A Very Rewarding Experience

A Very Rewarding Experience

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María Teresita is one of our senior students from Córdoba, Argentina. This is what she has to tell us about her educational experience these last months of her journey.

In the last months I made orientation tests, I’ve been looking into careers at different Universities, I started thinking about my university life and how would I be dealing with that. What courses to take, what career to pursue as a goal for my whole life. In the meantime, I want to help my family economically as a Project, selling our handcrafts.

In my spare time, I like to hear Padre Ángel Espinoza and Yokoi Kenji lectures from whom I will quote really important reflections.:

  • “You should always tell the truth, with with transparency and clarity, so that communication will not deteriorate. Where there is truth, there is trust”.
  • “Corruption is born in a nucleus called a family, when we abandon our principles like the one written: you will not steal“. The Japanese also have that religious text: “If you find a bag in a chair, do not touch it, it is not yours, leave it there, if you find a wallet in the street, it is not yours do not touch it leave it there”. After the war, Japan learned a lesson, and that is there is no way in violence, the war, definitely, doesn’t work. Why repeat a story if we can learn from another’s falls.
  • The difference between honesty and integrity is that honesty speaks of what I do and integrity speaks of what I am. Honesty speaks of what I say, integrity speaks of what I think. Honesty speaks of my public acts, integrity speaks of what I do even when no one is watching me.

maria teresita 2 1 1An anecdote of this speaker begins when he proposed to his father to cross a red light, saying that at that time were no cars and no cameras to see them. The father, in a tone of reprimand, shouted a phrase that left a deep echo in his life: “I am watching myself!“, Representing the conscience of each one, which can not be fooled.

To complete this report, I must pay tribute. I can not explain the feeling of gratitude towards this learning program, for allowing me to develop as a person, to learn according to my way of being, valuing my personal capacities and preferences. I really feel very grateful for my learning and for you for this educational adventure that we have shared. It has been rewarding!

Year End Report in Photos

Year End Report in Photos

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Teo and Zoe are students from our international program. They’ve been really busy this year learning all kind of things and here are some amazing photographs we would like to share with you.

They love reading, science and visiting museums among many other things. Let’s see a little piece of their year in pictures.

Congratulations to Our Class of 2017!

Congratulations to Our Class of 2017!

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IMG 3626edit 1 300x200We are thrilled to introduce you to our Class of 2017 Graduates! We had 85 graduates from around the world, and 10 of them chose to participate in our Graduation Ceremony in Colorado Springs, CO on May 20, 2017!

IMG 4074 300x200Our Graduation Ceremonies are unique, because they feature the individual talents of the graduates, and the diplomas are presented by the parents. Rather than having one valedictorian speak for the entire class, our intimate ceremony allows each student the opportunity to share their unique passion.

IMG 3920 300x200This year, our graduates did presentations that included a violin and guitar performance, videos about world travels and competitive skiing, a monologue about homeschooling experiences, an art display board, and a live podcast demonstration!

IMG 4311 300x200The parents of each graduate spoke movingly to them about how proud they were of them, and acknowledged the individual journey and work that had been put into earning their High School Diploma. Many eyes were moist as we witnessed the love and pride on the faces of the parents and graduates, and heard the quiver in their voice as they spoke of the long road to this day.

IMG 4185 200x300The graduates are continuing on in directions as unique as each one of them: college, work, professional podcasting, traveling, and athletic careers are a few of the paths that are being taken. We are so proud of them, and grateful for the opportunity to support them and their families in their educational journey.

Presenting… The Class of 2017!

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The West River Academy Team!

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From left: Karen Abe, Peggy Webb, and Stacey Nishikawa

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Peggy Webb, Director of West River Academy

Argentinian Year End Report

Argentinian Year End Report

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Developing autonomy is important for the healthy growth of children. The best way to do that is to let them learn by doing. Learning this way allows children not only to learn concepts; but also get skills that will last them a lifetime.

From Entre Ríos, Argentina; this beautiful family of three girls shares images of what they have learned by doing. From Crochet classes, English language, taking care of an orchard, selling natural made ice cream and toothpaste, to helping at home with the chores and visiting nana.

Their smiling faces say it all!

It is always interesting to see how the children of the West River Academy community learn.

Argentinian Student Shares His Story

Argentinian Student Shares His Story

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Facundo is a 14 year old boy living in Argentina. He has written his 2016 report by himself. This is what he has to tell about his unschooling approach to learning. (Translated from Spanish).

My name is Facundo and I am 14 years old. I live in Sierra de los Padres – Argentina, a place with hills, lakes, sea and woods. I have been unschooled for 4 years.

Last year was my first at West River Academy which allowed me to explain better to my friends about this kind of education; they ask less questions now, so I feel more confident. During this year, I learned:

Hens breeding: they got ill this year and I learned to heal them from smallpox, about their anatomy, first aids, chicken slaughter, eggs production and take care of the hens.

