Friday, February 24, 2017

Proposed Legislation

Some homeschoolers consider Pennsylvania to have too many regulations about the way they can teach their children at home. I can see that compared to some states, we do have a few more hoops to jump through, but overall I feel the state allows us to homeschool in a way that works for us. Up until now, I had never given much thought to what the federal government had to say about my homeschooling. But now new legislation has been proposed that brings it to my attention.

HB 610 was introduced on January 23 by three congressmen. This bill called The Choices in Education Act, presents a plan to offer vouchers to families who choose to send their children to private schools or to offset the cost of homeschooling. The bill also slips in the repeal of some of the school nutrition standards that were established during President Obama's time in office. While the idea of someone handing me money to pay the costs of homeschooling seems like a lovely gift, I am not so sure this will work out to be beneficial to the homeschooling community.

From what I understand reading the bill, if I wanted to accept a voucher, the amount of the voucher would not be allowed to be for more than the amount it cost me to homeschool. I'm assuming this means I would have to record and prove how much it cost me to teach my children. And who would decide what was an appropriate thing to buy? In the past, I counted one of our vacations to the ocean to be part of our marine biology unit. Will I get reimbursed for that? Call me paranoid, but I don't want the government nitpicking my homeschooling plans to tell me if what I'm doing counts as education. More oversight is not a good thing when things are already working just fine the way they are.

There are other things to be concerned about in this bill. The bill wipes out past legislation with no replacement for essential things. I see nothing covering identification of learning disabilities or giftedness, yet this bill proposes to repeal the legislation that established that practice. I don't like big government, but I also don't believe in trashing the system with no way to take care of issues that exist.

I don't usually use this blog as a place to rant about my political beliefs but I thought this was important to share with those who homeschool or are considering it as an option. You can read the text of the bill here. I am not a member of HSDLA, but an article their leadership shared was where I first became aware of this proposed legislation. You can read that article here. If you feel the way I do, contact the authors of the bill and your own member of congress to express your concerns.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cruising Along

Last week our ISP was down for five days. Although I love living where we do, I get really tired of the service issues we have with our Internet access. I'm glad that so much of our schooling is outsourced now so the boys were not too affected by the outage.

JT has been dealing with cancellations of his classes due to winter weather. His speech class has been called off at least three times since it started in mid-January. Because of that, he still hasn't given his first speech. Hopefully Tuesday he will finally have the opportunity. He is enjoying his WWII and Music Appreciation classes. WWII is his favorite. He's read most of the text book already. If only he could make real money with a history degree; that would be the perfect fit for his interests.

With our snowy weather this week I've been dreaming of our spring vacation to the beach. We have already booked a beach house for the week after JT's finals wrap up. In addition, we are looking at leaving two days early and making a stop in the Shenandoah National Park so JT and I can work on our plan to hike 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail after his graduation next May. We are looking at the portion of the trail that runs parallel to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah NP. On the trip this May, we can hike a short portion of the trail and get some idea of how things will work next year when it's just the two of us.

EM is starting to do some computer programming as well as getting back to working on his electronics projects.He also started a pottery wheel class this week. He doesn't like doing much art work, but he does love the pottery. I'm sure I'll be adding to my collection of cool bowls when class ends this year.

Today I am going to pick up a copy of the PA driver's manual for JT to start studying for his driving permit test. He turned 16 last month, but wasn't in much of a hurry to start driving. We figure if he gets it by summer he can get in a lot of practice during the drives to his classes in the fall semester. I'm not sure I'm ready for this next step in his life. I don't mind teaching science, history, literature, but driving? That's something out of my league. Dad will be taking on that job.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Back to Class

We started full-time schooling at home again on January 9th and JT's college classes started on the 17th. Less than 70 days remain until we have met our required 180 of schooling for this year. Time has really been flying, probably because more and more of JT's school is outsourced and EM is mostly independent in his work.


I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to try out Amazon's textbook rental this semester. We purchased the music appreciation book used, because I figured JT would want to keep it for future use, but rented the other two. First day of speech class his instructor tells the students, "The school doesn't want me to tell you not to buy the book, but, don't buy the book." Thanks. At least I didn't buy it. After he goes to his first WWII class, and we find out if he needs that book, I'll be deciding if I'm shipping one or both back for a full refund. Thankfully, Amazon has that option if we do it within 30 days of receiving them.

At home we have been continuing our study of American history, now reading a book about the Persian Gulf War together. When we have finished it, we will move on to Bill Clinton's presidency. I think if we keep our pace at what it has been, we will reach current day in America by the time JT graduates. Hopefully the boys will keep up their study of current events when their years of learning with me have finished. I know that I have learned so many things I did not know over the span of our studies. Today I told JT, "You do realize that you probably know more history than most adults in America, right?" He was surprised by that.

