Home, public schooling

Elizabeth Jacob is a single mother of six, and now director of admissions at American Heritage School in Provo, UT. She shares her experiences combining homeschooling and “regular” schooling, and talks about how the transition can be made more smoothly.

Her story also, to my mind, illustrates the essential dilemma of schooling: how to meet the needs of individual students without exhausting the resources of institutions and teachers.

We would love to hear from more of you. Email me at MMcConnell@desnews.com.

“I am a single mother to six children ranging in age from 5 to 19. With the exception of military school, (which I have threatened on occasion) my children and I have used every form of education- public, private, charter and home school.

“I, myself, was home educated in Utah during 7th and 8th grade at a time when home schooling was considered radical and strange and shortly after Singer (?) was shot in the back for refusing to send his children to public school. I don’t know if you recall that sad time in the history of Utah. My mother was warned on many occasions that I would end up socially backwards, illiterate and afraid of the world. Fortunately, none of those threats were realized (at least I hope not)!

“My children began their education in public schools and were fortunate to attend some of the best public schools in the country when we lived Montgomery County, MD. We moved to Utah when my oldest son (Matt) was entering 3rd grade. When we moved, I knew that Matt was advanced and asked my local neighborhood school to test him. At that point he was testing on a 7th and 8th grade level in math and at a similar level in reading. The kind principal met with me and essentially told me that due to limited funding and staffing he really could do very little to meet my child’s needs. His 3rd grade teacher was remarkable, however, and she worked with my son in the classroom, providing him with advanced textbooks in math and English and letting him work at his own pace.

“In 4th grade, however, Matt was placed in a class with a student teacher who hadn’t even completed her teaching degree. The school was implementing the Investigations Math program that year. I went in and met with the teacher at back to school night and explained to her the situation with my son and the ways in which his previous teacher had adapted the curriculum for him the previous year. The teacher told me that she would not do any type of adapting for Matt and that with Investigations math the entire class must move together at the same pace. Foolishly, I left Matt in her classroom. In March of that year he came to me crying because he had forgotten how to do things like long division and multiplication- things that he had been doing in 2nd grade. I pulled him out that day and continued to home school him until the middle of his 7th grade year.

“By the time he reached 7th grade he was becoming increasingly difficult to home school and my life was becoming just too busy to meet his needs and the needs of my other children. I was home schooling my 4th and 6th graders as well and had two younger children (ages 5 and 2) plus I was expecting my 6th child and serving as ward Primary president.

“At that point I enrolled him part time at the local jr. high where things did not go well for him. The classes were large, he felt ignored, he had not yet learned how to be responsible enough to write down homework assignments and turn them in. He struggles with ADHD and this particularly effects his ability to be organized and to follow through with assignments. He is brilliant but easily distracted. He is very shy and quiet by nature and has a difficult time interacting socially in large group settings. I was also attempting to home school him part time so he felt different than everyone else and resisted me at home as well. By November of that year I could see that this was simply not a solution that would work for us.

“I took him to visit Meridian School (at that time located in Provo) and he didn’t want to leave. That very day he enrolled and began to thrive. A small school setting, where teachers knew him by name and would adapt the curriculum as needed, where teachers were aware of his ADHD and would push him to learn organizational skills but also be mindful of the fact that he was dealing with a disability, was the perfect opportunity for him. Within a short period of time he had lead rolls in plays, participated in the Shakespeare festival and won awards and began to win awards for his writing (i.e. he won a number of awards at the national level in the Scholastic Writing competition). Additionally, he thrived socially. For him, the solution was an obvious one- he thrived in a small school setting.

“This, however, led to some fears for me. I could see that a small school setting was best for my son, and that, likely, it would be best for my other five children as well. But, cost was a factor. My former husband was a BYU professor and that certainly didn’t provide the necessary income to pay for private education for 6 children. The next year Meridian approached me and offered me a position as orchestra teacher that would offset some of the tuition cost. I taught at Meridian for the next two years and absolutely loved it.

“However, meanwhile an idea was forming in my head. What if I could work with friends of mine that had founded Timpanogos Academy (a charter grade school) and create a small charter high school that all of my children could attend. I mentioned it to my friend, Michelle Smith, having only the vaguest idea of the time and commitment I was embarking on, and she eagerly jumped on the idea. For the next year we worked meticulously on writing a charter for Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy. Once the charter was granted we had to recruit students and families, hire administration, teachers and staff, select curriculum, find a building and every other facet required to begin a school.

“Maeser Prep opened its doors in 2007 with about 150 students. Since that time it has expanded to 625 students in grades 7-12. In May of 2010 it was recognized as the best high school in the state (#225 in the nation) by Newsweek. My oldest son left Meridian his 10th grade year, served as a student body officer his 11th grade year at Maeser and graduated as a National Merit Scholar last May. I served on the board at Maeser over curriculum for five years resigning about a year and a half ago. I currently have a 12th and 11th grade student at the school. I currently work part time at Maeser as the accreditation chair and assisting with administration duties.

“There are several things that I have discovered along the journey both by observing my own children transition from home school to public school and watching other students that have enrolled at Maeser Prep Academy. Maeser’s student body does consist of a large number of students that were formerly home schooled.

“These observations include the following:

“1) Students coming out of home school will generally do better if they are entering a smaller school setting. Going from being home schooled to a large high school only aggravates the feelings of not being cared about individually which is a common feeling a former home school student usually has to deal with and adapt to.

“2) Formerly home schooled students do better if there is a lot of communication between parents and teacher as the student adjusts to being expected to write down and complete and return homework assignments, for example. A parent who home schools can better prepare their own student for these expectations if they follow something with similar structure, as much as possible, at home.

“3) Formerly home schooled students may do better moving gradually into a public school setting. For example, only taking a few credits at first as they adjust to the different expectations at school.

“4) Formerly home schooled students typically struggle in science at Maeser. Our former science department chair, Nate Marshall, pointed this out to me about a year ago. He said that he had to learn to adapt his teaching style slightly in order to meet their needs. Often they have a weaker science background, but are willing to do the work to catch up if this is communicated effectively to the students parents and additional resources are suggested for at home reading. Those who home school are often not able to provide the science education at home that will prepare their students for formal educational settings. Mothers should be willing to look to other resources (on-line education, co-op situations, hiring a tutor) to help in the areas in which they are weak.

“5) Schools such as American Heritage School are currently working on creating Distance Education courses for grades K-12. These courses include live classroom instruction, private sessions with a teacher, corrections and teacher input on assignments (along with due dates) and other things that form a hybrid between formal school education and home school. Enrolling children in courses like these, especially as they approach grades 6 and above, will do a lot to prepare them to effectively transition to formal school educational settings.

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