Horses: I learned alternative riding with my mom and some neighbours.

At home: I helped my dad to build our house with wood and mud.

English Language: I learned through video games.

Cooking: I have been cooking for ages and like it a lot; I am learning new recipes little by little.

Construction: I started working with my dad doing bioconstructions, I go some days and help him and learn.

Boy Scouts: I have been a Boy Scout for 4 years learning about survival, cooking, values and this year I was promoted.

Chores: I have helped since I was a little kid. I wash the dishes, I do ironing, cooking and take care of hens. I learned about flora and fauna; about birds and plant species which help me to eat wild fruits and learn about nature.

I also follow many youtubers, especially about gameplays.

To sum up, this was the first complete year in our new house with my new friends, I am really happy.

Greetings, Facundo Javier Schmull

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Who Benefits from Standardized Testing?

Who Benefits from Standardized Testing?

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A student in our High School Diploma Program is taking a standardized test, and was inspired to research standardized testing in the U.S. Here’s her essay on what she learned.

In the past month, night and day, all I have been doing is preparing for my California High School Proficiency Exam, or C.H.S.P.E. for short. If you know anything about me, and my way of thinking, you know that I think standardized testing is completely ridiculous. Spending hours upon hours, memorizing complex formulas to be tested on, only to go home and forget them, and if in anytime in my life I just so happened to need this particular formula, I google it. Now as I was trying to rationalize standardize testing this past week, I fell down a rabbit hole and found out some things I had no idea about, which just proves the validity of my opinion on these tests even further.

I do believe there should be a way to track underperforming schools, and their major racial disparities, in the quality of education children receive. President George W. Bush also thought that, and on his third day of Presidency installed the “No Child Left Behind Act.” This program was designed to be data driven and involve testing children every single year in order to identify and fix failing schools, which sounded like a terrific idea. But, the act almost tripled the amount of required tests from six to seventeen.

Today in America, students are taking between ten to twenty standardized tests, depending on their grade. That equates to a total average of 113 different tests by graduation, which is an absurd number. The rates at which students are protesting some of these tests is also an absurd number. For example, In May of 2015 an entire class of juniors in Seattle, boycotted the Common Core Smarter Balance Test. Teachers from a school in North Carolina told CNN, that about 20% of their third graders cry when it comes to the standardized tests and that there is actually an official instruction pamphlet on what to do if a student vomits on his or her test. Am I the only one who thinks that if there are legitimate official instructions on what to do if a child throws up on their desk, due to an an overwhelming sense of anxiety, maybe we should try something different? Based on our world standing these tactics don’t seem to be propelling us to the top in education. In 1999, America placed in twenty-eighth place in a group of forty nations who took the International Math and Science Test.

By the time President Barack Obama was in presidency, he noticed that the tactics we are using aren’t working correctly for optimal results. He took his own education initiatives, and started a program none as “Rack to the Top.” Rack to the Top encouraged states to adopt the common core. While he had good intentions, there are a lot of things terribly ignorant about this program.

One of these things, which sounds like a good idea if done fairly, is the pay rate of the teachers based on a student’s test scores. While I believe this could be done correctly, in a way that just holds teachers accountable who are lacking accountability, but the implementation of this is completely out of line. One of the approaches used is called the “value-added analysis”, where you pay teachers based on certain test scores. If a student who ranked in the 60th percentile tests higher at the end of the year, the teacher gets a better rating, and unfortunately if the students receives a lower score at the end of the year, the rate of the teacher’s pay also drops. The problem about this, is that tests are so difficult, it is nearly impossible for the children to pass, and only very few do.

For instance, one teacher in Florida was shocked and suspicious when he found out that only 39 percent of his districts 10th grade class scored an average or above average score in reading on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, also known as the “F.C.A.T.” He decided to ask the school district and legally get the closest thing he could to the F.C.A.T. When he took the assessment it put him, and labeled him under the “poor reader” category. Now the shocking thing about this is the fact that this man has 5 master degrees, has been reelected on the school board 4 times, and teaches 39 graduate courses at six different universities.

With that being said, I think it’s fair enough to say that these tests fail to reflect ability. So my question was, if these standardize tests are poor for the students and the teachers, then who are they benefiting? The simplest answer; companies such as Pearson. Pearson is the largest of these companies, and as of 2012, are 40% of the testing market. That almost triples their nearest competitor, McGraw Hill. Pearson has such an immense amount of influence over American schools. For example, a hypothetical girl could take Pearson tests from Kindergarten through at least eighth grade, test that she studied for by using Pearson curriculum and textbooks, taught by Pearson certified teachers. Pearson is also the provider of the tests taken for learning disabilities, and the G.E.D.

