Josie’s Graduation Project

Josie’s Graduation Project

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We encourage students to choose a Graduation Project format that showcases their talents, as well as meets our requirement of illustrating their entire educational journey; from their early years up to the present day.

View the Digital Illustration of her educational journey at the bottom of this page, as you read the written narration to explain her creative process.

I became a student at West River Academy when I was 10 years old. I’m now 18 and will be moving to New York City in the fall to study art and design at Pratt Institute. This Graduation Project explores my time at West River Academy and is loosely based on the Greek myth of Persephone as I chronicle my journey from childhood to womanhood.

It starts at the house we lived in when I was in elementary school. My favorite thing about that house was the giant palm tree in the front yard that looked like a huge pineapple. It made our incredibly suburban house just a little more fun. You’ll also see my cat, Lucy, who loved to be outside and who I miss very much. In the back is my family who I had to include in this; they’ve supported me every step of the way on my journey to adulthood. In 4th grade, I was a voracious reader so I filled the cloud space with my favorite books from that period of time.

I named the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) “Hades” to represent the chariot in which Hades took Persephone to the Underworld. There are so many different tellings of the Persephone myth, but my favorite version is the one where, instead of being kidnapped, Persephone chooses to go to the Underworld with Hades, seeking adventure.

When we started unschooling, so many of my friends said that I’d never be able to get a job or go to college, if I didn’t stay in school. We knew from the very first day that it was a good decision for our family, but still, we were bored in the suburbs. With our new freedom, we put everything we owned in storage and embarked on what ended up being an almost two-year world schooling adventure, really going into the unknown. The second section depicts the QM2 which was the start of our adventure. You’ll see my dog, Toffee, and the friend she made in the portholes. On deck you’ll see my friend playing the blow-up saxophone, which I still have and treasure. We each had a backpack and just a few personal items, but we each needed one formal outfit for the QM2. It was my first “gown.”

This is the dress I wear as I step off the boat into my middle school years, lantern raised as my curiosity, to explore Europe’s treasures. Here, I just mark the highlights in Rome, Paris, and London. Most of my memories are captured on film. I got my first good camera on this trip and curated a highlight book of my photography, several images of which helped form my portfolio for Pratt. As you might imagine, photography became a life-long love through those years of regularly exploring something totally new.

Eventually, my brother and I missed playing sports and wanted to settle back in SoCal. This third panel of my scroll represents my high school years. During this time, I learned what I enjoyed doing and what I didn’t enjoy doing, represented by volleyball and working at our local ice cream place. Volleyball represents my discipline and drive, working with others, making friends, achieving goals and having a lot of fun doing it. That would be the Elysian Fields in my Persephone analogy, whereas the ice cream job was more like Tartarus. I thought it would be fun and full of smiles, but no one there really liked their job, the management was demeaning, and the customers were entitled.

Books were the biggest part of my elementary, middle school, and traveling years, and then high school was all about music. During high school, I was introduced to new genres of music that I’ve come to love and portrayed it here with the names of my favorite artists in the dark clouds between this section and the next.

The final section of my scroll represents springtime, my future, and the adult Persephone returning to the world anew. The gusts of wind are full of my interests and what I plan to pursue, but I imagine there will be some surprises along the way. Unschooling has kept me ready to notice and respond to what’s new, to carve my path, and to make my way.

 

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Damian’s Story

Damian’s Story

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As students come to the end of their high school journey, we ask them to reflect on their entire life and present it to us in the form of a Graduation Project. The student may choose how they would like to present it; as a written biography or a custom idea, such as a presentation, art piece with written narration, or video compilation.

In this Graduation Project, Damian shares how he fell in love with the student-led learning approach to education and shares the various ways that he incorporated his studies into his daily routine.  

As Nelson Mandela once said, I also believe that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. It not only gives you confidence and satisfaction, but also allows your dreams to become a reality. You can contribute to a better world!  

