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.:
- “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.
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.
Presenting… The Class of 2017!
The West River Academy Team!
Here is the story of William, a West River Academy senior in Canada. Read his story of going from a difficult school experience to thriving in homeschooling.
The story of how I became a homeschooler/unschooler is, perhaps like many others, rather unique and filled with both joy and sorrow. I began my journey nearly ten years ago, in my hometown of Montréal, when I was eight years old and unlike many of my homeschooling friends, I attended public school until grade 4. Usually when a child is taken out of school in favour of a home education it’s the parents who initiate the change, however, this was not the case for me. In my case I was the one who asked my parents to homeschool me because my experience with the school system was so awful. At my old elementary school the teachers would use fear and shame tactics to keep the children in line, practices that would certainly get them in trouble today if they were found out. If you misbehaved, the teachers would take away your bathroom privileges, if you disobeyed a teacher you would have to walk down the long hallway and announce your misdoing to the other class. Crying was forbidden and your recess for that day could be taken away if you did, imagine telling a six year-old child if they cried they would be punished, or preventing them from going to the washroom. I suppose it was a very old fashioned way of discipline, going back to the days of dunce caps and getting the strap. One instance that stood out for me especially happened in art class, when I was about seven. My friend had found a paperclip on the ground and had artistically bent it out of shape, something a child might do in art class. When the teacher saw him with his bent paperclip she immediately started yelling and forced him to stand in front of the whole class and bend it back into form. As I stood there with my classmates and watched my humiliated companion try, without success, to bend this paperclip into it’s original shape I wondered how such an angry, unartistic, “inside the lines” person found themselves teaching a 3rd grade art class. Both my mother and grandmother were artists, so I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged, which is why this moment in particular was so strange for me. I could talk for hours about the anguish I endured in school, and how it’s affected me, but I’ll just say that by my last year in public school I was livid with the system and grew a real hatred for learning. It didn’t take a lot of convincing when I asked my parents to homeschool me, as they had shared my pain and frustrations with the school over the years and thought that taking me out of it was the best course of action. And so began my journey.
Because I was coming from such a toxic environment it took some time after I was taken out of school to adjust to a new way of learning, a way of learning that wasn’t centered around fear or humiliation. I believe that every child comes into this world with a natural sense of curiosity and desire to explore the world around them, mine had just been taken away from me. I can’t explain how wonderful it was when I regained this thirst for knowledge which had long been so foreign to me. I don’t know what would have happened if my wonderful parents hadn’t listened and pulled me out of that horrible place. I believe that learning anything should be fun, even if it’s in the smallest way, and my mother helped make that happen. Because my father had to work it was mostly my mother who taught me during my first few years out of school. Deciding to homeschool your child is an enormous leap to take that requires a lot of change in a person’s life; a change many people cannot afford to make. I’m very thankful for both my parent’s devotion to my education. They ensured a graceful and smooth transition to this new way of life and it wasn’t long before it felt completely natural.
The rest of my elementary school years were a breath of fresh air. I found new ways to express my creativity that I had never even fathomed before. I met so many amazing people who I’m proud to call my friends. People who wanted to learn and have fun just like me. For the first time in my life learning didn’t feel like a chore. I finally enjoyed reading books, writing papers and doing projects. My mother also came up with lots of interesting and creative ways to make learning fun. The range of topics covered in my first year alone were far more diverse than anything I covered in school. We talked about everything from the paleozoic era to the historic 2008 U.S. presidential election, which was happening at the time. It was my first time ever discussing contemporary issues, something we would continue to do, and I came out of my first year at home with a far better understanding of the world around me, with both a historic and modern perspective. It was marvelous.
During my second year I started to get involved with my local homeschooling community, a community which I have been an active member of ever since. I think one of the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers is that they spend most of their time alone in their house, when in reality it’s the opposite that’s true. I would say that 90% of the things I do in regard to school takes place outside the home and involve other people. I also think the notion that homeschoolers are anti-social is another misconstrued idea. Some of the most outgoing, energetic and sociable people I’ve ever met have been homeschooled. One very unique thing about the classes put on by homeschooling communities is that the teachers are, more often than not, parents of homeschooled children. Since they don’t make their living off of teaching, many of the parents will work regular jobs just like everybody else which allows them to teach some interesting courses pertaining to the work they do. Alongside basic classes, like math and history, I’ve also learned things like 3D modeling, fencing, acting and animation just to name a few, all from people who have experience in their respective fields. It almost felt like an apprenticeship which is something most kids in elementary school don’t get to experience.
