Orientation

Has it been a month since I’ve written?! Man! I would say it’s because I’ve been extremely busy, but, despite being busy, I’ve just been putting off thinking about the whole thing. 

Friday was one of the mandatory parent orientation for all Louisiana K12 participants and it was a mess.

We started out bright and early. Bobo and I were carpooling with his friend Tyty, Tyty’s mom and his grandmother.  We all got a good start, heading out to Zachary, a nearby small town, where the letter I received in the mail and the flyer I received by e-mail stated that the orientation would be held at 9:00.

Arriving at 8:30, there were very few cars in the parking lot and no doors open. We made sure that this was the place, and it looked like the K12 people were running late. We loitered around. 9:00 came and went. Other parents started to call the Louisiana office, but all calls went straight to voicemail, which was full.

9:30 came around. More parents were there. We started talking to a few. Several parents had taken off of work and one parent had rescheduled her son’s chemo to be there. They were pretty peeved that K12 still was a no-show.  More phone calls – trying to reach anyone who knew what was going on. Of course we’re thinking that something horrible happened. We saw the K12 people in a accident from the commute from New Orleans. Our logic: if they changed the location, surely we would have gotten an e-mail, phone call or they would have left a note on the door of the original location letting us know.

Now it’s hot. If you have never been in Louisiana in July, you don’t know what hot is. By 10:00 it’s over 90 degrees, the sun is brutal, and the humidity makes your glasses perpetually fog up.  There is little shade, and even the shade is hot. We take our chances and run to the local convenience store for cold drinks. I brought snacks, but I assumed that we would have access to a water fountain shortly after arriving.

It was 10:30 when we got back to the parking lot. As soon as we pulled up, the group of parents in-mass walked away from the overhang and headed towards our van.
“They changed the location,” one of the moms said.  What nice people to stay for us to get back! One mom gave us the new address and said that the K12 people told them that we could attend the 1:00 session.

We were livid. Having just been watered and fed, we went straight to the new location, arriving at 11:00 quite peeved. The head of Arkansas’s K12 met us outside and apologized profusely. He explained that we could attend the 1:00 to 3:00 session. We explained that we’ve been on the road since 8:00, I had a babysitter who was only willing to keep my other kids until 1:00 and he needed to make special accommodations for us, like right now.

A couple of other families, who we recognized from the other parking lot, also showed up. I admit, the guy was more than accommodating. He had us register then and there and immediately brought us to get the vision and hearing screenings done. 

Then after the morning session was over, he had the main speaker give us a condensed version of the orientation so that we would all be out of there by 1:00.
I understand that mistakes can be made, miscommunication happens and K12 is just getting started in Louisiana this year. It’s not that one makes mistakes that counts, it’s how one handles the mistakes that matter. They handled it pretty well.

The speaker said that we should have gotten a k-mail (K12’s e-mail system) letting us know the correct location.  Some of the parents had not yet logged into their k-mail. I had, and I told her that I checked my k-mail that morning and there wasn’t an e-mail saying that they changed location.

“It was sent out several weeks ago,” she said.

“I didn’t get one saying that the location had changed,” I replied. Of course, when I got home, I rechecked my k-mail.  There was a k-mail about the orientation, but it had the same wording as the paper mail and personal e-mail I received. There was no mention of location change.

However, when I pulled up the attachment on the k-mail, it had the new location. I know the K12 people probably think “stupid parents – can’t even read an attachment properly!” How were we supposed to know that this one attachment, which we received around the same time we got the other two, would be different, especially if they don’t even mention in the k-mail’s body that “Hey! Locations may be different than what was written on all the other messages about orientation you received!”? Seriously!

Wow! That was a long rant. I think I got it out of my system.

