Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pomp & Circumstance

My firstborn son graduated today! The circumstances surrounding this graduation are unique and it's so interesting to discover how much you can personalize a child's education. It offers hope, even to me, who is an educator and knows all the in's and out's, my son did not fit the mold and we continually looked for a way to find a good "fit" since the very beginning.

Christopher has been through so many school changes over the past 12 years, and for some kids, that could mean trouble. Yet he is the kind of person for whom transition was just as familiar as an old friend; he adapts quickly to change. Thank goodness, because we sure changed his situation often.

He started kindergarten at the school where I taught in Largo, FL (45 minutes from our home). That lasted just a year. The next year I quit teaching to write full time and be home with our children.

First and second grade were spent at another public elementary school in Safety Harbor, FL (across the street from our house!). He made friends, but did not enjoy school. You see, Christopher was reading on a 4th grade level when he entered kindergarten, so he was always way ahead of his peers. He started to hate school, experience stomach aches, and began to shut down. It broke my heart to see that love for learning extinguished from him.

I pulled him out of school then to homeschool him and his younger brother. We did that for his 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade years. Another transition. But this one restored his love for learning and better prepared him for a competitive academic environment. In addition, we moved to Colorado during his fourth grade year.

He decided he wanted to re-enter public school for middle school because there was an advanced program at a nearby school that he believed was a good "fit" for him. He then transitioned from homeschooling to traditional schooling for 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. He was so ahead in math that in 8th grade he went to the high school first period for Algebra I and then returned to the middle school to do another 6 periods.

In 9th grade he entered a high school in downtown Colorado Springs to which he rode a city bus. Again, this was an advanced program. He was on track, but then we changed things yet again.

We moved back to Florida at the start of his 10th grade year. There was no special program or school within a reasonable distance so he enrolled in a nearby high school in honors classes. It was like a time warp. It was too easy. He was surrounded by kids who didn't care, and he began again to hate school.

Midway through his 10th grade year we heard about a new charter high school that offered students a chance to gain both their high school diplomas and a college AA degree at the same time. There was just one spot left midyear, so Christopher chose to transition yet again and go to the St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. That meant that within 2 years he had attended 3 high schools! But he knew this was again a chance for a good "fit." And it was perfect.

On May 2, 2008 our son graduated from high school. On May 3, 2008 he graduated from St. Petersburg College with his AA degree. Yes, we went to two graduations! He gained 68 college credits while there. He made great friends who valued what he values and some of them are continuing on with him to the University of South Florida in the Fall to pursue a degree in Biomedical Science in the Pre-Med program.

There is no one right way to gain an education. It's a matter of finding that good "fit." The key is to know your child and what he or she needs and then pursue the best course to meet those needs. Every child is different.

Our younger son, Charles, does not handle transition as well. He prefers a steady, stable environment, so we try to avoid changing his schools when possible. Right now he is where he needs to be - at the high school across the street from our home (which also happens to be where I graduated). What matters is whether children get what they need.