Before I knew it I was already graduating from my homeschool equivalent of elementary school and moving on to “high school”, a change that most elementary school students dread, I, on the other hand was very eager to begin this new chapter of my education. I think the reason that most kids in the system fear high school is because the age gap is so wide, something which I had already been accustomed to. From my first time taking courses with other homeschoolers I noticed the fact that people of all ages were often mixed into the same classroom. People weren’t separated on account of their age but rather their willingness to learn, I’ve seen eleven year-olds do presentations with sixteen year-olds and work together in perfect harmony. Often times I’ve found the younger kids who are placed into more advanced classes will outperform the older ones! This diversity of age in the classroom really makes your colleagues feel like family which creates a very special experience.
During high school I’ve expanded my knowledge of subjects that I had previously covered and also learned countless new things that have all been equally interesting to me. Things such as economics, piano and driving have all been new and welcome additions to my curriculum. I’ll never forget the day when I finally was able to play Fur Elise perfectly or when I passed my driving exam and went home with my license in hand. I almost felt spoiled, never before had I had such a wide variety of classes that I enjoyed taking. It was also during this time that I found a new sense of political intrigue after the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, and so I started attending city council meetings.
My high school years weren’t without their own challenges however. Those are the years where adolescence is at its peak and, as someone who has friends that aren’t homeschooled, I sometimes found myself feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially whenever my friends were having conversations pertaining to school, or going on graduation trips together. I would never be learning the exact same thing as they were and so when I didn’t know about something they were talking about I felt stupid. There was a point during these years where I even contemplated going back to school, as some of my homeschool friends had done, but in the end I decided against it and have absolutely no regrets.
Reflecting back on these past ten years and relishing in all the wonderful memories I have, has reassured me once again that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m extremely fortunate to have had such a unique education which I can look back on with contentment. Now as I’m about to enter this new stage in my life, I can only look forward to the future with great optimism. I hope to one day use my struggle with the school system and interest in civic affairs to hopefully get involved in the process of government, whether the level be big or small, and help prevent others from going through what I did. I’ve seen more and more people choosing to homeschool these days and it’s an incredible honour to serve as an example to them. I can only hope that their journey is as amazing as mine.
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!
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:
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
This essay was written by a high school senior who was homeschooled since 3rd grade. His homeschool journey included participating in homeschool co-ops, 4H, and hunting and fishing. He now aspires to attend a University to major in Mechanical Engineering. Here are excerpts from his essay.
My name is Johnathan Clemmer; I was born on November 21, 1998, in Prescott, Arizona, where we lived until I was two. In 2000 we moved to Collbran, Colorado to be closer to my maternal grandparents. They owned a sizeable ranch at the base of the Grand Mesa that had hiking trails, fishing ponds, guest cabins, and numerous places for a young boy to play and grow. I would have to say that this place was a significant part of my educational beginning as I learned to hunt, fish, ride, explore, and work along with the ranch hands on a daily basis. I remember how beautiful it was; you could see everything for miles around, breathe the fresh mountain air, and roam and investigate the world around you. One of the most extraordinary memories I have of the ranch are the fall colors and how wonderfully the yellow leaves glimmered in the sunlight, not to mention that a typical fall day usually included a cup of coffee and cookies in the afternoon with my Papa. My grandparents sold the original Ranch for a smaller version, and our family moved into the home where we lived until our transition to Grand Junction three years ago. I have many fond memories of Collbran, all the experiences we had there as a family, and the friendships that have remained with me through the years.
