Flexischooling in Arizona, USA
Dr Samantha Eddis
Flexischooling is just not an issue in many countries around the world. Samantha’s four children have experienced flexischooling (dual enrolment) in Arizona over the last seven years. Her experience offers an invaluable perspective. The common sense attitude of the authorities is to be applauded.
Home-education had never been the plan. After all, I was a qualified teacher, and I have always loved being in the classroom. In fact, we fell into home education in Florida primarily because the local school would not allow my eldest daughter to attend the appropriate grade as she was too young. So our home – education journey began twelve years ago, and even though I was a teacher, I felt completely out of my depth, isolated and lonely, in my new home education life.
I also found it difficult to gel with the home-educating group that I joined. The families were pleasant enough, and my children enjoyed the field trips and social events. However, it irritated me whenever I heard a group of parents extolling the virtues of home education by bashing the teachers in the local schools. The worst comment I heard still makes me cringe, ‘Well, home educators are obviously more concerned about their children’s education.’ Go say that to a family who invests time, money and effort into their child’s education, social and sporting activities, and see what reaction you get! That is what I thought, but instead, I simply interjected, ‘I’m a teacher.’ Funnily enough, the parents shuffled their feet, the conversation shifted, and I wasn’t really part of the conversation anymore. Was I considered the ‘enemy’? An ‘infiltrator’? I wasn’t really sure, but I was indignant enough not to care. Fortunately, there were a few families that did not see me as a threat to their home educating lifestyle, and I formed friendships that have lasted to this day. They could see that I was, and always have been, an educator that has seen the benefits of both school and home education, and has opted for the best path for my children and my family. I don’t judge other families for the way they home-educate, or if they access schools for flexischooling opportunities – I am just following my children’s educational needs and desires.
So, our family had five years in Florida, where the home-education laws are not too intrusive, and where we mixed almost exclusively with a small group of like-minded home-educators and the local neighbourhood children. I accessed the local school when my young son was having speech issues (most common in boys, and very easy to overcome when treated early enough). My rationale was that, as an untrained speech therapist, I was in need of some professional help for my son, and my taxes supported the school that my son would have gone to anyway. Not that I foisted such an aggressive perspective on the school. Instead, I asked the local school for help and explained that I really need some professional input – within the week my son and I had seen the speech therapist and we were given some exercises and reassurances that all would be well (and it was).
When we moved to Arizona, seven years ago, I thought more about the common sense approach of accessing the local school when something was beyond my normal capabilities (speech therapy, specialist reading help, music, art, group PE classes and more).
I also looked at the Arizona law, specific to home education. This is what it says, under the Arizona Revised Statutes:
ARS§ 15-802.01 Homeschooled children; eligibility to participate in interscholastic activities
A. Notwithstanding any other law, a child who resides within the attendance area of a public school and who is homeschooled shall be allowed to try out for interscholastic activities on behalf of the public school in the same manner as a pupil who is enrolled in that public school. Registration, age eligibility requirements, fees, insurance, transportation, physical conditions, qualifications, responsibilities, event schedules, standards of behaviour and performance policies for homeschooled students shall be consistent with those policies established for students enrolled in that public school. The individual providing the primary instruction of a child who is homeschooled shall submit written verification that provides:
- Whether the student is receiving a passing grade in each course or subject being taught.
- Whether the student is maintaining satisfactory progress towards advancement or promotion.
B. A child who is homeschooled and who was previously enrolled in a public, private or charter school shall be ineligible to participate in interscholastic activities for the remainder of the school year during which the child was enrolled in a school.
C. A school district shall not contract with any private entity that supervises interscholastic activities if the private entity prohibits the participation of homeschooled children in interscholastic activities at public, private or charter schools.
NB ‘Public school’ in the United States is the state-funded school that is freely available to all children residing in the school district.
Armed with the law in case I needed to refer to it, I went to my local elementary (primary) school and asked if my homeschooled (this is the preferred term in the US) children could take part in any activities at the school. I was amazed by the refreshingly inclusive approach by the school’s administrator. She told me that the school district did indeed ‘dual enrol’ (their term for flexischooling) and then she gave me a list of all the activities that my children could take part in. No pressure was put on me to choose all or any of the subjects on offer, or to bring my child in every day. My children had a card that they gave to the administrator when they went into a class, and then took back when they left the school for the day (school policy dictates that school personnel know who is on campus). When my children expressed a desire to drop one of the classes, we discussed their goals, and then followed the best educational path for each child. As much as I let my children have a certain amount of autonomy with their classes, I was respectful enough to always let the school know if one of my children was going to be absent or drop a class.
