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

Lessons Learned Through Family Gaming: A Year-end Report

Lessons Learned Through Family Gaming: A Year-end Report

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At the end of each school year, we ask the families to send us a summary of how their natural learning journey went. Families can summarize their year however they choose.  It can be a letter, a report, a list with course names and grades, or a multi-media presentation using pictures, videos and slides.

In this year-end report, Erika illustrates how a family can come together and share in their children’s passions.  

Greetings, we want to share with you our past year.  If this year had a theme, it would most likely be gaming in all forms. 

In any given week in 2019 Dean could have up to four opportunities to play Dungeons & Dragons:  the Adventure League at the local gaming store, the online program Outschool, an after-school-teen group, or running his own games in our dining room.  He studies each Game Master (GM) he plays with to learn their methods and style of storytelling and tests them out on his friends during his dining room sessions.  He definitely prefers playing in-person games over virtual games with a regular group of people.  The most sustained group is with the after-school-teen group that met at the local rec center, run by Roll Play Lead (RPL).  Jamie, the founder of RPL, sees the value in what role-play games like D&D can offer beyond just gaming for fun.  Understanding that more kids and teens these days live with anxiety or other forms of mental illness, she sees how well-suited role-play games can be used to help kids learn social skills and how the games can cater the story to meet the individual’s needs or challenges. 

Dean and Vivienne both enjoy playing video games and both have their motives for getting what they want out of the games.  Dean is very interested in the gameplay and strategy, where as Vivienne gets swept up in the story and creatures she is working with or battling against.  Vivienne has become a rolodex of information on Pokemon and can’t seem to get enough of the unusual creatures and abilities.  The stories presented during the gameplay offer a uniquely catered story for Vivienne, which provides the desire and drive to improve her reading skills in order to follow along.  Vivienne is gaining a good sense of pre-planning and problem-solving skills in order to move forward in the story.  Whether she needs to have the correct Pokemon cued up ready to battle, or understand when it’s time to run from a fight, she is exercising her thinking ahead and planning for the future skills that are so important for daily life.  

Dean, on the other hand, is more interested in strategy, cause and effect, and manipulating situations to meet his needs.  Dean doesn’t have a favorite game; rather, he relishes finding a new game, observing others’ playstyle to help create his own.  Dean also enjoys seeing new artistic styles each game developer puts into their content and has grown fond of the music each game or level in the game presents.  Online games offer many good things, such as strengthening your ability to work together and improve communication skills, but there are also some darker aspects that we find ourselves discussing with Dean.  Not all gamers are playing the game for the same reasons and Dean finds himself interacting with some not-so-nice teammates that are more interested in trying to get under other players’ skin or are just downright rude.  Maturity also plays a big part in how Dean deals with these types of people.  Rather than going on the defensive or offensive, Dean uses the situation as a sort of social experiment and attempts to change their outlook.  Despite other players’ mean or aggressive attitudes and playstyles, his findings have shown that when only responding to them positively, the rude player either leaves the game or ends up changing their tune.  

Since Dean was seven years old, we’ve gone through waves between obsession and disinterest when it comes to Minecraft. Each Minecraft resurgence we try to find ways to play with friends without having to go through the trouble of starting our own server.  When COVID-19 struck, the kids missed their friends, so we knew it was the right time to figure out how to host our own server.  We dove into the daunting process of getting a server up and running and named it CoronaCraft.  We learned there is a lot we don’t know, but we got far enough to get a working server to host all the kids’ friends.  Besides giving the kids a virtual playground for the kids to stay connected, it has been an invaluable learning process for everyone in the family.  We play on the server along with the kids. Minecraft is one of the few video games that has captured our sustained interest. It’s great having a hobby the entire family participates in, especially during a lockdown! It proved to be a great distraction and escape from all the bad news outside the house. It took a while to master basic server hosting and we made mistakes along the way. The worst was a server crash or two, losing weeks of work, but we rebuilt and made it better the second time around, and we learned how to not let it happen again.  We helped the kids navigate setting boundaries with friends and have witnessed the amazing teamwork and building skills of all the kids on the server.   

