So we’re new to homeschooling. And as I mentioned in a post earlier this summer, because Dr. No was starting High School just as we started our sailing adventure, he was worried about us teaching him solely. While we’re qualified (overqualified, really) to teach him a High School curriculum, he was concerned about not having transcripts, and not being able to take Advanced Placement courses, and “Honors” courses, etc. And because we don’t know if he will attend university in the U.S., we wanted to ensure that homeschooling doesn’t ruin his chances of attending a European university.
Amongst other things we has been researching for the past few years in anticipation of our sailing adventure, schooling options has been one of them. Really, we got serious about it over the last year, and we happened upon the Florida Virtual School. Florida has the oldest established online high school program in the United States, and it is actually available to students outside of Florida and the U.S. (for a fee). It was actually featured in a 2014 Huffington Post article entitled, “These 12 Awesome Schools Could Change the Way You Think About Public Education.” So, becoming Florida residents was a major step for us to take, in planning for Dr. No’s schooling. We took care of that early in the summer. We had established St. Brendan’s Isle for our mail when we moved out of our house in May, and we flew to Green Cove Springs in June to established Clay County as our domicile. That way, Dr. No was entitled to attend the Florida Public School system, and therefore the Florida Virtual School System.
The Florida Virtual School has two ways in which students can take classes: the first is as a traditional school, and a student has a virtual class schedule that he must attend online from 8-3, M-F; the second offers more flexibility, and is self-paced* but does not offer transcripts through the Florida school system.
So, we know that we did not want Dr. No to be tied down from 8-3 M-F. Not to mention, we didn’t want to be tied down worrying about unfettered Internet connectivity all day, every day. And, we know that he can actually accomplish his schoolwork more efficiently than that. So we knew that the second option was more up our alley in terms of our personal schedule and needs.
However… the transcripts!!!!
[Enter an "Umbrella School," stage left.]
So, for homeschoolers in Florida, there is a system set up called Umbrella schools that oversee homeschoolers [if you want them to oversee your homeschooling, versus your local school district]. In return, they validate your curriculum, and issue transcripts for the school year. These are not actual brick-and-mortar schools, but bear all of the administrative burden of a school. They have administrators, principals and guidance counselors, but no classrooms. In our case, we’re enrolled in The Atrium School, in Palm Beach County. We are required to file monthly attendance reports for Dr. No. We had to file a detailed curriculum plan for the year and have it approved, and we are required to send in examples of his work (tests, quizzes, essays, etc) every marking period. It costs us $50 a month (for 8 months), but it is worth it to us. AND… Because they are a legitimate school, they issue TRANSCRIPTS!!!
The other benefit is that it is considered a private school, and as a result, Dr. No is not required to take Florida standardized tests at the end of the school year. If he had selected option 1 above, we would be obligated to get him to Florida to take a battery of standardized state tests at the end of every school year.
SO… As for the first month, I wanted to share my impressions as to how it’s going, and how it is working on a boat.
CURRICULUM and SCHOOLING:
So far, we all love the Florida Virtual School. Dr. No really thrives on being in control of his learning, and managing his weekly course load, and we love the amount of interaction he has with his teachers and we have with his teachers. We actually stay out of it and so far have only replied to his teachers when they have emailed us, except for the required monthly reports to The Atrium School; but it is nice to have the emails, texts When we were in Annapolis, Dr. No attended a “prestigious” magnet school. When I had a question or issue to bring up with the teacher, I was hard-pressed to get a response from a teacher via email. If it was really important, there were times when I had to get an administrator involved to just elicit an email response [and you can imagine what that response looked like, after getting an administrator involved]. Pretty much, because Dr. No was an overachiever, and had A’s they payed no attention to him: meaning, they gave him no extra work, and did not challenge him or give him anything extra to do. He sat in school all day drawing in a notebook, reading random books, and hanging out because he would finish his classroom work in minutes compared to his classmates. Because of “No Child Left Behind” and the myriad of disciplinary problem-children in the classrooms at Wiley H. Bates Middle School, teachers spent 90 percent of their time on the bottom 10 percent of the students… leaving Josh to wallow with no engagement and nurturing.
His teachers email me weekly. We have monthly phone calls to discuss Dr. No’s progress– and I could talk to his teachers more often if desired. They are proactive in this arena as well.
Dr. No talks to his teachers at least once a week, for anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour. He can text or email to ask them questions [YES-- he texts his teachers, and they text him back! It's a regular form of communication between them!], they get together on chat rooms, and they meet in virtual whiteboard spaces where they can both write and, for example, work through math problems together.
Honestly, he gets more attention in the Florida Virtual School than he did attending a brick-and-mortar school in the public school system in Maryland. And it’s tailored to his individual speed of learning. He can finish the semesters at his own pace, and go as quickly as he likes. So we are DELIGHTED!
BOAT and CRUISING ASPECTS:
As four our cruising lifestyle and balancing the FLVS, so far, things are working out really well. As a note, on the FLVS website, it highlights the Cooney family that took their three sons traveling around the world for a year, and they used FLVS. Dr. No LOVES school, and spends a lot of time on his school work. We’ve been able to maintain Internet connectivity so far, and James outfitted our boat so that we have a great cell booster, and wifi booster. Of note, we actually had wifi and cellphone connectivity on Tangier Island in September, thanks to our setup. The other cruisers didn’t, and there was nowhere in town you could get wifi/cell connectivity. While we had no connectivity around the island, when we were at our boat we were good to go, so Dr. No could do his school work online, and talk with his teachers with no problem!
We know we’re going to face challenges when we go to the Bahamas, and further afield; but we’re doing our homework, and preparing accordingly. We’ll continue to take it one step at a time, as we are learning to take every day as it comes ; ) .
The one good thing is that we have flexibility. Dr. No has to submit a certain number of assignments a week. He can complete them, but not submit them. Also, we could submit lessons at the beginning of a week, and then submit all of the next week’s lessons at the end of the second week, giving us a week of unfettered, non-Internet-enabled sailing, if need be. I know it’s a pain, but it’s the compromise we’ve made for Dr. No’s education. What was it that I said about compromises?
This option might not work for everyone, I admit, because it requires you to maintain a certain amount of Internet access. However, we knew that from September through next April, we would be sailing in areas that we would have Internet access, and we would not be making any really long passages or ocean crossings. We cross the Atlantic next May, after he finishes school for the year; and we will be in Europe for the next school year, where we, again, will have Internet access. From there, we’ll decide what to do. We can delay starting a semester; so if we know we’re going to do a crossing, he just does not start the semester until we get to where we are going. It can be asynchronous, but once he starts the semester, he needs to submit the minimum number of assignments each week.
This assessment is only after one month of cruising. We’ve only gotten as far as Annapolis to Roanoke Island, NC and back to Norfolk due to Hurricane Matthew, but Dr. No has been able to do all of his online work and hold phone calls with his teachers while underway. I will say, this method of learning is not for every child, but if your child loves learning, is a motivated learner, and naturally does more that the minimum, he or she will excel at this. Obviously, a fair amount of computer literacy is necessary as well, but if your child has been using microsoft office applications, blackboard, and basic smartphone voice recorder and photo apps, he or she will be just fine.
Please feel free to contact me via this blog, or our Facebook page, if you’d like more information. I am so happy to share everything I’ve learned so far. I will keep updating this topic periodically on the blog, especially once we get out of the U.S., so that we can tell you how it’s working out!