Last year I became increasingly frustrated with how much time at school was spent watching movies and doing other things with little educational value, and Jayna complained of how much free reading time she had while she waited for others to catch up/finish work. I did address it briefly with the teacher and principal, and I know the teacher had organized a group of kids that were ahead to do a few things differently- however telling a group of 5th graders to come up with something they wanted to learn and do it- just didn't provide enough structure or guidance- or lead to a lasting educational benefit. I must say that when I mentioned to the superintendent that we were looking elsewhere, he said they could have her tested and she could move up for some of her classes. Why didn't the elementary principal suggest that in the first place?
Anyhow we looked into charter schools- brick and mortar and cyber. It basically came down to two options- a brick and mortar charter school about 40 minutes away- benefits being great after school clubs, a cool science room, and the social aspect- or Commonwealth Connections Academy-benefits of moving at own pace, clubs, electives and fieldtrips. In the end Commonwealth Connections is what we felt best about.
Jayna did some testing before the school year and tested into gifted and talented language arts and gifted and talented science. I am amazed at the level of work that is expected throughout the classes- and I can't really tell how much of it is based on the fact that she is doing GT classes, and how much is just overall increased expectations. I feel like she is learning so much more- but I will admit having one month in, it hasn't always been easy. There have been occasional melt downs- when Jayna feels like the work is more involved than what she would like- and as I said, expectations are higher. There are projects that put her outside of her comfort zone- for example involving the community.
Anyhow- I'm just going to bullet some of my thoughts/her thoughts to avoid writing this all day!
- We started out doing 8-10 hours a day to get the work accomplished, but the first week there was some extra testing needing done. Now we are anywhere from about 4-8 hours a day. We are always over the required 25 hours a week.
- Art- Jayna has actually liked her art class so far- which is different than previously. She liked getting out her art supplies and using them. Art is not something that is natural for her, so she really liked the opportunity to use other resources ( for example looking at a clip art picture) to guide her in drawing a picture. Also she didn't get that yucky feeling you get when everyone else is so much better at art than you are- she could just enjoy the process- and I love that!
- The classes use some great online tools and at home activities- I find it crazy that she is finding this more hands on than the school classroom was.
- I started out letting her do everything on her own, but after a few days, realized she needed a little more guidance. So often I will scan over the lessons ahead of time and make her a list of tips and reminders for the day's courses- and she will check things off as she goes.
- Tests! Jayna is learning what real tests are! She recently studied for a test with a 10 page study guide with an additional 44 vocab words. She has taken 2 tests so far and both have been hard, but she has done well- but it really made her think. I appreciate that there are more than just multiple choice tests and that well written answers are also expected
- The social aspect- this was one of my concerns, not just the opportunity to be and interact with others, but for me a I have felt that a lot of my learning comes from listening and watching others. So, I am glad that the classes use discussions, where students are expected to present an answer or thought to a question and also respond to others input. Field trips- there are lots of field trip options- you can go anywhere throughout the state, but I have limited our general range to within about 2 hours. We have signed up for 4 so far- an upcoming tethered hot air balloon ride, a trip to a zoo, an outside butterfly garden, and a trip to see a Christmas play and then go to the children's museum (with a great hands on activity planned) in Pittsburgh. I hope by participating in these she will make more friends and have some awesome experiences! I have to drive her to the field trips, but the school pays the cost for me and her up to $20 a person for activity, so most are free. Also she is allowed ( and I feel a little guilty about this)- to participate in after school at our local school- so she is participating in chorus and reading club right now.
- Live lessons are held weekly for each class-so she can interact with the teacher and students.
- I am her "learning coach" and I hate feeling like her grade is also my grade- and I hate that I see grades all the time. She has all a's and b's right now, but I also want to realize that even if her grades drop some, the level of expected work is higher and she is learning.
And so it goes...