In my case, education has been a factor of extreme importance. I was raised very differently from other kids and was given the possibility to do another kind of school, which I’m very grateful for. West River Academy has offered me a unique chance to find out who I am, what I’m really good at, and act upon my talents. I transferred from my previous public school in fifth grade. Being enrolled at West River Academy has taught me how to learn from a different perspective and my process of learning won’t end, as one’s educational journey throughout his life never ends. I have really loved learning under the trees, being able to breathe fresh air and synchronize with nature. The freedom this school provides has allowed me to do everything with pleasure; from school tasks to planting flowers in the garden. I’ve dedicated all my spare time to reading books and studying about animals, plants or history. I’m not going to mention all the titles of the books I’ve read because I won’t be able to fit them all on these pages. A separate biography should be made, only to describe their uniqueness and incredible artistic style in which the author wrote them. Each one of them means a lot to me. They taught me how to improve myself and become a better person; for me, and for society. Everything has a meaning to me. The unpleasant things or the uncomfortable situations that occasionally happen to us, always have a meaning. There’s always something to learn from them and this is important for me. Improving myself by understanding the moral of the story. Learning from my mistakes or others’, is the key point of realizing my dream, to become a wise person and spread love-the most important of them all, among the people.

I don’t know how I would think and act if I had studied in a public school all this time, but I most certainly know that by being homeschooled, I am able to analyze everything from all the viewing angles and enjoy life’s biggest gifts for us all, such as the surrounding nature. Above all of this, I’ve had much more freedom. While others fight for their lives, we complain about how hard life is. It is important to be grateful for what you have, no matter how few things you possess. I remember a book, called Pollyanna, where the protagonist (Pollyanna herself) always plays “the glad game” to avoid feeling sad and unhappy. She would find joy even in the most ordinary things and turn the sad moments into something with a good meaning.  

On to other topics, I didn’t like Math but it has a big importance, so learning it is unavoidable. It also develops your sense. Learning can be fun if you do it properly. I would even learn during family trips. That’s because I was eager to accumulate new information. You can always find one or more books in my backpack. So, I mix pleasure with utility.  I don’t understand how watching documentaries is boring for some people. There are so many details, both mentally and visually pleasing.

Education has brought me self-acceptance and forgiveness because you need to have the power and courage to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made while also forgiving others. Courage, because doing this is not easy. It does not happen overnight. On the contrary, it takes time. Sometimes too much. Now, you’re probably saying that we cannot afford the luxury of wasting time but when dealing with such matters, pushing yourself too hard or rushing this process can be damaging for your health. So, what I would recommend to everyone is to take as much time as needed and be patient. I did well in all the school subjects. However, Physics and Math were not “my thing”. I found more joy in humanistic sciences but I’ve put more effort into what I’m not so good at and gave myself time. This process of improving my “weak points” has taken a while but was definitely worth the wait.  

I have many hobbies including photography, reading, writing and travel. There is so much that can be shown and expressed through photography. This world has so much beauty, just waiting to be explored and captured by your camera. You can visit historical places, find out new things about people’s customs and traditions. Taste their food. Contemplate their art. Listen to their music and understand their sorrows.

There are some people who can’t afford to travel but you can make their day by showing them your photos or posting them on your Instagram, for example. So, photography not only makes me happy but also brings joy to others, fulfilling my purpose, which is to spread joy and love.

Technology is also one of my secondary hobbies. I love to find out about new technologies and devices. From the latest cameras to smartphones or smart home devices. It’s a completely different world but with flaws, like ours. Many things could be changed with its help if we knew how to properly use it. I consider it a waste of energy, material, to have such powerful devices and machines and do nothing meaningful with them. Such a shame…

Music is one of the best things in the world. It calms and helps me when I feel tension or have anxiety moments. I’m part of a generation who’s trying to feel something. Inspire others. Offer help or even do a change. Most of us are always sad because the world we live in got much worse than it was in the past. There is so much pressure in the air… But here come a few questions. How will the next generation live and enjoy life, if we don’t make it easier but harder for them? How will our children be able to learn and behave as we want them to if we don’t reach their hearts and make them feel and believe what we teach them? Nothing good happens if we stay on hold, procrastinate. It only gets worse and worse. Evil grows stronger and stronger while we’re waiting for things to randomly become good. It evolves faster than we can imagine. That’s the reason why we should be prepared and overcome it with good, because, in the end, that’s all we can do.