Dean has shown real maturity during this pandemic.  He has made a real effort to understand all he can regarding the facts about COVID-19 and he has shared that information with his friends as a way to stem fears his friends were sharing with him and he was able to help his friends make sense of the situation as only a peer could.  It was rough for Vivienne to have a birthday during lockdown, since we couldn’t throw the usual big party.  So we set up a secret amusement park on the server and asked all the kids to build rides in time for her birthday.  We held a virtual surprise birthday party for her, spending the evening trying out all the rides and eating cake. It was just as fun as a regular birthday.  Since we are not experts in the world of Minecraft we are asking for the kids’ help all the time; they light up with confidence when they are teaching us how to make things work.  Many of our dinnertime discussions covered Minecraft topics and we’ll spend many evenings watching Minecraft YouTubers for inspiration.  Dean has challenged himself with complicated Redstone creations; he says it’s his “big brain” moment when he has successfully executed his design.  When Vivienne asks to show us what she built, we are always impressed with how well her plan comes to life.  It’s in the world of Minecraft that we have seen both kids at their most self-directed and resourceful, not to mention their most giddy and cheerful, selves, while playing online with their friends.

Vivienne is inquisitive and curious, as always.  Her favorite way to explore the world is through interacting with others with her pop quizzes.  She inquires into others’ minds by playing question games, asking top favorites on any variety of things.  For example: what is your favorite animal with wings or what is your favorite animal from Australia? But she can get complex at times; “pick an animal’s superpower (like an Axolotl’s limb regeneration)”. Then the other person is to counter it with the superpower’s weakness (but it grows back too big).

Vivienne continued to attend as many nature classes at our local nature center as she could in 2019, although she is aging out of the classes they offer and they are the same ones she’s been to year after year.  The nature center has a fairy garden for kids to decorate and arrange logs, sticks and rocks for the fairies. We were inspired by this, so we created a fairy garden plot in our backyard for all the nature Vivienne brings home from hikes and outings. The garden gives the stones and sticks she collects a place to live and be creative with that isn’t in her bedroom.  In August 2019 the reptile store, where we get feeder insects for our lizard, gave us a complimentary hornworm to feed our pet bearded dragon, Sneezy.  Vivienne was struck by its bright aqua color and was sure Sneezy would choke on its large size.  Not knowing what else to do with this worm, we decided to take it in as a temporary pet and named it Bobbert.  We learned how to care for Bobbert so we could watch it grow and transform, which was absolutely fascinating to witness!  We found information on caring for hornworms from Carolina Scientific, a place where teachers can order these worms to bring into their science classrooms. In our case, life brought us this science lesson.

Art and creativity are ingrained into Vivienne and she uses her skills to provide art sculptures and costumes for her stuffed animals or clay sculptures, among other artistic endeavors.  Waiting around and long car rides are usually filled with drawing in one of her many drawing pads.  There are moments where Vivienne is so lost in her drawing that she doesn’t hear her name being called.  Getting lost in something so deeply that the rest of the world is “tuned out” demonstrates Vivienne’s passion and concentration for what she is working on.  Vivienne recently received a new computer and also a drawing pad.  The pad is similar to the devices Vivienne’s favorite YouTube personalities use to create the animations she enjoys so much and gets inspiration from.  This provides yet another medium for her to try and gain experience from. 

The change in routine brought about by COVID-19 in some ways limited our opportunities to explore our world, but in other ways has stilled the waters of our life enough to see the things below the surface that had gone unaddressed since we began our homeschooling journey.  The year ahead is beginning like no other and we are looking forward to where the new twists and turns in our road will take us.