Now for the good bits:

What I Learned from K12 Orientation

I knew most of the information from what I had gathered for the K12 and CA comparison ( A few new bits were gathered.
  • Partner School: K12 is partnered with CSAL (Community School for Apprenticeship Learning) charter school, which ironically was where the meeting was moved to. 
  • No 11th or 12th Grades: In case I hadn’t mentioned it in the comparison, K12 doesn’t have 11th or 12th grades this year. Next year they will add 11th, and they will add 12th the year after. 
  • Core Subject: For Louisiana they have 6 core subjects that all children take:
o       Language Arts
o       Math
o       Science
o       History
o       Art
          o        Music 
  • Foreign Language: For 4th graders and above, you can sign up for a foreign language, but they don’t recommend it for the first semester of anyone just starting K12, but you can add it half-way through the year. The foreign language doesn’t cost anything since it’s included in the package for Louisiana students. They offer:
o       Spanish
o       French
o       German
o       Latin
  • Secondary Sites: Some of the things offered through K12 are actually not part of K12 but secondary sites they highly recommend. An example is for typing. They encourage students to use Dance Mat ( which is sponsored by BBC for British schools. 
  • Dates: School begins August 17, 2011 and ends May 11, 2012. 
    • The total days a child has to attend is 177 
  • ILP: Individualized Learning Plan. At the beginning of each year, your child’s teacher will create with you a learning plan based on your child’s needs and abilities. Every 9 weeks this ILP is reviewed and adjusted. I like this aspect. It means that if your child starts out behind but catches up quickly, then they aren’t held back for being initially behind. Goals are actually set, and your child tries to achieve them.
  •   Mastery System for K-8: I did say this in my comparison, but I think it needs repeating. K12 is a mastery system – your child works on a concept until they have mastered it. It does not work by your child going over a unit, taking a test (assessment – they do not call them tests) and moving on unless they score at least 80% on the assessment. If they don’t, then the child keeps reviewing. On the other hand, if your child catches on very easily to that concept, they don’t have to spend copious amounts of time reviewing something they know.
  • High School: is more like on-line college classes. If you have experience with these, you know what I mean. If not, I don’t know how to explain it.
  •  Scan-tron Tests: For language arts and math for 3rd to 10th graders (maybe for 11th & 12th when K12 gets them, but I don’t know). These tests will help determine what level your child is working on in order to adjust their curricula up or down to meet their needs. Also a teacher can asses if they need one-on-one work with them in order to get back up to level.
  •  Learning Coach Duties
o      Who: Most likely the learning coach is a parent or grandparent.
o       Work with the teacher. From what it sounds like, until high school, the learning coach is the one who interacts with the teacher. The student has very little actual interaction. Depending on the student’s needs, the parent may be in contact with the teacher often or only every now and then.
o       Logs Hours Daily: K12 made an agreement with Louisiana that K12 students would average 6 hours a day or 30 hours a week of educational time. Totaling 177 days or 1062 hours.
§   For the most part, these hours are logged in doing the core subjects. If your child spends 60 minutes on math, you log in those 60 minutes in the math column.
§   Education time is fairly subjective. There is a Supplemental Hours category to fit in non-core subject time. In other words if your child helps you cook dinner, it can be considered educational. After all they are learning fractions, measuring, and chemical reactions.
§   Fieldtrips count in this Supplemental Category, which does count towards the 1062 hours.
§   Daily: Hours should be logged in daily. K12 needs to be able to generate a report of student attendance for the state at any time. So if everyone logs their hours in only once a week, their report would be inaccurate. The reminders to do this are plenty.
§   At any time of night or day, you can log in your hours for the school day. For example, at 1:30 am on August 23rd, you can log in your hours for August 22nd.
§   Hours can not be logged in for dates that are school holidays, but you can enter the hours worked on that day for the next date. For example, school is closed for Labor Day, September 5. But if you and your child do schoolwork that day, you can log it in for the September 6th slot.
o       Student Accounts: If the student is 3rd grade or above, the learning coach should create a student account for their student to use. That way the student doesn’t have access to administrative features that they don’t need (like logging their hours).
o       Portfolio: The learning coach should keep samples of their student's work to submit to the teacher at least every 9 weeks. This work should show their best attempt as well as early attempts to show progress.
  • Teacher’s Duties:
o       The teacher is considered a curriculum and assessment specialist. What does this mean? Assessment: you teacher figures out at what level your child can do. Curriculum: after figuring out what your child can do, they assign him work according to his ability and goals.
o       The teacher is your first point of contact within k12 about your student. In other words, whatever your questions or concerns may be, contact your child’s teacher first. Their contact information can be found when you log into your OLS (On-Line School) at
o       Teacher should know about all special circumstances. If your child has special medical needs, your teacher should know. If your child has special educational needs, your teacher should know. If your child has behavioral, mental or emotional issues, your teacher should know.
  • DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) Testing. If your child is going into K-3rd grade, they will have a DIBELS test. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes and simply shows the teacher how well your child can read or, if they can’t, how many early literacy skills (like knowing the alphabet) they know.
o       DIBELS testing is going to happen August 24-26. The location is unknown yet.
  • Louisiana LEAP Testing: For kids entering 4th and 9th grades, they have to take the Louisiana LEAP test with K12. They can not simply go to their local school to do it. K12 testing locations will be all over the state for accessibility. It is a multiple day test. 
  •  Special Services: If your child has special needs, such as dyslexia, speech impairment or other disabilities, let your teacher know. In the 2nd or 3rd week after school starts, they will arrange for your child to be tested. If necessary, you child will then get help. This is a big deal for those of us going from homeschooling to using a state funded charter school. Things that we were denied by the school system, from speech therapy to reading help for our dyslexic children, will now be addressed.
  •  Field Trips:
o       Always happen on Fridays
o       Will occur all over the state to give different families a chance to take part
o       May be limited to the number of children
o       Mostly it’s okay to bring non-K12 siblings, unless stated
o       Need to be registered for
o       Count as supplemental hours for the day/week
Some Useful Sites and Links:
  • K12’s main site. Use to log on to your On-Line School (OLS):
  • Louisiana’s K12 main page (LAVCA): 
  • LAVCA site for loads of help: On this site you can find tutorials on getting started plus step-by-step instructions. Exploring this site has been way helpful. Especially look at these tabs:
o       Getting Started
o       Secrets of Success