Many people may find me weird because I’m more concerned about the feelings and the soul. Nowadays parents tend to ignore this aspect of education or tell their kids it’s bad for them to feel vulnerable. It is shameful to cry. I have encountered many cases. I cannot feel anything but pity for those kids and shame for their parents. This kind of education breaks a child. It makes him unable to feel compassion and love. I think this is the most important part of education. To teach your child how and when to be vulnerable, who to trust, and to be an honest and forgiving person.

I also enjoy writing poems. I started doing this in 2017. I was 15 at that time. I get inspiration from people’s experiences and struggles, as well as my own. The goal is to reach people’s hearts and make myself heard; to help heal life’s wounds and show people they’re not alone in this world. Everyone is unique and important to the world. Our life is a treasure we tend to neglect.

I learned that, in order to live a happy and healthy life, we should stop being so self-centered and also focus on others’ problems and cries for help. I help people as much as I can, whether it’s hard or not. Love can heal wounds and repair the damages. It is much easier to be bad but by doing that, you do harm to yourself and then to others. You have nothing to win but pride, which will never help you. Nothing compares with the intense and good feeling of helping someone in need or the satisfaction of offering somebody a gift from your heart. Seeing the happiness in their eyes and the smile on their face just makes you want to fly. Warm hugs are always free. I like to give people as many hugs as possible. So, whether it is a friend or somebody I’ve just met, I give him some hugs; make him feel safe and relaxed. My friends or people who’ve met me say I’m a warm and kind guy.  I don’t know. If they say that, maybe I am. What I think is also very important in life is modesty.

You can’t fully be a great person without modesty. It’s not about just making an impression among people and being praised. You need to be genuinely authentic, honest and sincere. Otherwise, you’d be a fraud. A lost cause. But it’s never too late. There is always a way to do things right. Education should not be only about school subjects. It should also be about building a good and strong character. About how to properly take care of our planet and protect it from pollution. It’s so sad to see that animals and nature are also suffering and begging us for help. But we do nothing. We decide that our ego is more important, therefore we ignore it or silence and discourage those trying to make a positive change.

Fortunately, I was a lucky child. My parents gave me the proper education every other child should receive. Of course, no one is perfect. So, I cannot say I received the perfect education. But it’s the uniqueness and effort of doing it well, that made the difference. I cannot thank them and West River Academy enough, for this rare chance of living a happy and healthy life. But I can try to share with others the good that I’ve received. I can show them a way, in which they can fulfill their dreams easier and live in peace with themselves and others.

Last year has been a hard one for everyone. It will continue to be difficult in the following years. Despite all of this, I think we now have more time to reflect upon our lives and see how and what we can improve. We should encourage each other and stay united. There is a Romanian proverb saying that, when there are more than two people together, the power grows stronger. I totally agree with it. If we’re united then we’re like a firewall, nothing can pass beyond it.

What we can also do is take care of nature. Because of pollution, the air we breathe is highly contaminated and poisonous for our organisms. Planting more trees and keeping the green areas, is a crucial step in preventing this from happening. It really makes me so sad to see how our forests are cut down, to build more shopping centers or to extend the cities. Here, in Romania, we are frequently running projects and petitions against deforestation. Most of the wood is not even used inside the country. It’s sent to Austria. Unfortunately, we are only a few. So, nothing really changes. People are too busy fighting and hating each other to do something meaningful for the nation. Ignorance holds the crown. Having the latest cars and devices is all that matters. The suicide rate is higher than ever. Many children, young adults, or even seniors commit suicide. People everywhere are judging instead of helping and understanding the reason that causes the pain. Animal cruelty is also everywhere. I am fighting for a change. But we’re not enough and often we’re called names and told that we are crazy.  At least I have tried. I did my part and I won’t feel guilty.

Now I want to talk about sports a little. This is an important aspect of life and shouldn’t be avoided. For a healthy life, food and sports play an important role. There is a strong relationship between these two. Doctors and fitness coaches recommend eating more vegetables and fruits, for a healthy organism. I go to the gym or do physical exercises at home, now that the situation is different due to pandemic restrictions. During the summer, I gather with my friends and play tennis and badminton. I used to go to a gun-shooting center where I learned to use handguns.

