An inspirational resource where we feature outstanding stories of West River Academy students from around the world and publish weekly updates from our team.
In the High School Graduation Program, students are given the flexibility to choose their own schedule and learning materials; some choose a curriculum-based approach and others choose an interest-based approach. This way, they are able to decide what is most important for them to learn in order to succeed in this rapidly changing world.
In this monthly report our prospective graduate, Makena Brumm, describes what she has learned and what a month looks like in her life as an unschooler.
My name is Makena Brumm and I am so excited to be a part of West River Academy! The flexibility between choosing classes and scheduling them caught my attention, but more importantly I will be able to do all the work to graduate and that responsibility will be put in my own hands. Challenging, valuable, and interesting schoolwork has been important to me for a very long time but art has always been my passion, no matter the media. Creativity is something I’ll never lose; it will always be with me.
The subjects I’ve been studying this past month are: algebra, U.S. government, chemistry, economics, personal finance, Japanese, nutritional science, physical fitness, language arts, home economics, guitar, drawing and multimedia art.
I have used the lessons from The Learning Odyssey for many of my subjects, as I find them very thorough and informative. For example, in Algebra I’ve been learning about functions. I now know how to graph much more complex equations than I did before, as well as effectively put them in an input output chart. Sometimes, it can be a bit difficult but I enjoy the challenge. Functions are really good to know because it is very commonly used in business and economics. In U.S. government, I’ve been learning about The Ideals of Government, Foundations of US Government, and The United States Constitution. I really enjoy the way I am taught this class because there are many visual notes for me to copy down, and it is not just lecturing me.
In chemistry, I’ve been learning a lot about atoms. Specifically, I’ve been learning how and why they are organized on the periodic table of elements, as well as what forms an atom, and how molecules form. I love how in depth the lessons are, they go as specific as teaching me electron configurations and covalent, ionic, and metallic bonding. It seems a bit nerdy for an art student to be fascinated by molecular science, but I love being able to understand how our physical world works.
In economics, I’ve been learning basic fundamental information about how the system works. I will be continuing with macroeconomic and microeconomics as well as international economics. Personal finance is honestly one of my favorite classes. I study the material I’m provided with very meticulously because it is essential to know to keep my future running smoothly. So far, I have read the chapters: Avoiding or Eliminating Credit Card Debt, Managing Money for Home Ownership, Responsible Renting or Home Ownership, and Starting a Small Business. The links that are included with the lessons are very informative and useful to my understanding of the lesson.
In Japanese, I am learning the “language basics” which is how to use verbs, nouns and pronouns effectively while reading, writing, listening and speaking the language. Flash cards have been a huge help in learning everything, as well as randomly saying words or sentences that pertain to everyday life. I am also teaching everything I learn to my younger sister Jolene, who also loves the Japanese culture like I do!
The following classes are self-taught. In Nutritional Science, I watch Thomas Delauer’s YouTube channel and take many notes. The videos are so packed with information about how our body processes everything, and it’s shocking how many people think the food you put in your body has little effect on well-being. This is something I feel very passionate about and I am always hoping to learn more. It’s just so amazing how our body works and how important it is to give it the nutrients it needs.
In Physical Fitness, I work 15-20 minutes of ground exercises such as sit ups, squats, and pushups in the early morning. I also run /walk or jog a mile in the evening, and occasionally do a workout with my mom in the middle of the day. I like to keep my body in tip top condition so I feel better physically and mentally.
In learning my language arts, I focus a lot on reading and writing. Every other year since the fourth grade, I have read the Harry Potter series, and my tradition hasn’t stopped. As for the writing portion, I have been writing essays about things I’d love to know more about. So far I’ve wrote about Japanese mythology, Wiccan ideology, and how to make a good resume for when the time comes. I also am putting handwriting under this category. I love cursive writing and try to perfect mine by copying song lyrics in a notebook using my best penmanship.