  • Facebook pages for K12 Louisiana (I wish I had known about these before the meeting location mix-up):
o       Central Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA is K12 in Louisiana):
o       K-12 LAVCA Families from Slidell to Baton Rouge:

I think that’s it. The orientation overall was worth going to. Our questions were answered. The speaker made a distinction between the K-8 students and the high school students, letting us know that these grades act very differently within K12.
If you remember anything that I left out, please leave a comment.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Don’t Have to be Everything!

Sometimes I love having lots of kids. Every now and then the thought hits me that I don’t have to be everything for my children, and it fills me with such relief. Algernon was an only child for such a long time, and although I had a big support system, I still felt that it was my sole responsibility to be teacher for her.

Then all the others came along. Every now and then I see one of them spontaneously taking over some responsibility, and the sight is wonderful!

We have been so frustrated that Ebby has been refusing to potty train. We’ve cajoled, encouraged, supported, and bribed him to do it, but no, he still doesn’t feel ready. He’s over 4! When, when, when will he stop wearing diapers?

Yesterday morning Bobo took a hand in it and declared, “Ebby, I’m going to teach you how to go on the potty. You’re a big boy, and big boys don’t wear diapers!”

So off they went into the bathroom to do whatever it is they needed to do.  I sat here, not wanting to disturb whatever motivation Bobo had for taking a hand in this effort.  He can’t have worse luck than we have had in this endeavor.

Update: he wore the undies all day and went in the potty on his own. So YAY for positive peer pressure and big brothers!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Frustrations about the System

Talked to K12 and asked about Meme’s grade level, which is still showing up on the enrollment page as seventh grade, which is the grade I want her to be doing.  In their records, she’s signed up for eighth, for which I don’t think she’s ready. I wish they would update the records that I see so that it would be less confusing.