In the end, I want to say that no aspects were neglected during my education and my parents provided me with everything I needed to “complete” it. I am very happy that I could learn at home and was taught to love learning because, without education, my life would be totally different. When you do what you love, there aren’t any obstacles that you can’t overcome. I’m happy to share with you my educational journey and all the meaningful things in my life. I hope that my educational biography will touch your heart and put a smile on your face. I wrote it in a unique way and tried to provide as many details as possible. I leave here a piece of my heart. Reflecting upon my life and everything I did, has made me realize once again, how much I love what I do. Passion is the key to success. Thank you for helping me become who I am today. You are very dear to me and I am sending you big hugs. 

I want to become a professional writer and inspire others through my work. I want to show people how beautiful life is if you know how to live it. I want to make people love life and enjoy every nice moment they spend with each other. Teach their kids to be loving and forgiving and take care of our nature. We are the ones that can still fight for a better future. When I do something, I always think about the next generation. How to do it better, to have a good impact upon them because the future will hold in their hands. If they won’t learn from our mistakes, then the world will crash. I see many young people who are lost and searching for someone to inspire them. Maybe they did not have the chance I had. They are in pain. You can easily see that. They need to be encouraged and told that the chance for a better living is in their hands. They are important and the world needs them. Every moment of pain and fear was a test for them to pass. A lesson to learn from and use for good purposes. Life has so much to offer. You only need love, passion and will, to pursue your dreams. 

Sometimes, it takes a lot of hard work and sweat, but in the end, there’s nothing to be lost, only achieved. This world is some kind of heaven. We are the ones that can destroy it or heal it. It’s a matter of choice whether we do the first or the second one. I choose to be on the good side and fight for freedom and happiness over sadness and pain. I am a free young man who enjoys life at its best and tries to help others do the same. 

I will end my educational biography with this quote: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -Nelson Mandela

Isaac Loves Learning: A Year End Report

Isaac Loves Learning: A Year End Report

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“I love being homeschooled.” Those words make it all worthwhile.
~ Barb, WRA mom, Colorado USA

We love seeing our West River Academy families thrive! No matter what educational journey you are on, we want to see you and your children happy, healthy, and loving their freedom! .

This year we completed our third year of Classical Conversations, supplemented by a variety of curricula, activities, and events. We are enjoying our time together and making changes in teach methods as we work together.

The goals we have for our home(school):

  • Encourage Isaac to be at or above grade level.
  • Help Isaac maintain a love of learning.

The values we have in our home(school):

  • Kindness above all else
  • Protect and care for those who need it (younger children, animals, elders)
  • Grow an awareness that he can do anything he wants or needs to do if he is willing to work hard.
  • Have integrity; do what is right whether it is easy or not.

Field Trips This Year:

  • History Reenactment
  • School of Mines Geology Museum
  • History Museum of Golden
  • Denver Zoo
  • Denver Aquarium
  • Denver Capital
  • Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • Longmont Humane Society
  • Garden of the Gods
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Denver Library
  • Jim Hamm Nature Preserve
  • Butterfly Pavilion
  • Chick hatching at the public library

Family Fun:

We have been playing a lot of board games (Isaac is great at Chess), doing legos together, reading aloud, archery, walks, hikes, bike rides. We have a mini-farm (guinea pigs, 3 cats, 1 dog, 3 fish, 3 hermit crabs) that Isaac helps care for.

Highlights:

We are very proud of Isaac for many reasons, but some highlights included:

  • Caring for the younger children at the Classical Conversations after-care program. Isaac was never asked to help the younger children, but he could be counted on to look out for them. He played with them, helped them get snacks, drinks, etc, and hugged them when they were sad.
  • Several times this year Isaac has stood up for other kids who were being hurt by others or who were just sad. He also has started standing up more for himself with bossy or rude peers.
  • Standing up for animals when some peers were joking about doing cruel things to animals
  • Persevering with the things that are hard for him, such as handwriting.

Read more on their personal blog!
https://isaacloveslearning.wordpress.com

Creatively Learning

Creatively Learning

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Art by Makena Brumm

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!

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Art by Makena Brumm

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.