Best Regards,

Marc & Erika, Colorado USA

I Don’t Want A Day Without Learning…

I Don’t Want A Day Without Learning…

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Rocio is a West River Academy senior in Argentina. Unschooling has reignited her curiosity and love of learning.

I’ll be honest, I always found it difficult to follow a routine but having one and sticking to has been easier these past few months.
Before, my routine was based on activities, schedules and places I didn’t like – not interesting or fulfilling at all. I can guarantee that I enjoy every moment now; I like what I do every day, even those days that are similar to others.

Some of my favorite things are books, photography, cooking, languages; each one teaches me something new and changes me. I think every time we learn, we also change, we are not the same person we were before, and one day without learning is a wasted day. 

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, which makes me so happy and adds only excitement to my days. There is nothing more beautiful than to visit a place you wanted to go to; to imagine being there and then to finally do it. Apart from learning about the place, I really enjoy taking pictures.

I want to say thank you to West River Academy for giving me the opportunity to set my own schedule, activities and academic learning according to my interests. I’m grateful for being able to fully enjoy my hobbies, to finally feel mentally and physically healthy. I love where and how I am now. I love what I do.

 

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A Graduate’s Journal

A Graduate’s Journal

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In our Graduation Program we not only want to hear about the curriculum you might be doing, but we want to know who you are, what influences your thought process and the person you are aspiring to be. Because in a society that has forgotten to value wisdom, curiosity and introspection, young adults who are nurtured in this way during the most developmental period of their life are an incredible asset to our world as whole.

Prospective graduate, Michael Heaton, delivers a reflective report of his personal growth and shares his thoughts as he navigates a trivial time in his life.

If I’m honest, I could call February my realization month. I read many books from prophets to philanthropists, philosophers to fables; everything. Many of them had different messages and sometimes they were conflicting. But the things I have learned have helped me to see where I truly am, where I will go if I continue doing what I am doing, and where I truly want to end up.

In the beginning of February I had a huge personal expense come up. The good news is that I finally paid it all off. But that whole month I felt totally broke. Which is not a bad thing to feel at my age because I don’t have a family or spouse depending on me. It just makes me realize how much growing I still have left before I am really ready for the real adult world. In a nut shell I’d say the beginning was humbling.

That works out perfectly for this type of education because it proves the old story of Socrates. Most people know about the young man who goes to Socrates and says something to the fact that he wants to learn from Socrates and be wise like him. Socrates then walks down to the beach and shoves his head in the water. The young man fights to come up to breathe. And finally when he almost drowns Socrates lets him up. Of course the young man is furious. Socrates responds calmly saying that once he wants truth and knowledge as bad as he wanted air, then he would teach him. That very desire that Socrates points out, is what I had in February. I got tired of settling for the life I had. My income seemed capped. My friendships, limited and self absorbed. My spiritual life, mundane and routine. My physical health, mediocre at best.

After I realized where I was at, I wrote some things that I wanted to change. I put up a white board where I can track my progress in different areas in my life to see what I needed to work on. Although I’m not perfect at updating it, it is in my room and I constantly look at it as I do my schooling. I’ve learned that if you want something to improve, you need to track it. The moment you do that, it becomes a priority. That has really helped me appreciate the gift of a day. There will never be a day like today ever again. And each day we are given, we trade for the things we think are important. Whether we are just killing time, or investing it, we can never get that day back. So we must use it wisely.

Previous to February, I often found myself bored, unfulfilled, and not where I wanted to be. If that continued, I’d follow the saying, “Some people die at 25, and aren’t buried until 75”. I don’t want that by any means. When I was bored and unfulfilled I also found that it effected my relationships. Not because people were all a sudden being jerks. But because I was focusing on myself so much more because I had nothing else to do. And lets be honest, none of us like a friend who is self centered.

Once I realized that my laziness was effecting who I was becoming, I decided to change. I started passing out flyers to expand my landscaping business in South Phoenix. I’m reading deeper into the words of God. I’ve tried to be less task oriented and play with those around me when they ask for my attention. When I think of old friends, I send them a text to let them know that I appreciate their role in my life. If I have down time, I invest it into my future. Just those simple things have revolutionized my life; not to mention my self confidence.