My Papa was the person who taught me many of the things that I enjoy most: fly fishing (even the ability to clean and cook the fish once caught – he had the ponds at his ranch stocked with fish each year so that we would always have a place to spend time together), how to hunt (be safe with guns, shoot them, take care of them, and on adventures to places like the One Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander, WY where we were able to meet Governors, astronauts, artists, and many other amazing and inspiriting friends of his), and a passion for reading. I believe our many trips and adventures were a magical part of my education as it taught me numerous life skills, as well as experience in real world travel and exploration. He passed away several years ago, I miss him terribly and wish that he were still here to see all that I have become and accomplished. Though I miss Collbran, our move to Grand Junction has benefited me greatly in my schooling with the option of having co-op classes and career options more readily available
My educational journey began in the traditional sense at Plateau Valley School in Collbran, the area’s K-12 facility. I attended PVS from pre-school through the 3rd grade. I enjoyed my time in public school, had many friends, and enjoyed the process of public education, especially recess and lunch break! Having issues with the school and the educational opportunities it did or did not provide; my parents decided to homeschool my older brother after his 5th-grade year (my 2nd-grade year). My family realized after that initial year that they preferred homeschooling and the opportunities it provided and decided to homeschool me as well. I was hesitant and slightly resentful when first introduced to the idea. I was comfortable where I was, and all of my friends currently attended the public school. After the first year of homeschooling, I realized that it was tremendously preferable to public school. I had not realized how many other kids in our area homeschooled as well; we even got together for co-op classes once a week where we would create art projects, sing, take dance lessons, and spend time with other like-minded families. Our daily school routine included not only core curriculum classes, but time cooking, playing educational games, PE, and creative activities not available in the public system. My preliminary doubts regarding homeschooling were quickly dispelled, and I grew to have an appreciation for the challenges and joys it presented every day.
Once I reached middle school, (seventh grade – current), our family began participating in a local homeschool co-op in Grand Junction, which was 45 minutes from our house in Collbran. The drive may seem long to some, but for our family it was a time of conversation, expression, and enjoyment. Our journeys to school ended up being a day long adventure as after classes we would get groceries, spend time at the park or a museum, and typically get dinner or take-out on the way home (don’t judge me but my favorite combination was a container of sushi and a maple glazed donut). This was a juncture in my life that would significantly impact my future. I made connections with many of the friends and teachers that have been with me over the years and hopefully will be for many years to come. The courses offered were intriguing to me as well, helping to guide and encourage me in the directions I excelled and provided support in the areas where I struggled. Homeschooling and the opportunities it had provided up to this point helped to define the path and direction of my future education.
Typically, I would pursue the core curriculum courses at home while the co-op classes offered variety in the form of courses that were best in group situations. One of my favorites was the art classes I took with a teacher named Mr. Sonmor. His style, humor, quirkiness, and talent made art exciting, and though it was not a subject where I could envision a future for myself, the time spent in graphic design, filmmaking, and 3D design were some of the most enjoyable moment in early high school education. Civics and Speech were potentially not my strong suit, presenting challenges that I had not previously encountered, most specifically public speaking, but inspired me to put forth my best effort and work diligently to achieve the A’s that had previously come so easily for me. I am thankful to the teachers and parents who organized this co-op for the betterment of the homeschool community, and also for the chance to take several courses with my older brother (where in a traditional school environment our separation of 3 grades would have prohibited this) where we were able to assist and collaborate on several projects. His insight and help were greatly appreciated, and I feel that it strengthened our bond as brothers and friends.
During my early education, I also had the occasion to participate in 4H as well as being a counselor at the local church camp on the Grand Mesa. Since we lived in a town where agriculture was the majority of income for most families, we had a local FFA and a 4H club. I thoroughly enjoyed my time participating in the leather craft area of 4H. My leader was a local woman who was as brilliant at leathercraft as she was kind. I am thankful for the time and commitment she put forth, and how she inspired me to greatness (after several years and a culmination of projects, I won Mesa County Grand Champion and Reserve State Grand Champion for a tissue box cover with a wildlife scene inspired by the area in which we lived. My time as a participant and counselor at the church camp impacted my world in a remarkable way and ran the course of six years. It was an event to which I looked forward with tremendous anticipation each year, progressing from a camper to a junior counselor for elementary school, to a counselor for middle schoolers. I would spend hours making preparations, marking verses to be memorized, planning activities, and making sure things ran smoothly so the camp experience for those that I was counseling would be as moving and life changing as it was for me. These summers were some of my favorite times, making me feel like I was doing something with a purpose when I was teaching all the younger kids about God.