After being passed around on the phone, I finally got a firm answer to my questions about her grade level. No matter what grade level is she doing currently, K12 places them in their age appropriate grade level – so a 5 year old enters K, a 6 enters 1st, etc. When the start date becomes closer, she’ll take a scan-tron assessment test (at that testing center that, if you remember, they still have not found) to determine her capacity level. At that point, her Louisiana certified K12 teacher will adjust her curricula to her capacity level, but her grade level will remain the same.

I have a couple of problems with this system of placement.

First, they insist that the state is making them do it this way. If that’s true, then why isn’t Connections Academy also forced to do it this way? Does CA have a completely different agreement with Louisiana? Possibly. Or is it their own policy they enforce in state run versions of K12? More likely. I honestly don’t know.

Second, what if I had been homeschooling my children at an advanced rate and they were several grade levels ahead? Or even one grade level ahead? With the way their placement works, they may be doing work on an advanced level, but they wouldn’t finish high school any faster than the average student who either wasn’t capable of working ahead or not ambitious enough to do it.

All those frustrations and feeling of powerlessness that I felt when Algernon was in school are suddenly resurging. (deep breath in . . . deep breath out . . . a little better now)

As a homeschool mom, I’m used to being the one to determine what my children are doing – for better or worse.  What I understand now, that I didn’t understand 16 years ago, is that there is actually much more wiggle room than most schools are willing to admit – virtual schools or brick and mortar schools. The teachers and principals have the ability to adjust much more than they let on, but it is a huge pain in the tush.

They’re not bad guys. If something is in the best interest of the student, they will go to great lengths to see that it happens. But, and this is a big, big but, I’ve always felt that as a parent I am never listened to.  I’m sure that there are many, many parents who either insist that their children are capable of doing more or less than the children actually are, and I’m sure that school officials have their fill of them. But I would like at least the pre-tense that I may know my child a bit better than they will by reading their scan-tron tests. 

Okay enough ranting! I have much to do and such a short time in which to do it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oh No! Not a Waiting List!

So we’ve hit a snag. Finally, after much additional paperwork was sent in to Connections Academy (CA), more than they originally asked for, Meme, and only Meme, is out of the application process. Here’s the snag: her grade level is full, so she’s on a waiting list until there is room for her.

So this whole story of there being 500 or 600 spots open to Louisiana students, and until those spots are full, there is space for all is not quite true. In reality there are only so many spots per grade, and once those spots are full, even if the 500 total spots aren’t filled, you are still put on a waiting list.

I know several other homeschool families are still trying to decide between CA & K12, so I suspect a spot will open up for her as they make their decisions and withdraw their kids from one or the other. We may not get much notice that she’s off the waiting list, but I’ll have to live with it.

I called CA to ask where on the waiting list Meme is. Remember that the other 2 kids haven’t even made it past the application part, and while the customer support person was muttering to himself, it sounds like many of the grade levels are full. The person I spoke with was helpful and said that Meme’s grade filled up recently. He did base this opinion on the fact that he hasn’t received any official notice that it is full, so the customer support people haven’t even been notified.

What did I find out then? That she may or may not be near the top of the list, which is what I already knew. At least they were helpful and polite in telling me that.

Hopefully she isn’t on the waiting list long for her grade with CA. K12 is trying to place her in a grade level above what I feel she should be in, and I really do want her to try CA. From the research I’ve done, I get the feeling that she would be a better fit for CA or that CA is a better fit for her.

Okay, so I looked at my enrollment page on CA’s website, and they only added 2 forms and a placement test from the original request.   She only took the on-line placement test yesterday. So that they placed her in the approved category a day later is actually pretty impressive. Delaying taking it was my fault.

The only other thing I was missing form-wise was the Homeschool Prior Academic History Form, which I sent in with the original packet of forms. The form didn’t have much room for writing details on the curricula we used last year, and so I filled it in as best as the space allowed. It took them forever to review it and let me know that they needed more information. I only realized within the last week or two that I needed to redo the whole form and resend it. I did that yesterday too.

One bad on my part and one bad on their part. The lesson learned is to fill out the forms better than “as best as possible” and take the placement tests in a timely manner.