Under Arizona law, home-educated children do not have to take any standardised annual testing, and there was never pressure put on me to have my children tested at the local school. Unfortunately for them, as a teacher, I like to have a measurement of my child’s academic ability – so I had each of my four children take standardised annual tests, from 3rd grade and above, either at the local school (they were happy to oblige, especially as home- schoolers’ scores do not affect the overall scores of the school) or at a homeschool centre in town.
Each of my four children had access to the local school, and to the subjects I felt would be best taught in a group setting: music, art, and PE. There were also opportunities to go on field trips with their assigned class, or attend the sports day and charity events. Just to give you an idea of how each child took what they needed or wanted from the school, I have detailed their flexischooling options below:
First daughter – was only interested in art, so took two terms of art classes in 8th grade. She was not interested in dual enrolling in any other classes, and did not want to pursue options in the high school.
Son – tried music classes but wanted to do his own thing so asked to drop the class (grade 8); took art for a year in Grade 7; took PE for two years (grades 6 and 7). He looked at various sporting options and computer graphics classes at high school, but the timing of the classes did not coincide with his workday at home, so he did not take up dual enrolment options at high school.
Second daughter – went into the local school full time in 1st grade, but came out to home-educate and dual enrol in music, art, and PE in 3rd grade. She went back into the local school full time for 4th grade, but then dual enrolled in music, art and PE in 5th grade. She went back into the local school full time for 6th grade and is still in school, full time, in 7th grade. She plans on coming out in 9th grade to dual enrol and take IGCSEs as a private candidate (home educator).
Third daughter – dual enrolled in the local school from 1st grade until 4th grade (music, art, PE) when she went into the local school full time. She is still in school, full time, in 6th grade but also plans to come out and dual enrol as a home educator taking IGCSEs and accessing the local high school from 9th Grade onwards.
I know that I have been so fortunate with our home-educating journey. I have been able to largely accommodate my children’s wishes for home education, full-time schooling, or dual enrolment (surprisingly they didn’t want to take annual tests!) – thanks, in part, to the common sense approach of Arizona lawmakers and school district personnel. They have realised that if home- schoolers are committed to providing the best educational program for their children, their school system can offer support and encouragement for an alternative education. I do hope that other home educators who wish to access the local schools or colleges are able to use the experiences of other collaborative projects in order to provide the best education for their children.
Samantha Eddis, PhD, has been teaching for over thirty years, in three countries (Hong Kong, England, and the USA). Passionate about education, and open to the best educational paths for her children, she has also been home educating (including flexischooling) for the last twelve years, in Florida and Arizona. Her focus at the moment is on accessing IGCSEs and A Levels for her children and for other private candidates. Her website at www.eddistutorial.com gives plenty of free information and suggested resources so that other home educators and private candidates can be successful with examinations. She is always open to ideas, advice, or suggestions that will help fellow home educators and private candidates, so please contact her at Samantha@eddistutorial.com
Our Virtual Flexischooling
Sharon shares her experience of educating her son Greg. Faced with a range of challenges that make the traditional school environment impossibility, Greg appears to be thriving on virtual flexischooling.
When we took our son out of school six years ago, we had a child who not was not only depressive but also school phobic. Until the present, he hadn’t got a good memory of school. His capabilities were such that he was tested for giftedness, but his Asperger’s Syndrome worked against him. In the recent years, we realised it was not just Asperger challenges our child had to deal with, but also Sensory Integration Disorder. We also discovered that he suffers from tree and grass pollen allergies being partially responsible for his topsy, turvy sensory intergration system. Knowing what we know now, we could see how school was a very scary and confusing place and could not possible work for him. When we removed him from school and started homeschooling, we found all his learning difficulties disappeared. What was left behind was a highly intelligent child with a very distinct learning pattern.
Greg is a kinaesthetic learner. He needs to be moving when he is doing anything. He cannot handle sitting still and doing worksheets but he can solve maths problems super quick when bouncing on a gym ball. He responds best to computer screen learning. In fact, all his learning was done via the computer, bouncing on a gym ball.
When he is learning, there cannot be any other distraction as he struggles with listening if there are other people talking in the same room. Instructions have to be given verbally and then reinforced with text (just like watching television with subtitles on). We suspect Greg has auditory and visual processing issues. Hence, over the years, we have supported Greg’s learning through online educational programs and private tutors.