Now I know a lot of this could not be classified under math, science, or history. But I still believe that it is education. I believe that education is supposed to make life easier. Without knowing the things that I’ve just shared, life would be much harder. And if I could narrow down everything I’ve learn last month, I’d say this, success is never an achievement or trophy that we can attain and lock away for the rest of our lives. That is what you call a goal. Most people, including myself, think that success can eventually be achieved once we do this, or accomplish that, or face a certain obstacle. But the truth is success is only realized in the pursuit of your goals. The moment we stop stretching for what we want, and becoming a better person each day, we are no longer successful.

So thanks again for this program of credibility, and accountability. It’s helped me a lot already. Talk to you next month.

A Graduates’ Path to Self-discovery

A Graduates’ Path to Self-discovery

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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.

Screen Shot 2018 03 16 at 2.21.51 PM 48x36@2xOne 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.”

The Balancing Act: Eden’s Story

The Balancing Act: Eden’s Story

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“Everyone brings into the world unique talents and abilities, and some of mine include my strong will and determination. I will continue to engage myself in school, work and sports and try to remember to enjoy the journey along the way. Somehow I have managed to get to the places that always feel right, and this is where my education has led me.”

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.

I was in the third grade when my parents enrolled me in a two-week theater camp. They told me it was just for fun, but they were hoping it would help me be more confident about speaking publicly. It’s safe to say that it worked.

At the conclusion of the camp, there was a showcase performance, where our parents and also a few Hollywood youth agents were invited to see us perform the monologues and plays we had been working on. An agent approached my parents at the end of my performance and asked them about me, and although they laughed it off at first (we weren’t a “performing arts” sort of family), I let them know that acting was something I definitely wanted to pursue. My parents agreed to support me in that pursuit as long as I maintained my good grades in school. So we began our journey into balancing school and acting work that I am still on today.

I’ve learned that in the auditioning process for acting jobs, there is very little that you can control in terms of getting the job you are auditioning for. This is because there are many factors that have nothing to do with the audition (contracts, salary, availability, co-stars, network requirements, agency agreements, etc.) that determine who books the role. In schoolwork it is just the opposite. When I put the effort in, know the material and complete the assignments and tests to the best of my ability, I know that I will most likely get the desired result.

I could not be more grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given on a show that’s been a part of American pop culture for 65 years. I am surer than I have ever been that acting is what I want to do with my life. My work on General Hospital has taught me that I need to dig deep to get to some of the emotional places that the stories require, and I know that having a “regular” life with school, sports and non-actors has helped give my performances depth and helped them to feel real. I have an acting coach who once told me that I should “read about and learn everything you can about whatever you can, because even if you never have an acting job related to what you are learning, it will still give your acting depth.” When my character, Josslyn, struggled with her embarrassment at her schoolmates learning of her kidney transplant, I knew that I could show her emotions realistically because I know what the pressures of fitting in at school and wanting to be like everyone else feels like.

No one is exempt from turmoil in their lives, and I can honestly say I am grateful for the challenges I have had because they have strengthened my character and brought forward certain virtues I might otherwise not have known. Coming so close but ultimately not getting a few huge acting jobs that would have been life-changers has been heartbreaking for me. But everyone brings into the world unique talents and abilities, and some of mine include my strong will and determination. I will continue to engage myself in school, work and sports and try to remember to enjoy the journey along the way. Somehow I have managed to get to the places that always feel right, and this is where my education has led me.

Max’s Story

Max’s Story

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“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.

Happy Holidays from Our Family to Yours!

Happy Holidays from Our Family to Yours!

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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

A Letter from Ayelén: A Graduate from Argentina

A Letter from Ayelén: A Graduate from Argentina

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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.”

Ayelén Zogalski.