Now to get on the phone with K12, with whom all three kids are accepted already, to see if I can get Meme placed in the appropriate grade level. Why am I writing this instead? I’m so hesitant to call them because every time I do I get a completely different answer from the time before.  I called yesterday to figure out what forms were received but not yet reviewed, since there are 6 or 7 for each child that are still marked “please submit,” and I’ve submitted most of them.  

Yesterday I was told that since the kids are accepted, I don’t have to submit any other forms.  I know that can’t be true since two of the forms still marked “please submit” are Bobo’s & Meme’s immunization records, forms which are required by the state of Louisiana in order to enter a state funded school. I did send the forms in . . . three times . . . at least a month ago, but they are still marked “please submit.” *sigh*
Time to bite the bullet and just call. I swear they must have a personal file on me marked “difficult parent” and that’s why I’m constantly given to helpdesk people who don’t know anything but are willing to tell me anything to get me off the phone.

K12 & Connections Academy Update

Okay. It may seem like we’ve done nothing for 2 weeks, but on top of going to Hogwarts everyday, we’ve been doing a bit of schoolwork on the side, preparing for the Louisiana LEAP and trying to stay sane.

K12 finally sent out information about the placement tests they are giving, and their e-mail did not inspire confidence. I knew that they still have job advertisements for local directors and teachers, and so I have no idea how they are doing structurally. When you send out a blanket e-mail to your potential parents saying that you have no facility to use as a testing center and asking if we had any leads . . . uh . . . well . . . I think maybe you don’t have all your ducks in a row or even all of your ducks present to line up in said row.

Nation-wide K12 seems to have their act together a bit better than Connections, but on a local level, I’ve been more impressed with Connections Academy as far as being professional, keeping in touch with the parent (a.k.a. me) and making sure that I get everything they need turned in.

Connections does placement tests too, but theirs are on-line, short and to the point. Of course it is Connections academy who are making Jojo take the Louisiana LEAP in a state provided testing environment, but I can’t really fault them there since the LEAP is required for all students entering 9th grade.
And the forms! As soon as I think I have all the forms they need faxed in, they add one or two to the list. That’s true with both schools. Then it takes forever for them to acknowledge that I send them in.  Somehow we will make it through this process, and I still don’t know how we will end up.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bad Monkey

Sorry I've been incommunicado for the last 2 weeks. I was literally sucked into the world of Hogwarts. Seriously. I'm part of a group that puts on a 2 week Hogwarts summer camp every year, and it is as fun as it sounds.
This is me on Animagus Day
I do have lots of things to write about in our homeschooling life, but I'm still fairly exhausted from 2 hectic, busy, exciting, exhilarating, fun weeks. So for now, this pic will have to do.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Time Management? First I Need Time in Order to Manage It.

I sometimes find home-schooling advice in unlikely places.

Marion Zimmer Bradley is one of my favorite authors for light sci-fi reading, and I loved reading her editorials to new writers. One thing she said over and over that’s stuck with me for 20 years is that if you want to write, you have to do it despite constant interruptions from children, expectations of dinner and overwhelming piles of laundry. Using those as an excuse isn’t acceptable. If you can’t write while carrying on a conversation with a toddler, then you need to try harder.  I think the same goes for homeschooling.

5 monkeys and 1 one mom. You do the math. It’s true that not all of my monkeys are young children, but another gem of advice MZB said was that, yes, little kids can be constant interruptions, but their problems are usually along the lines of “I want a pb&j sandwich.” Whereas the problems pre-teen, teen and young adult monkeys bring to you are less often but so much more emotionally draining. Oh boy, was she right!

One more thing that Marion said which also applies to the home-school mom: make prolific use of your crock-pot.

Of all the things I do well, time management is not one of them. Not even close. I say this as I sit here writing rather than thinking of dinner, doing the dishes, getting dressed or a dozen other things that should be done by now.

I’ve tried several methods over the years to help be a more productive person. Lists. Schedules. Dry erase calendars. Computer programs that make awful noises to remind me of things.