In summary, while there is an argument to be made that there needs to be some sort of test to assist with determining high school graduation, proficiency and college placement, the system as it stands, seems to only benefit Pearson and its competitors, not American students. These companies are so powerful; no one really feels like their voice can be heard to change this disastrous system. In order for things to change everyone who believes that there must be a better solution, has to use their voice. Everyone will say “I’m just one person”, but if hundreds of thousands of people say that, think of the impact they would have if they all came together, and instead said, “this needs to change.”

~ Caroline Mehki, CA

Life-learning While Being an “au-pair” in Australia

Life-learning While Being an “au-pair” in Australia

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This blog post features a student who is doing an “au-pair” program in Australia, where she is assisting a home-schooling family with their children in exchange for room and board. Her report illustrates how she weaves online courses, literature, botany and traveling together for extraordinary educational experiences. The pictures are the ones she took of the Blue Mountains in Australia.

This month I started and completed another course called “Biology meets programming: Bioinformatics for beginners”. It was on applying computer programming to analyse DNA and try and figure out various things such as where the replication point is located. It was a really tough course as I haven’t done much biology and have never tried computer programming before. I did ok on the quizzes however the interactive components of the textbook left me very confused as they required a lot of programming and I had trouble understanding how the functions operated and how to create my own. I also didn’t have much time during the week to do the work, and was a little behind from the start. In the end I had to let go of the hope to do well on the course and decided just to try my best to understand what I could. I did learn some interesting things about how the DNA replicates in a certain direction and how certain algorithms work. I found randomized algorithms to be quite interesting even though I didn’t fully understand how they function. Due to the program I ended up making an account for python and doing many of the exercises they offer. Programing is definitely interesting, I think I just need more practice memorizing the language used. I find I have a little difficulty when it comes to understanding more abstract ideas in math, which is a skill I hope to work on.

I also started to read a German book called Drachenreiter, which means Dragonrider. It has an English translation that I read many years ago but as I like the author I always wanted to read the original German version. It’s a little difficult as I haven’t read German in a while and occasionally I will need a little extra time to remember a word. It’s a strange sensation to have my reading pace change slightly, but I am enjoying the story. It’s about how mythical creatures exist hidden away from humans and the last group of dragons home is about to be destroyed by humans, so one of the dragons heads off with his kobold friend to find the dragons’ ancestral home. On the way they pick up a homeless human boy who helped them out and he goes on the journey with them.

I did more volunteering at the botanical garden, and it was quite enjoyable. I learned how to take clippings and plant them. The idea is that you peel of the leaves along 1/3 of the stalk and the nip off the top. You also need to scrape away a strip along the bottom with your nail to promote the growth of roots. Before we plant them we also dipped the ends in a compound called clonex, which seals the cut ends and supplies hormones needed for the growth of roots. It’s interesting learning a little bit about the more scientific side of gardening. On the surface it seems so straight forward, you just plant and water them, but there are many aspects to growing a strong plant, and sometimes no matter what you do they can still die.

For a weekend I went to the Blue Mountains with family I’m staying with for the weekend. It’s an extremely stunning area and we did a lot of hiking along the cliffs. I read that the reason they seem to be blue is because of the way the light refracts through all the dust particles floating around. So the further something is the more dust is in your line of sight and the bluer it seems. We also went on the cable cars and on one we were told the aboriginal story of the three sisters, which are three giant rocks sticking up from a cliff. The legend apparently goes there were three beautiful sisters from one tribe and three brothers from another tribe who fell in love with them. The brothers wanted to take the sisters for themselves but the shaman of their tribe turned them into rocks to protect them. However the shaman then died in a battle between the tribes and no one else was able to break the spell over them again.

On our way back from the Blue Mountains we stopped at a high ropes course. It was my first time visiting one so I was pretty excited. We were given a little safety run-through and then left to go wild. I mostly stayed with the ten year old I look after, and on the most difficult course she was allowed to do she got stuck on the end as you have to jump of a ledge with only a pulley to slow your fall. I had a little time to consider what the repercussions of giving her a push would be, mainly losing her trust in me for a couple days or so, before a worker came and dropped her over the edge. It was extremely physically tiring but very exciting.

I was invited to go on a distant relative’s sailboat and had an amazing time. I had no knowledge about sailing before but I learned quite a bit just watching and was even allowed to help, and steered the boat a little on the way back, although with engine going and the sails tucked away. It seems the boat has to travel in a zigzag sort of way, where it follows the wind one way for a bit then they pull the sail to the other side and turn to travel the other way. The trick is to keep the wind at your back, which sounds pretty obvious but seems easier said than done. They used instruments and little ribbons attached to the sail called tell-tales to let them know which way the wind was blowing.

 

Life learning

~ Rowena, 2016 High School Senior