For home economics, I sew a lot of my own clothes and modify old clothes as well. I make both cosplay items and just everyday wear. I currently am sewing a Harley Quinn costume for the Denver Comic Con coming up this summer. I also meal plan for my family and on occasion prepare and cook it as well. Before I started cooking as my home economics lesson, I could only make very simple food so I’m super excited that now I have the time to learn real recipes. I just learned how to make Golden Milk, which is a healthy turmeric drink.
In guitar I’ve been learning songs at a much faster rate and I have been improving drastically. Being able to pick up my guitar whenever I want and just play is a really good way to simmer down if I’m ever feeling overwhelmed.
Now onto my very favorite class, drawing! I try to put about an hour of work into my drawings per day. I have attached a couple of my drawings that I scanned onto my computer about a month ago just so you can see my art style. Since I want to be a tattoo artist, they reflect my taste in tattoos. I’m also learning about multimedia which includes painting and graphic design.
All in all, I have had a very productive month and have really enjoyed my learning experiences. I look forward to what I will learn next month!
~ Makena Brumm
The West River Academy Graduation Program students are a true testament to the philosophy that there is beauty in diversity. The young adults that we cross paths with have learned that it is okay to hit walls, question your identity, and feel imperfect. Because what you learn from that is how to bounce back, be authentic and embrace your uniqueness.
Marta Chan is an exceptional young woman in our Graduation Program Class of 2018. In one of her monthly report assignments, she reflects on a trip to Finland, growing up in Estonia and her journey to self-discovery.
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine… And it’s breathtakingly beautiful!” L.R. Knost has managed to put into words the description of how this month was for me.
I learned once again, that sometimes things just don’t work out as you planned. I thought I had already learned this lesson, but this month proved me wrong. Nothing seemed to go the way I wanted. I was really upset and irritated. But then, I started noticing all these unexpected little, wonderful things that happened in my life. I realized how I sometimes rush to get everything done and forget the reason why I’m doing these things in the first place. Writing my thoughts and feelings down into my journal, really helped me find some serenity and peace of mind.
One thing that was constantly on my mind this month, was my dad’s Chinese origin and his ancestry. It’s challenging for me to do family history from his side, because I do not speak neither Cantonese nor Mandarin Chinese. I’m learning the latter, but it’s rather difficult. It’s not so much the language that’s hard to learn but the notion and culture of the Chinese people. As I have learned more about their culture and traditions, I have recognized pieces of it in myself. I know my parents gave and still give their best in raising me and my siblings and I am really grateful for them, because they have allowed and encouraged me to become the best me. But at times I feel like I am disconnected from the Chinese “part” of me. When I was younger, I always tried to convince others (and myself) that I am a “true- Estonian”. And I remember being so upset when someone would point out that I’m “half- Chinese”, because it made me feel as if I’m incomplete and hence insufficient. But with time I came to realize, that’s not true! Rather than trying to define myself, I learned to know myself. Who I am? Who and What I love? What are my fears, my talents, my passions? What do I do to accomplish my dreams? These are the things that matter. These are the things that make me complete. Not perfect, far from that. But whole.
I learned that if we come to accept ourselves the way we are, it helps us move forward and better ourselves. The beauty in being a human is that we have both the ability and power to improve ourselves. Our backgrounds and situations do not play important roles in this. Our attitude does. My dear grandpa told me once: “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t drive the car anywhere until you change it. And if you change it, you can go anywhere your heart desires”. I agree with him.
February Twenty-fourth officially marked the one-hundreth birthday of the Republic of Estonia. This gave me again a reason to dive into my family history and celebrate the people who built this country. Their sacrifices and diligence in hardships don’t cease to both amaze and impress me.
One of the highlights of this month was our family trip to Finland. We went there by a ferry. It was really cool to see the frozen Baltic Sea. All of the water was pretty much asymmetrical blocks of ice. Finland is really pretty! They have many lakes (about 168 000) and endless uninhabited boreal forests! But our first priority was to visit Helsinki Finland Temple. I believe it to be (along with the rest of the 159 operating temples our Church has) a sacred place and the house of God. It was wonderful to visit it and it really made me appreciate everything that has been created, even more than I did before. The time there also gave me a chance to rewind everything that has been going on in my life lately and steer myself back to where I want to be. In conclusion, this month I mostly analysed and studied myself. As ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
“Ultimately, unschooling “looks like” young people pursuing their own dreams with assistance from those who love and support them!”