It has always been Greg’s ambition to go to college. This year saw him starting first year of high school. It will be impossible for Greg to survive a physical bricks and mortar school – the sensory overload would totally overwhelm his senses. The loud noises, the crowds; scratchy uniforms, smells, lights and the multitude of distractions in classrooms would all work against him.
Flexischooling seems to be the only option to us. We chose virtual schooling and decided on InterHigh Virtual Highschool http://www.interhigh.co.uk/interhigh_prospectus_virtual_classroom.asp
So far, Greg is enjoying himself. Lessons are from 9.30 – 11.45, with a 15 minutes break in between, Monday to Friday. Homework is issued daily. Every morning, after breakfast, he logs into his classroom from the comfort of our living room. There is no audible sound from his classmates only his teacher. This clarity allows him to listen and understand everything being taught easily. If he has any problems, he can privately text the teacher his questions. When he gets stressed, he can move about the living room, without having to leave his classroom. It is important for Greg to keep moving, as this will help his brain understand of what is being taught.
Greg is also doing ICT classes with FunTech http://www.funtech.co.uk/, a local ICT academy in Maidenhead. This is where he will be sitting his ICT GCSE exam too. At the moment he is attending classes physically but there is arrangement being made for him to do his ICT lesson virtually in January 2013. Once this happens, Greg will be able to do his lessons virtually anywhere – even when we are travelling.
We felt flexischooling is the way forward for our child. It allows him to continue to learn without unnecessary stress. It also allows us the freedom to travel. We feel travelling is an important part of his education. The flexibility also allows Greg plenty of opportunity to pursue his own interests such as music lessons in guitar, drums and piano; swimming; museums visits; meeting friends.
Technology is amazing and has made it possible for my child to learn outside school. When we travel, he logs into his virtual classroom on the internet, on his laptop, via our iPhone hotspot function. Learning has no boundaries now for my kid. School doesn’t have to be a bricks and mortar building anymore.
Sharon is a full time housewife, mum, carer and homeschooler. ‘My days revolve around Greg and his needs. I’m an avid reader. My reading interest is very much focused on the subject of Autistic Syndrome. I read about how the right environment, the right attitude and the right diet can help make everything better and easier for an autistic person. It’s about how to enhance their unique autistic abilities rather than disable or limit their capabilities. As practicing Buddhist, meditation and pursuing online Buddhism studies are very much part and parcel of my life too. Finally, when I do get some free time, I like to knit, crochet and paint.’
Reflections on Flexischooling
The success of an education should be measured by the people, lives and societal contributions it produces. Fatima is in the rare position of having experienced a flexischooled education as a learner in the USA built her own flexischooling setting with the Manara Academy in Leicester, UK (now ceased as Fatima has returned to the USA). Her insights and reflections are powerful in advocating a less rigid system.
In 1974, when I was fourteen, my world was turned upside down: three of my grandparents, one of whom had raised me from a young age, died within six weeks of each other. I suddenly found myself uprooted from my home in suburban New York, needing to adjust to the slower pace and warmer climate of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the south-western USA. Besides the personal adjustments required, which were substantial, there was the problem of schooling: New York City had perhaps the best public (state) school system in the States, and New Mexico one of the worst. NYC also streamed children by ability in those days, and I had been in the top class. My father convinced the principal to move me up to a higher year group, but that didn’t help. My former classmates had often talked about which universities they hoped to attend and how much money their relatives gave them for achieving As on their reports. In contrast, I was taken aback to find several of the mostly Hispanic 14-15 year old girls in my new class comparing their engagement rings while the teachers’ words went above their heads – or, in one ear and out the other. In the end, my father decided that home-education might be a better option.
However, my father and stepmother were not in the position to provide me with a suitable home-education, so we were all interested to hear of a new kind of school, Freedom High School, where students only went to school for half a day, had a greater choice of subjects, and could combine school with home study as well as community-based classes. Although Freedom High had a waiting list, as a result of not being at school I got priority and soon found myself in a new educational world in which I flourished.
The plan at Freedom High was simple: the State of New Mexico had certain requirements for high school which involved, for example, a minimum of three years of English, two years of maths and science, and so on. You were assigned a mentor who would help you draw up your own personal study plan; you were free to study any subject anywhere and in any way you pleased, provided your plan met certain standards and fell in somewhere under the state-mandated graduation requirements. The mentor would then determine how much credit could be awarded for non school-based classes and projects, and met with you weekly to monitor your progress and help with any difficulties. Mentors also sometimes made home visits.