As it has been since the beginning of my homeschooling, I still typically take the majority of my core courses at home (we have been utilizing A Beka curriculum for many years and over the past few years have used the online academy as well) while taking more challenging subjects such as higher level math through the local co-op. I have taken an English credit each year and hope that with the foundational knowledge these courses have provided, will be able to test out of the lower level English requirements once I begin college. One of my favorite subjects has been history, and I have taken US History, World History, Colorado History, and Government thus far. I find great benefit in learning the foundation of our country and government and hope that it provides me with sound judgment in my path that hopefully too will be documented in history. I am currently in my fourth year of Science curriculum as well, having taken Biology (which made me realize without any doubt that I do not want to be a biologist!), Physical Science, Chemistry, and presently Physics (which is the most fascinating subject to me to date). Math is by far the subject where I derive the most enjoyment and personal satisfaction. I feel it is the area where I exhibit the most strength, knowledge, and capability. From Algebra I to Geometry, Algebra II to Pre-calculus, I have had the same and most magnificent teacher (other than my mother, because she is reading this), Mrs. Sibl. She has encouraged and challenged me, her style of teaching has made these past four years entertaining and educational. My passion for this line of instruction has influenced my goals for the future, determining that a STEM related field should be the direction for my future. One of the programs of study that I was able to pursue this year were courses in CAD (computer aided design) and MATLAB (computer programming) that I believe will be of great benefit to me once I begin college. The elective courses I have taken including physical education (of which skiing and golf were my favorite portions), multiple years of Spanish, life skills, health, religious studies, etc., have rounded out my educational experience. In addition to taking regular classes, I was very humbled by the experience of job-hunting. After many months of seeking employment, I was rewarded for my perseverance, being awarded a job that I love, working at the golf course near our home. I have made many friends here as well as learning life skills and work ethics.
Progressing through school, taking more intellectually challenging math and science classes and realizing my strength in those areas, I have begun to discern the path I desire for my future. My adeptness at problem solving, calculations, scientific analyzation, and the capacity to understand the working mechanisms of machines has led me to the conclusion that I aspire to become a Mechanical Engineer. I am in the process of applying to several universities in Colorado including Colorado Mesa University, Colorado School of Mines (which is the third highest ranked petroleum engineering school in the United States), and Colorado University Boulder. My goals for high education are to receive a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering degree, while also acquiring a minor in Physics.
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
Our students have a wide variety of interests, and the freedom to pursue them to mastery. Below is a an excerpt from one of our family’s year-end report, focusing on the accomplishments and life-learning of 16 year old Kitt.
Kitt has had an amazing year for prizes. First, he completed his eagle scout rank, after going to the board of review (interview). Soon afterwards, he attended a week-long National Youth Leadership Training for scouts, where he was selected as one of the excellent scouts who were requested to serve as future staff. His eagle court of honor ceremony was held, after a bit of planning, too. Kitt has also been on 4-5 campouts this year, including rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park. Doing most of the work himself, he has built a trebuchet and a teepee out of a tarp.
Next, he competed for his 7 year in 4H shooting sports. Although he didn’t achieve his best score in archery, he aced the shotgun with a record 5 out of 5 score. He even hit all 3 practice shots, to bring it to 8 out of 8 shots. That got him the Grand Champion in Shotgun award, as well as winning the high point shooter for the entire club for the season. Kitt has his own bow and target and practices at home as often as he can (when there are no neighbors in residence). He is extremely conscientious about safety rules and proper technique. He even gave a few tips to the adult archery instructor at 4H.