Author John Holt coined the term “unschooling” in the 1970s when he started to advocate removing children from school and educating them in a manner that would be the opposite of school: no compulsion, no prescribed curriculum, no bells to start and stop learning. Through the years, other terms have been used, such as interest-based learning, child-led learning and relaxed homeschooling.
West River Academy Director Peggy Webb stresses to people who call her that unschooling is a way of honoring children and their reason for being on Planet Earth right now. Allowing the child to continue his or her curiosity-driven interests results in learning that is valuable and practical to the student. The ultimate benefactors of a student that is engaged in activities he or she is passionate about is us; the world benefits from what this person will contribute to our global community.
As Peggy likes to say, “Think of it as putting the child in the driver’s seat of the car. The parent is in the passenger’s seat, making sure the car is not driven off a cliff, being the navigator with map in hand, letting the driver know what appears to be up ahead, etc. The child is then free to take the interstate or go off on a scenic byway, explore different places along the way or get to the destination as fast as he or she can. It’s letting the child drive the car while the parent offers guidance and assures safety.”
“What if I’m practicing unschooling and my child wants to go to public school?” is a question often asked. Peggy responds, “If your child chooses to attend school, then he or she is still in the driver’s seat, making that decision. Unschooling, then, takes on the form of going to school. The child knows that at any time he or she can decide to stop going to school; he has chosen to have this learning experience. It’s really no different than the child’s deciding to take ballet lessons. I gave my daughter, Rachel, the freedom to choose how she wanted to learn and she chose a variety of experiences during her childhood, including a part-time charter school, boarding school and full-time public high school. To me, it was all unschooling because she was in charge and I assisted.”
Ultimately, unschooling “looks like” young people pursuing their own dreams with assistance from those who love and support them!
Eden Mccoy is enrolled in our Graduation Program for the Class of 2018. In her Educational Biography she describes the balancing act that is her life as an athlete, student and actress.
“Homeschooling has been a fundamental part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has given me exciting opportunities along the way that I would have never been able to fulfill otherwise. I am beyond grateful for my parents’ decision to teach me of their own values and truths rather than subjecting me to the sometimes unproductive world of public school.”
Max Rollins, a lifelong West River Academy student, is now enrolled in the Graduation Program for the Class of 2018. In his Educational Biography, he describes his childhood as an unschooler in Colorado.
Our Home was built on sixteen acres of dense forest, consisting of sprawling gullies, arid meadows grazed down by cattle, and meandering streams, full of life. All of it seemed to be as infinite as the universe to my youthful imagination. I spent hours exploring every nook and cranny of the acreage with my closest of friends and even drew up fictional names and trails we’d discovered on to a map. I still, to this day, think back on how exhilarating it was to stumble upon a new stream or clearing in the woods and how obsessed we became to find all the secrets our plot had to show.
As I grew older, my parents started teaching me the art of gardening and cultivating the land. They showed me that a hard day’s work had more value in it than almost anything else in this life. I didn’t quite see it as a value at the time and just saw it more as a distraction away from the truly important things in life, my Star Wars action figures. But eventually, I started to see what they were all about.
When I was about 8, my mother and some other homeschool moms in the valley started a Thursday-school that I attended with many of my friends for a handful of years. We would participate in arts and crafts, conduct skits, and do other fun activities that hardly seemed like school, which was quite all right by my amigos and me.
By the time high school rolled around, my time of being taught by my mother was coming to a natural end, with my needing a more social outlet for learning and her not being able to teach me the harder subjects in school, such as Chemistry and Math. I started attending classes at Grand Valley Academics in the fall of my 8th grade year. It was a sort of make-shift school led by a handful of homeschool parents who were well educated in different subjects and fields. My first year attending, I took Creative Writing, Biology, and Literature all with the same teacher. Weird, huh? Thankfully, within a year they had upgraded from the youth room of a local church to their very own building with actual classrooms! I’ve taken classes with them for my entire high school experience and have acquired a wealth of knowledge from all of their brilliant teachers along the way. I’ve had many of them for my entire high school career and will be sad to see them go when I graduate. However, I’m still exuberant to be going on to college and excited to see where it takes me.
