When we started our family, it was with trust and faith in the local, small, rural school a mere 5 miles from our acreage in Bollinger County. We were thrilled with small class sizes and school that felt similar to the smaller public schools that my husband and I had graduated from. It was so important to us that our children be able to experience a sense of close community and one-on-one teaching that we felt was critical to establishing firm foundations. We had been conditioned to believe that small schools equaled excellent academic institutions.
By the time my oldest daughter had completed the third grade, we were learning quite a different experience than we had anticipated.
Fourth grade was a game-changer. My honor roll eldest became a shell of herself. The bright, vibrant, inquisitive, and engaged little girl we sent off on day one became a discouraged, self-conscious, emotional bundle of nerves. Every night ended in tears and frustrations and outbursts in the practice of completing homework that often included three pages of math and 2-4 pages of ELA exercises-this on top of hefty reading expectations in order to comply with obligatory but meaningless AR goals. My husband and I felt shell-shocked. We would text each other during the day to strategize what we would do each night in order to ensure the most relaxing environment for our daughters to be able to complete their homework. We would drain ourselves of energy, just trying to keep our little ones engaged. We supervised homework for 2-3 hours each night-every minute of it full of tears and frustrations about not being taught that day’s needs because there ‘wasn’t time’ to do it at the end of the day. 9 and 10 year olds telling us they were “no good at it,” and questioning if they would have to repeat grades-in spite of the fact that they were always on the Honor Rolls. Asking in the mornings if they HAD to go to school. NO ONE had ever prepared me for the possibility that my child might be miserable in her learning environment.
Eight weeks into 4th grade, I emailed my child’s teacher to ask if I could come into class a few times each week so that I could learn the ‘new math,’ as many of the methods baffled us, and it was important to us to be able to understand in order to help our children. She responded, in an email I will preserve forever as a reminder, that it would be a “traumatic” experience for me to be in the same classroom as my child. I found PLA that night and began researching it.
I began doing what all parents do when their children are sick or discouraged: I researched everything I could, in order to diagnose the problem. I learned about the common sense methods practiced in some schools-referred to as “project based learning.” I learned about the promise shown in the 4day school model and visited schools across MO to meet with administrators and teachers about that model, and the models showing incredible promise in ”innovative,’ or ‘problem-based’ instruction. My husband and I each took considerable leave from our jobs throughout the year to visit, shadow, and advocate for these changes at our school. ALL of this worry and time and resources were spent for one reason: the bottom line for us is that our children be allowed to learn in a welcoming environment that encourages diversity of thought and which builds life long learners. Because, in a world that is seeing breakthroughs and advancements in multiple sectors at a faster pace than ever before , and in a world that grows smaller each day, in which practical application and well-established social skills are KEY, it will be crucial to have a desire to keep learning, keep advancing, and keep finding joy in the journey of learning and in being open. Those that will adapt best, be the most successful, and experience the most satisfaction will be those who can ‘shift gears’ and who have great flexibility in learning.
We are so grateful to have found a school that offers everything we have studied and hoped for in our children’s school: small class size, project based learning, 4 day school weeks, and a welcoming of individuality and a focus on one-on-one instruction. Our girls are already showing more confidence and independence, and are genuinely excited about learning.
Abby came home from school at the end of the second week, and quiet excitedly proclaimed “Guess what?? At this school, I am GOOD at math and I am GOOD at learning! I am really good, mama-you wouldn’t even believe it! I LIKE to learn now, I really do! I LOVE this school. I LOVE my teacher!!” And, that’s ver close to verbatim, if not verbatim. It was a great moment.
I bawled into my potato soup.
Lizzy has suprised us with how insightful she has been about the experience. At the end of the first week, which was only 2 days, I believ, she said “It’s not thatit’s that different from [my old school], but there is just so much more to DO, and we get to DO things that help us learn and have fun and so, yeah, I guess it is different. It doesn’t even feel like I am at school!”