I could argue that I have logged more hours creating the lists and schedules than using them, and my husband would agree. It’s not an onerous task; I love making lists and schedules. One might say that I love making lists and schedules a little too much, but I can’t deny their effectiveness – if followed, that is.

One book I am incredibly glad a fellow home-school mom recommended is Managers of Their Homes (MOTH) by Steve & Teri Maxwell (, who at the time that they wrote it home-schooled all 6, or was it 7, of their kids.

It has a strong religious bent (and yes, I am a secular homeschooler) that should be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ve never found a better book on making schedules for a homeschool family. Some of our parenting techniques clashed big time (she is not the attachment parent/extended breastfeeding/natural whole foods foodie that I attempt to be), but she gives advice that I still use.

 A few good kernels I learned from MOTH, other books and personal experience:
  • Use MS Excel or another database program. It’s much easier to copy and paste when adjusting your schedule than erase and rewrite.
  • Break the day up into 30 minute chunks, which are easier to handle and divvy out.
  • Break your schedule up into days. I use a different page for each day of the week (no, I don’t make one for the weekends). Our Mondays look nothing like our Tuesdays. It was impossible to fit everything in at the same times everyday. So I prioritize and schedule the core elements in the most flexible time slots every day after I’ve plugged in our floating activities, such as co-op, scouts or park day.
  • If possible, have at least one main schedule for each day that has everyone’s itinerary on it. That way I don’t schedule an intense math lesson with Meme at the same time as I’m reviewing reading with Bobo.
  • With large families, kids must help. One of the most important lessons we can teach our monkeys is that we actually do have to work to be successful at anything. If your child does no chores, doesn’t help with his/her siblings and simply lounges around during all of their free time, the rude awakening they get when they step out of your house as an adult will be large indeed, and they may never recover.  Having your child do no chores does them a great disservice.

Here’s a sample schedule I made years ago when we only had 3 monkeys.

A pretty simple lay out. I love using colors to help read the columns more easily. 

Here’s another with more monkeys.

As the kids get older, I’ve tried both segmenting their days into half-hour chunks with different subjects and lumping them into 2 to 3 hour chunks of “school-work,” and I can’t tell you which method works best. It all depends on the child. Jojo does better with a whole list of things she should be doing, and then she one-by-one knocks them out. Meme likes knowing what she should be doing at what time. It’s 1:00 and you should be on your math work now, works best for her.

Most of all, be flexible. I can say that I spend all that time making a schedule and then never stick to it. It gives me a framework upon which to hang my day and something to refer back to when I can’t remember what we haven’t done, but I don’t have to stick to it no matter what.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Very Painful Day

Once in my twenties while I was still nursing Meme, I had a cavity that needed filling.  As most nursing moms know, we generally don’t stop breastfeeding simply because some dentist tells us that breastfeeding and dental anesthesia don’t combine well. “Can’t the kid take a bottle?” is not acceptable.  I hated dental anesthesia anyway, so I decided that it would be fine to have the tooth drilling done without any pain meds. None at all. Not even a Tylenol. And yes, it did hurt. Quite a bit.

I would gladly take the pain from that day over the pain I felt yesterday afternoon trying to guide Jojo through the LEAP. It’s not that she can’t do the work. She is capable, but does she know that? I don’t know, but she acts like she doesn’t.

I thought after the success from the day before, Jojo would be less anxious. She should have felt more at ease from knowing that this test-taking stuff is within her realm of capability. The reading passages aren’t hard, and she had no problem understanding either the passages or the questions.  A greater familiarity with the test format should have made her more comfortable. I figured that we were ready to take a real life-sized language arts portion pretest and use the results to hone her skills.

Yet, she began with the attitude that she’s going to fail, and I don’t understand why she should feel that way. Test anxiety doesn’t sum it up, at least not fully.

Our work session yesterday didn’t start out well. I guess I forgot to tell her the day before, when explaining the LEAP and why she had to take it, that it wasn’t an on-line test that would take an hour or two.  I suppose I forgot to mention that it was a three day, written test she would have to take at a school in mid-city with a bunch of other kids.

“But it’s on-line!” she insisted.