Homeschooling has been an incredible experience for me, and, if I could, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my education. It has given me the chance to wholly delve into subjects of interest that I wouldn’t have had being confined to an 8:00-4:00 routine. I’m so appreciative of the effort both my parents put into making my time learning as beneficial and enjoyable as possible, and I hope to provide a similar experience for my children one day.
As the end of the year rings near, we want to express our gratitude for your trust in West River Academy which has allowed us to support families all over the world.
West River Academy is expanding more and more every day, and we are so happy to share our experiences as an unschooled family with you all! Now that WRA is a family business, each of the sisters brings different strengths, yet we have in common the same goal, which is to provide a safety net built on freedom and individuality for the upcoming generations.
We invite you to read Our Story, which describes each of our very unique unschooling journeys. We are pleased to be able to offer you the perspectives of Karen, Stacey and Rachel as unschooled children as well as Peggy’s perspective as an unschooling parent.
The main topic of discussion at our Thanksgiving table was how we can now, as a family, serve you. So, please know that the West River Team has your back and truly wants the best for you and yours!
Warmest holiday greetings from all of us,
Peggy, Stacey, Rachel & Karen
Ayelén reflects on her experience as one of our recently graduated students from Río Negro, Argentina.
“I am very happy with this learning option as I didn’t only learn about core subjects such as math, language, physics or chemistry but I was able to develop other skill sets that I usually wouldn’t have had the time for. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to know and understand different cultures and learn in many different surroundings.
Being a Christian girl, I enjoyed having the time to practice mercy and love for others through my art (comics, pictures, etc) offering a faith message in the places I visited like nursing homes, small towns lost on the “map”, and preaching at the bus stop.
I would like to thank God for this kind of education because I am convinced that if I had not traveled this way, my life would have had another direction.
That is why I encourage all the kids and parents who are about to make this decision not to doubt it as long as they are united as a family, in good will to go through it.
I have included some pieces of my work.
Greetings from Dina Huapi, Argentina.”
Stacey Nishikawa, Peggy’s second daughter, joined West River Academy in January 2017 as our Administrative Director. She is the school’s Registrar. Her prior experiences include volunteering at a private school in Kenya, traveling to Australia, attending college, and working in customer service. She brings her warm heart and friendly spirit to helping families on their unschooling journey.
Rachel Nishikawa, Peggy’s youngest daughter, joined us in August 2017 as our Creative Director. She is a talented artist, and we are proud to display her artwork: the banner for the website, our new bird logo, and the letterhead on our documents. She recently graduated from the University of Hawaii with a Communications Degree, and then worked in a corporate management training program. Her cheerful attitude and ready laughter bring a spirit of joy to West River Academy.
Stacey and Rachel are happy to come full circle and be working with their mother, Peggy, and sister, Karen, helping to support a new generation of families who are pursuing their dreams outside of the school system. You can read more about their unschooling experiences on the Our Story page.
As the full family team, we look forward to serving all of our homeschooling families for years to come.
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.:
An 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!
We always enjoying hearing what our students have gone on to do after they have graduated from West River Academy. We received this lovely letter from a parent in Spain about the current activities of the 2014 graduate.
“I thought of you and would like to share what our oldest son, Sergio, who graduated with WRA, is doing.
He is studying his second year of a Psychology Degree and also, composing his music. His first song was recently recorded and produced. He wants to share this message about value and identity with the youth.
WRA provided the flexibility in his schedule to pursue his dreams, now coming true. He is grateful and so are we.
Enjoy your summer!!
Here is the video of his inspirational song, Diamond. Sergio Belmonte – Diamond
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.
We 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!
Our 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.
This 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!
The 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.
The 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.