Eric and I made a decision today that I would have NEVER guessed we would be making this year. Our kids will be going to a "brick and mortar" school for 2011-2012. What, you say?!
Earlier this year we made what felt like a really good decision for our family--for our kids to take part in Epic One on One Charter School. This is an awesome program where we get to choose our child's curriculum and teach them at home, using state funded dollars. We would have access to a one on one teacher, if we chose; or we could choose to have very little interaction with the teacher. No attendance requirements. No student work samples to turn in. A Christian curriculum (we chose Bob Jones). An online base that would allow us to "homeschool" even though I also work full time from home. We felt very comfortable with our decision. The kids were excited.
Then a few days ago...
A few days ago I saw a facebook announcement from Epic that they are opening a site-based Epic Charter School. At first I thought that would be a cool deal for some families, but not us. I mentioned it to Eric, who asked, "And why aren't we even considering whether this would be right for our kids?" Umm...I didn't have a good answer for that besides, "Because we homeschool! That isn't homeschool!" [Yes, I know some would argue that taking part in any charter school--even home-based--isn't homeschooled. I don't want to have that argument today. We can agree to disagree.]
With Eric's urging I dutifully checked into this option. And doggone it if it isn't a good fit, as shocked as I was.
Curriculum: We wouldn't be able to choose our curriculum for the site-based school, but they are using Calvert, which was our 2nd choice anyway. Good program. Not much of a sacrifice there.
Attendance: No attendance requirements at the site-based school. If I want my littles (or bigs, for that matter) to attend half a day, they may. If I want to pick up the kids at noon so we can go to a museum, I can. If any day of the week, for any reason, it doesn't work for us to get to school, it won't be counted against my kids. If they are making appropriate progress, it's all good. The attendance policy (or lack thereof) was a shocker to me, in the best possible way.
Uniforms: Not this year, but hopefully in the future. However, the founder doesn't want to institute uniforms until Epic can PAY for every child's school clothes. The goal is no money out of pocket for parents.
Ratio: The ratios aren't outstanding at 1:13 to 1:25. However, I'm assured each child can progress at their own pace. One child can complete 2 grades in one year if that's his pace. The next child may take more than a year to complete a grade.
How Big? 125 students, Pre-K through 5th grade. Doesn't that sound like a nice size? Big enough to feel like a real school, but small enough that everybody knows everybody.
Hours: 8:15-2:15 Monday-Friday are the hours school will be running. We choose what hours our children will attend. Our kids will likely go the entire day 4 days a week, with a half day one day a week (so we can attend other activities in the afternoon).
The future plan: Epic's plan is to have site-based schools for pre-K through 12th grade in the future. In the future it may work out that families could have limited curriculum choices and still attend (rather than only Calvert).
What if we don't like it? This is what really put me at peace. If the site-based school isn't a good fit for our kids, we can withdraw at anytime *AND* continue with Epic One on One, just as we had originally planned. This is the fail-safe that will help me sleep at night. I probably wouldn't want to take a chance on the site-based school if we wouldn't be able to continue with Epic in the event of a bad fit. I really feel that Epic (in one form or another) is the best fit for our family at this season of our lives.
The Facilities: We went by the facility today. It is a VERY nice new construction building where, currently, there is a birth-pre-K academy taking up half the space. The other half of the space will be for 125 Epic students. The stinky part is it is a pretty fair distance from us--about a 20 minute drive from our house to the school, and about 30 minutes from the school to Eric's work.
The reality is that I am a working mom. I'm a stay at home mom, but one that must REALLY focus on my work (above and beyond the work of raising my children) much of the day. Already next year, with Bob Jones, my kids were going to be "taught" by a teacher from Bob Jones (via streaming video). It is just not possible for me to spend all day teaching my children even if that would be the ideal to me and for them. The Lord has not in any way told me I am to stop the work I do in adoption. We do not make the choice to homeschool because of religious convictions. We chose to homeschool because the public school available to us was not serving our children well.
With this program, I will have 5 solid QUIET hours per day that I can focus soley on my adoption work. With this program, my kids won't "just" have mommy that can teach them (whenever I have time or whenever they need me) but will also have a real life certified teacher teaching them for a few hours each day. [The other half of the day, for the big kids, is online work regardless of where they are.] I feel like my kids will have many of the benefits of homeschooling, but will also get some of the benefits/traditions of a classroom environment. Any day I want to take our education on the road to a park, or a museum, I can! I wonder how different this is from "homeschool" kids who go to co-op classes much of their school day? Any co-op parents want to comment?
The part we haven't quite figured out is transportation. Eric now gets a ride to work each day, from a co-worker. This will make the morning no problem. [The school and E's work are on opposite ends of the city.] In the afternoon, school gets out at 2:30. It will take about 30 minutes to get home. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Eric's work from our house. It will cause this weird half hour at home before going back out to pick up Eric--plus double the gas we currently use. Not ideal. Ideally, we will figure out a way for Eric to have a ride from work to home each day--or as many days as possible.
Tulsa people! Let me know if you know of anybody willing to give a blind guy a ride each day (at 4pm or 5pm) from 41st and Garnett to 56th and Peoria/Riverside! We'll pay!
Ultimately, Eric feels pretty strongly that we should try this with our kids, and is trusting the Lord to help us work out the transportation peice. Eric doesn't feel strongly about much. One of his spiritual gifts is discernment, so when he does feel strongly about something, I've learned to trust his insticts. =-)
Our big kids are absolutely totally THRILLED that their dad and I have made this decision for them. They are excited to meet new friends--children of like-minded families. They are excited to take part in something that is absolutely unique in our state. They are excited to be a part of a brand new school. They are abuzz with thoughts of what their colors might be; what their mascot may be; and whether there will be a school paper and student government--all things they "miss" with home-based schooling. Just to be clear, my bigs had absolutely NO interest in going back to public school. That isn't it. A week ago (before we knew this was an option) they were discussing how much they appreciate being out of the public school and would not look forward to going back.
This is the thing.... This isn't traditional schooling. This isn't homeschooling. It's charter schooling, but being a "charter school" doesn't describe what this is either. My kids will be taking part in a homeschool curriculum, in a classroom (like a co-op, right?). At the same time, they are not required to be in the class on any given day. On those days when we don't attend, we switch to home-educating. On any given day my kids could be site- or home-schooled. There is no fine arts teaching or P.E. at the site-based school. Can we take part in "Homeschool Choir?" Where do we fit? For now, I don't think we "fit" anywhere--but hopefully the EDUCATION community will have open minds about alternative education choices like the one we are about to take part in. I hope that my friends who homeschool will not discriminate against my kiddos. I won't insult homeschoolers by calling it homeschooling, but I will say that we feel that we still most align with that group.
P.S. The kids were brainstorming about mascots tonight. [Epic Eagles was the winning choice.] Eric joked that they should call themselves the Epic "Others!" They are not like public schoolers. They are not like homeschoolers. They are THE OTHERS!