Saturday, July 3, 2010

Homeschool, CVA style

As of this last week, I am in a brief pause in the flurry of “paperwork” (there has to be an email/online equivalent to that . . . ) between one school year and the next. Good time to post about how we homeschool here at Shady Fifth.

The 2010-2011 school year will be our 18th year homeschooling – and that’s starting the clock from when the oldest hit official kindergarten age and we opened that first delicious box from a curriculum supplier :-). I remember it so well. It was “Play-N-Talk”, a complete phonics curriculum, and how amazing to remember that it was LPs! The year after we ordered, it came out in cassettes as well. We have done some drifting around over the years, have tried different schedules and have had the typical curriculum loves and hates. I’ve known families that have done “virtual schools” and while I’m happy that that works for them, we’ve been very content with our school and curriculum choices. So for a couple of years, I admit I didn’t listen too closely to friends talking about “Columbia Virtual Academy”. I assumed that it was another choice where a curriculum was set out for you with a teacher on the other end of a computer.

In the summer of 2008, a conversation arose on a yahoo board that I participate on for local mamas. It was regarding some of the philosophical issues around participation in any program that receives money from the state. Reading this conversation, I realized that CVA was very different from my assumptions. I took a friend whose opinion I respect, whose children were enrolled in CVA, out to lunch and drowned her in questions. That very afternoon, after discussing it all with The Patriarch, I phoned to start the application process.

Probably the easiest way to explain CVA is to say what has changed in our homeschool. The most obvious change is our budget! I kept track over the years of school spending, and with as many children as we have, we almost always spent around $1,000 annually. Going into it, back in 1992, I assumed the costs would bottom out over the years as we were able to re-use curriculum for younger children, but it never really worked that way. There were always expenditures that were needed, and it always worked out to be about $1000 a year. But now . . . with CVA, it’s over $1000 per pupil!! Our first year in CVA, we still had six children here full time, so that was a gigantic change in the budget! That first year we got all kinds of school “infrastructure” stuff: laminator, globe, good markers, giant Prismacolor set, gigantic K’Nex physics set, art supplies . . . all of the drool-worthy items that were out of our reach before CVA.

So, that’s what we get out of CVA, frankly, money. What we do that is different now is this:

  • At the beginning of each school year, I write an “SLP” (student learning plan) for each student for each subject. CVA has standard templates available for standard subjects. I do utilize some templates, such as “3rd Grade Math”, but others I write from scratch. I actually very much value having to do this. Over the years of homeschooling, I have done something similar some years, but it was hit and miss, and I appreciate the discipline. Our first year with 6 students, each with 6-7 subjects, was a huge amount of work!
  • Once a week each child sends an email to their “advisory teacher” (and we are so fortunate; he is a warm, interested, hands-off, guy who used to teach junior high English) and receives one back. They love it, as it is praise and encouragement from another voice besides mine and Papa’s. Someone at CVA sends out a mass letter each week with question prompts for this. One is content related (“tell me what you studied in math this week”) and the others are more whimsical/creative (“if you were an animal, what would you be?”)
  • Once a month I do a monthly review for each child for each subject. I also find this very, very valuable. With this many children, it is easy for one of them, particularly the older ones who do more on their own, to slip behind or get off track. This keeps us all really current, and the children can really see how much they’re doing and feel an accurate sense of accomplishment. Our advisory teacher sends each of the children a note after he reads these, as well, mentioning some of their accomplishments.
  • Random e-paperwork. When we order things, of course we need to fill out forms, then when the item comes, scan and send receipts and all. CVA is a government entity and government needs paperwork to stay alive :-).

But that’s it. Oh, and standardized testing. Here in the state of Washington we’ve always had to do a standardized test every year after the child reaches 8 years old, and have it “on file” for just-in-case. So I’ve always given the children the IOWA assessment; same one I took a million years ago when I was in school. I still give the IOWA here every year, but now I do need to send a copy of the results in to CVA. One of my children scores abysmally on the IOWA, so I do take advantage of a different assessment for him that is offered via computer from CVA. It is kind of cool – we set up an appointment time, the child in question sits down at the computer with a drink and scratch paper, and their proctor takes over our computer for awhile and administers the test, then “sucks up” all of his answers and *poof* it’s done!

We don’t do anything else differently. I still research various options in curriculum, choose what I think best, teach in the manner I think best, test/evaluate when and how I think best, and don’t have a responsibility to discuss any of these choices with anyone at CVA. Because it is a public system, if we wish to incorporate religious material, we do it outside of CVA hours. In Washington, as in the other states that we’ve homeschooled in (Virginia and Kentucky), homeschoolers have to be in “class” for a set number of hours per year, which is the same number that the public schools have. With CVA, one is to be in “class” the same number of hours. But this is basically the honor system, as it is with any homeschool.

There is a lot more to talk about in speaking of homeschool, but I wanted to describe CVA in particular in this post. This last week I turned in my final 2009-2010 reimbursement request, and put in my first order for material for 2010-2011, so this seemed like an appropriate lull in which to describe this program that has been very good for us.

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