“No hun, the Connections Academy’s assessment test is on-line.  The Louisiana LEAP is a state test; it has to be supervised by actual teachers and stuff.”

That look she gave me I mistakenly saw as sarcastic indignation.  You know, one of those looks of “Are you f***ing kidding me?”  But it turned out to be a look of pure panic and terror. My bad, but I won’t confuse the two looks again.

On a mildly related note, for the last three days while I’ve been working with Jojo, the boys have been exceptionally good. Maybe it’s the semi-clean state of the playroom, which is now messy enough that it should have caution tape around it.  Maybe it’s the extra sleep they are getting, but giving me 3 to 4 hour chunks to work with one of their sisters is a gift from them.

Back to yesterday: While the boys were occupied, I was puttering around the dining room just in case Jojo, who was at the dining room table, had a question. Just a little bit of light sewing so that I didn’t seem so engrossed in helping her, but it kept me near enough that she could feel comfortable asking me anything. Quietly she read the first passage.

“I don’t understand this question.” Now that look I should have recognized. Anger. Self-righteousness.  Sometimes my own naivety surprised me, but I thought she really didn’t understand the question.

“What’s the question?” I asked as I hopped up, possibly a bit too enthusiastically.

“What’s the point of this passage?” I was ready with my stock answer that the point of a passage is generally summed up in the first and last paragraphs, so let’s take a look at those.

“No mom,” she said with dead calm. “I understand the article. I just felt it was pointless.”

Okay.  There’s no stock answer for that. It didn’t get any prettier from there.

I just didn’t recognize all the signs of frustration and being overwhelmed.  We’ve had a weird view of schooling for the most part. I figure if the kids are really good readers and can do adequate math that they should be fine. After all, if you can read well then you can learn to do anything else. I push loads of good books at them and have them do their math work consistently. I have them write practical things like stories, letters and such.

Maybe I haven’t prepared them enough for standardized tests, but there wasn’t anything in these tests that she can’t do – except the test itself. 

Let’s just sum up the next hour with tears from us both, yelling from her, almost giving up (both of us again) and other unpleasant things. Towards the end, she was determined not to do the test for no other reason than the principle of it, but I was still determined that she does it.

If my children learn no other lesson from me I hope it’s that you don’t ever give up until you’ve really tried. 

I tried several tactics to convince her. She tried several tactics to convince me. Finally I reminded her that it’s only been a bit over 3 years since she started reading at all.

“No mom, it’s been 5.” Always the need to correct me. *sigh*

“No, I remember being pregnant with Ebby doing flash card with you in our old kitchen. I remember still doing the flash cards when he was a baby in the sling. And I remember you throwing a book across the room saying that you’ll never be able to read it, so why bother trying.  I remember the book.  It was the shorter, thinner Dick and Jane book with the brown cover. Do you remember that?”

I got a smile from her at least. “Yeah, I remember.”

“Can you read it now?”

“It’s way too easy to read now.”

“But you remember how that felt? And you remember we worked through it.” By then my bladder was screaming obscenities at. When I was washing my hands, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, and I thought, “How did I come to this place? I’ve ruined my children’s lives by doing this, by homeschooling.”

By the time I got back to the dining room, she had finished writing the answers to that question and the next one. I looked over what she wrote, was satisfied and then went back to sewing.  I sat down with her several more times to explain things, look over her work and talk about stuff, but I’m hoping she worked a little more past her fear.

Today we took it easy and I gave her a bunch of workbook pages on punctuation and other grammar bits.  Of course she informed me that not only had she done these workbook pages before, but that she’s done much better ones. “You need the review,” I told her.

Tomorrow we start on the math portion. I still don’t know how we’re going to squeeze all this studying in and do everything else we have planned. Maybe some creative shuffling is in order.  

I haven’t even started the essay writing section, and I know she’ll freak out despite not being a bad writer. I figure the old 5-paragraph essay I learned in tenth grade English should do the trick. It will at least give her a concrete formula and framework to work with.

If I survive next month . . . I deserve a cookie!