At county fair, Kitt won 4 Grand Champion prizes. His oil painting of a farmhouse won him Grand Champion in Fine Arts, while his Turkish ebru painting of a tulip garnered Reserve Grand Champion. His copper twisted necklace with blue beads won Grand Champion in Arts & Crafts, and his larger leather Viking belt bag (made without a kit or pattern) won Grand Champion in Leathercraft (other projects). On top of all that, Kitt won Grand Champion for Home Economics, sweeping the prize for the while building for his senior age class. Wow! All total, Kitt got $120 in prize money. He had entered one painting in Fine Arts open class, but that only received a blue ribbon and outstanding. As for the interview section of the fair, Kitt got purple ribbons (outstanding) for all three interviews. They noted how knowledgeable he seemed and confident. His appearance had improved over last year, but the only negative room for improvement was noted that he needs to iron his white dress shirt. Kitt put a lot of time and effort into all the pieces that he made for Fair, including meeting with a special mentor in Leathercraft. He was amazed at the skill of his new mentor and learned a lot from him. Also, his Leathercraft leader was very encouraging and always ready to lend Kitt tools. Kitt put most of his prize money into his savings account, and I treated him to a few new Leathercraft tools as a reward for his hard work. He is already thinking of what he wants to make for next year.
Kitt has also earned his Congressional Award Bronze medal, which will be handed to him at a ceremony in October, when our Congressman will be in our city. For this award, Kitt counts his fitness hours, personal development and volunteer hours. Besides volunteering with scouts (about 15 hours) and the Jr. Optimist club (about 35 hours), Kitt has a regular volunteer service that he does about once a week at the local historic park. He serves as the historic blacksmith there, making items out of metal and explaining both the process and history to park visitors. This year he has logged about 50 hours, including the Civil War reenactment event and the Gathering of the Gunfighters event at the Yuma Territorial Prison historic park. He absolutely loved the Civil War event and got “drafted” to serve with the artillery during a battle reenactment. He was initiated into the group and hopes to serve with them again next year for the reenactment here in Yuma. In the meantime, he has acquired a pattern for Union Army pants which he wants to make with my help. All of his volunteering as the historical blacksmith is done in his historic clothing portraying the 1870’s in Yuma. Kitt was also invited to and attended the Civil War costume ball held by invitation only after the reenactment in the evening. He learned several historic dances while attending. He also listened to Abraham Lincoln (reenactor) give a talk and later had President Lincoln talk to him individually when he visited the forge. As a volunteer at the park, Kitt was given free tickets and attended a historic talk by a President Teddy Roosevelt reenactor, which he enjoyed a lot.
Kitt has earned a few more scout merit badges and enjoys going to workshops for those. Many of the workshops are STEM related, and I count them as science for Kitt. Among others, he earned this year Nuclear Science (visiting a power plant visitor center), Space Exploration, and Engineering. He also likes to experiment himself and to take things apart at home to see what is inside them. Kitt was also invited to go for a free private flying lesson with an EAA pilot. He learned a lot from that and hopes to do it again in the Fall. He even wants to learn about building an EAA plane.
As for English, Kitt is still working on Spelling and Composition, but this is never his highest priority. He does vocabulary building without even noticing it and has a rich and varied vocabulary. We have several workshops/ programs that he uses but this is an area he needs to improve.
As founder and president of the college tabletop game club, Kitt hosts game day once a week for 2 hours. That means he has put in over 60 hours in games of strategy and logic. This includes reading complicated instructions and teaching others how to play the games. This is one of his great interests, and he hopes to host even more game clubs next year. He has already spoken to the teen librarian to start there in the Fall as a volunteer hosting a weekly 2-hour game day. Kitt also tried out new games with other people and chooses new ones to buy for himself and the game club.
Kitt also loves to travel and enjoys historical places. He often visits Viking villages and museums in Sweden. Last year he even volunteered at a Viking village for a couple of days. I believe he may do that again this summer. He gave an hour long presentation for a college class about Vikings this year.
If Kitt had to choose a subject to study in college, he would probably choose archeology or history. He likes the experiential archeology that they employ in Sweden. Last summer Kitt visited Istanbul, Turkey and Helsinki, Finland, besides our home in Sweden and neighboring Denmark. We also geocache when we travel or go for a walk.
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.”a 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.
~ Rowena, 2016 High School Senior