What a sense of empowerment! My personal experiences had led to my growing up quickly, and traditional American high school had no appeal. I felt ready for adult life, and made up my mind to graduate as soon as possible. In the mornings I attended school classes on English, New Mexico State history, geometry and pottery; in the afternoons I wrote poetry and explored the meaning of life through personal study of world religions and philosophies, reading cover to cover through the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Koran, Native American writings and other sacred texts. For PE, I learned Tai Chi and practiced yoga, and for Art I took private classes in jewellery-making. As an almost unheard-of privilege, I also attended first-year undergraduate courses in Environmental Physics and Introduction to Astronomy at the University of New Mexico, together with my father who had returned to university to complete his degree. We delighted in the other students’ astonishment on hearing that we were father and daughter, thirty-six and fifteen years old; and we befriended the professor, a socialist who wore khaki trousers and white shirt every day of the year except May Day (when he wore red), and kept a private reserve of American bison at his home. Was it a suitably broad and rich educational experience? Absolutely, and I loved it.
My personal project was symbolic of the transition I was making to adulthood, during which time many teenagers need personal space. Not wanting to share a bedroom any longer with a younger sister and stepsister, I created my own bedroom in the far corner of our quarter acre of land: a hand-built Apache Wikiup partly dug out of the sandy soil, partly built of saplings and reeds that I collected from a nearby stream, following anthropologists’ sketches. It was my retreat, my shelter and the cocoon from which I would emerge with new-found wings. And so it was that on my sixteenth birthday the staff at Freedom High School decided that I had fulfilled the graduation requirements, two years earlier than usual, and was “as educated as any high school graduate they knew”.
Although continuing complications in my personal life prevented me from enrolling immediately at university, the self-management and other important skills I learned during both my NYC primary education and my flexischooling experience at Freedom High contributed to my later confidence and success in education and at work.
Thirty-five years later, after obtaining my MA in Education and Advanced Diploma in Child Development and having experienced a variety of educational systems as both teacher and parent in the US, the Netherlands and the UK, I founded Manara Education CIC and the Manara Academy flexischooling programme in Leicester, partly in response to those inspiring early experiences at Freedom High School. Educational systems worldwide have become increasingly rigid and prescriptive over the past several decades, but governmental efforts to increase quality by increasing pressure on teachers and students have not yielded the desired results. In my view, the way to a better education for young people is not to create ever more detailed or stringent, soul-stifling targets, exams or inspection systems, but to allow children gradually to assume more responsibility for their own learning. That means starting with the child and respecting children and young people as the unique individuals that they are. This is not so much a matter of having faith in children per se, who are still immature, but in the innate potential and superb survival instincts of human beings, the most successful and adaptive creatures on earth. We seem to have forgotten that children are highly curious and are born asking “why?” and that they have an immense capacity to learn. Both research and experience show that given the opportunity and the right kind of environment and guidance, they will take the initiative to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life.
At Manara Academy we are working on developing a model, based on the Montessori approach to primary education, that allows children to mature and pursue their own interests in developmentally appropriate ways while ensuring that they master the “three R’s” and gain an adequate foundation for further studies. As we are a part-time school (at present twelve hours per week, but expanding to twenty as from September 2012), our children can enjoy the social benefits of being members of small, mixed-age classes as well as the benefits of home-education and community-based learning during non-school hours. Some of our parents enjoy spending more time and having a closer relationship with their children through home study and online courses, while others enroll their children in a wide variety of local classes and activities. All benefit from the personalised approach, and we have some early indications that they also make greater academic progress than they would in a traditional classroom setting.
We are in the early stages of establishing our school programme and culture, but have every hope that this model is a viable one for the future well-being of our children and society.
Fatima draws on her own personal educational experience particularly as a teenager at Freedom High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA and is a testament to the efficacy of flexischooled education. Fatima was born in New York in 1960 and embraced Islam in 1979. She has an MA with Distinction in Education from Roehampton University and an Advanced Diploma in Child Development, is an author of several Muslim children’s books and is pursuing a Montessori Primary Teacher qualification. She has been active in Islamic education for 20+ years in a variety of settings in the USA, Netherlands and UK including full-time and weekend Islamic schools, supplementary schools, Muslim Scouts and Girl Guides/Scouts. A founding Trustee of The Quest Foundation for Learning, Fatima has lifelong interest in holistic and Islamic education, spirituality, nature, and healthy, sustainable lifestyles.