This week I also registered him to take the SAT in June. Now we just need to figure out how to link his results from the PSAT with Khan Academy so he can get customized practice problems.

In the next few weeks, JT will wrap up his study of geography for the year and move on to spending more time learning to use software to transcribe his music compositions. In order to get an A in music composition this year, I expect three of his original songs to be in written format, playable by someone other than himself, by the end of the school year. Once he learns how to use the software, he should be able to meet that goal and share his music with others. Finally I feel like we are working on a skill that will be useful for his plans for his future!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Babies Growing Up

JT turned 16 over the holiday break. We usually only have family parties for birthdays, but this year, he had a party with his friends too. The party was basically one big Nerf gun battle. We used our church fellowship hall to set up the war zone. The picture is the bin of darts used by his nine party-goers. I was happy to one was permanently injured and all had fun.

Now that he has turned 16, we need to start thinking about driving. He isn't in a big hurry to get a license, mostly because he will be paying his own insurance and that will require him to get a job. In PA, drivers can have a permit without carrying their own insurance, so he will go for the permit test later this spring and then spend the summer logging the hours necessary to apply for a license. We found a few online helps to study for the permit, but I'm going old school and driving out to the license center to get a study book. I know having him drive will make my life easier in some ways, mostly I won't need to sit around and wait while he's in classes anymore, but the cost involved in having insurance for a 16 year old male driver is a little more than I can take. We'll see how things go once he has his permit and then make a decision on the license.

On Tuesday, the book list for his spring classes became available to access online. I can't believe that people are willing to pay full price for these new text books. If I had bought his three books from the school store, it would have cost me over $300. Instead, I bought a used copy of the music appreciation text from Amazon for $10. I couldn't find the other two books for less than $70 each used, so I decided to give Amazon's textbook rental program a try. For about $15 a book, he can have the books until the end of the semester. As long as we have them postmarked by May 29th, we will have no additional costs, and they pay return shipping. Seems like a great deal to me! JT is pretty careful with books, so I think this will go well.

Today I am waiting for EM while he is at his homeschool gym class. The new session started today and will continue for 12 weeks. He really enjoys the time spent with the other kids. I really enjoy hanging out in the coffee shop drinking my latte. Next week we start back to schooling full time. This weekend will be spent getting things organized in the classroom again. It became the gift wrapping, holiday prep center over Christmas break, and I need to get things back to normal before Monday. I'm looking forward to the second half of our school year. I know it will be over in a blink of the eye.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Results


JT's classes at the community college wrapped up last week. He had his finals and the grades are in; he received As in both English composition and chemistry. I must admit, we were both surprised that he ended up pulling off the As. Based on the grades he received on work that was returned, he averaged a B, but both instructors gave a lot of credit for attendance and participation, so he did better than expected. I'm not sure what kind of lesson this teaches. I felt he could have worked harder on the assignments and hoped he'd see the negative results of just getting by then adjust his work ethic to do better in the future. Instead, I feel that he learned he can do a minimal amount of work and still pull off good grades in the end. Maybe I've set a higher bar for work at home? Either way, As for the transcript are a good thing.

PSAT scores also arrived this week. He did better than he expected in the math portion, so we were pleased with his results. Now we can use Khan Academy's SAT prep program that will be based on the areas he needs to improve until he takes the test in the spring.

Overall, he has had a very successful first half of his junior year. In the spring semester he will have three classes, one more than fall. Although he is not looking forward to taking the speech class, he is happy about the WW2 class and music appreciation. At home he will continue his algebra 2 course and wrap up geography. He will also be working on recording some of his music for his credit in music composition.

EM will be adding a programming class after our break. He has an interest in electronics from the hardware end, but hasn't done much on the software yet. He is doing well in Algebra 1 and his earth science work. Right before our Christmas break began, I gave him a longer writing assignment. He had to write a report about a state. He chose Alaska. I let him work independently to see what he would come up with on his own. When we get back to work in January, I will be helping him work to improve what he wrote.

Our break will be a much needed three weeks of school free time. We had originally planned to take a full month off, but the boys both voted to start one week sooner so we could take a week off in March when the community college closes for their break. I have a few things to work on over the break, but mostly I'm going to relax and do some work around the house.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2017!

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Struggle to Become a Hands Off Parent

JT has been out of the public brick and mortar school system for nine years now. The first two years at home we used a public cyber school, switching over to traditional homeschooling when he entered 5th grade. We are now about 1/3 of the way through his junior year in high school. Things have mostly gotten easier as the years have gone by. But now there is a new problem I am encountering; I have to learn to step back and let him take the lead.

All those years ago when JT first came home to learn, I needed to plan and arrange things to make it possible. Using the cyber school, we had curriculum we needed to follow and I was the one to make that happen. Switching over to homeschooling, I had even more control over the things we did for learning. I rarely used package curriculum, instead choosing to develop my own plans using a variety of materials. In all of this, I was the one always saying, "Get your work done." Not much different than moms of public school students, except in my case, I was also assigning the work. Now that JT is taking classes at the community college, my role is changing. The only subjects at home this year are geography and algebra 2. Everything else is being outsourced either to the community college or private lessons. Where do I fit in as homeschooling mom?

My number one role appears to be transportation. I've tried to work on helping JT with his time management skills as he learns to juggle his classwork. Unfortunately this is turning into more nagging than teaching. It's just so hard to stop telling him to do his work when it has been my primary role for nine years. Up until now, I was expected to lay out the daily plan and require things be finished before we moved on to fun things. I am no longer the one giving the assignments so I don't even know everything he needs to do at home. The fact that he is a chronic procrastinator makes it stressful for me to see him not working when I know there are things that need to be done.

My husband told me I need to let him do this on his own so that he can learn from his mistakes while he's still at home taking classes with relatively small risks. I'm trying, but it's been a difficult transition. This week JT and I had a bit of a blow up over his work and I finally decided to go completely hands off. He had his final in English comp on Tuesday and a quiz in music theory and I knew he was not doing much prep work. Tuesday night he came home from the final happy. He said, "I just sat down and started writing and out came a great essay." No prep. Once again, his procrastination and lack of preparation had not caused him to suffer any consequences. Granted, we don't have the results yet, but I know how this always goes. The music theory quiz was yesterday. After some cramming in the car on the way to the lesson, he pulled off a 100%.

So what have I learned? Nagging is not necessary because JT will somehow manage to pull success from nowhere? I guess that's not it... Nagging is not necessary because all it does is bring stress to all of us. If he works best with the deadline looming, maybe that's how he has to work. I just can't watch and everyone will be happy.

Friday, November 11, 2016

College Visit

On Saturday we made our first college visit with JT. He has been taking classes at a satellite location for this community college since August and wanted to check out the main campus. When we received the email inviting him to attend an open house, we decided to take advantage of the offer.

The main campus is about an hour and fifteen minutes from our home. We had a nice drive and arrived about twenty minutes before the event was to begin. There were tables set up from each department so we spoke with the people from Communication Arts and found out where we should go later to see the recording department.

We heard the mandatory talk by the president of the university first. The school seems to have a great focus on making the school affordable by skimping on the non-essentials so they can instead spend it on the technology needed to provide a meaningful education in the classroom. JT doesn't care if he goes to a school with a beautiful campus or other things that are just extra frills. He wants an education that will allow him to learn something that will help him grow as a person as well as provide a career path.

After the talk, we went to a short talk on financial aid, then waited our turn to take a campus tour. Most of the other tours had already left, so we ended up in the last tour of the day that happened to be a bilingual tour for Spanish speakers. I had a great time brushing up on my nearly dormant Spanish. Unfortunately the tour skipped a building - the one we wanted to see. When we returned from the tour we headed over to the technology building to talk with someone about what we really came there to see.

We were some of the few people left on campus, since the open house was wrapping up at noon. Because of that, we were able to have a nice long talk with the chairman of the communication arts department about their music recording technology program. The school is in the process of building a brand new recording studio to update their program so we got to see the work in progress. It looks like it's going to be impressive when completed. We had the chance to ask questions about the things that we have been wondering ever since we learned about this program. We found out that the majority of students pursuing a music recording associates are musicians. We asked if commuting would be doable; if the schedule could be limited to classes two days a week. He said that many do commute from quite a long way away and they keep the schedule tight for that reason. We also found out that Bloomsburg University, a school closer to us, has a dual admission agreement with them and that JT could transfer into their 4 year program as a junior when he completes his associate degree with LCCC.

As we were leaving to come home, my husband asked JT if he was excited yet. He said he had already been thinking he would go to school there, but now he was certain. I'm guessing we'll do a few more visits to other schools, but JT is the kind of person who makes up his mind, and sticks with it. Maybe we'll visit Bloomsburg to talk about the dual admission and see if that would be the best path to pursue. Overall, I'm feeling good about the plan. Things are finally falling into place. And that's a great feeling.