Sunday, January 26, 2014

Teaching My Own: Graduations!

Finally, all the years, months, weeks, and hours of my seemingly endless journey as a homeschooling parent wound down to four indescribably joyous and soul-satisfying days. 

Because after all the requirements were met, transcripts reviewed, checklists completed, and last-minute haywire emergencies resolved, each of my four girls marched across a stage and graduated from high school.

And at the same time, college applications were completed, essays written, difficult decisions made, and the orientation process to a new university had begun. 

Here are the stories of my four daughters' journeys through their high school senior years and a pocket-sized summary of their lives ever after. 

^ My first born's graduation experience was probably the smoothest of the four, although my lack of experience with the process made the task feel daunting at the time. We relied on our more experienced homeschooling friends for advice and guidance, and their expertise was much more helpful than any of the official advisors we encountered.

After high school, she ventured on to pursue an English degree in Creative Writing at Western Washington University. Eager to be done with formal schooling for awhile, my efficient daughter wrapped up all her college graduation requirements in two short years and craved an interesting change in her life. 

She ended up spending a year living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada before coming home to take a management position at Gap Kids. Always the wordsmith, she is the go-to member of the staff for well-written prose. Living at home for the past few years, my travel-loving eldest uses the money she saves for more plane tickets to visit her online friends all over the country.

^ My second-born's senior year involved two major curve balls. First, by the beginning of the year, it was clear that she was closest to her circle of neighborhood friends.. Since all of her remaining coursework would be completed at the community college through the Running Start program, it seemed logical to transfer her attendance to the local public high school, where the counselors there could monitor her progress, and she could take part in all the special senior-year events with her bestest buddies.

So with the daunting persuasion of a used car salesman and the devilish persistence of a mosquito, I twisted arms at the high school office until my daughter became the first and only graduating student of Kamiak High School who had attended exactly zero classes on campus.

Several months later, I mounted another crusade with my daughter's college of choice, the University of Washington here in Seattle. After dotting her Is and crossing her Ts in the U's outrageously lengthy and detailed application, my daughter received word that despite her excellent grades and test scores, she had been placed on the wait list. But why? I immediately asked. What could we have possibly missed?

Back came the long and jargon-filled response. Even though my daughter was currently enrolled in a traditional public high school, she was still considered by UW to be a homeschooler. But how is that even possible? The traditional high school has accepted all of her credits. My brain was befuddled. But it seems that the University of Washington, in all its infinite wisdom, has decreed that if even one credit on a student's transcript was originally earned in a homeschooling environment, no matter that the work was supervised and accepted by not one but two public schools, that student is still considered a homeschooler and must use the alternate application process.


It took a month of mad scrambling, countless phone calls to the admissions office, and a parade of online forms that made us both bleary-eyed and cranky, but in the end, my second-born was accepted at her dream school, where she went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing, with a minor in Art History. She spread her coursework out over three years, which also allowed her to spend a magical quarter studying abroad in Roma, Italy. 

These days, my artist is a store manager at Hollister where she creates beauty in a retail environment. 

^ My determined third-born faced a tough road. Her graduation process went smoothly enough, but she was part of the largest US graduating class ever, and the economy had tanked just the year before. So college admissions officers were extra tough, and she had to realign her plans once or twice before accepting an offer to attend nearby Seattle Pacific University. Fortuitously, once she settled in, she felt that this campus was where she had belonged all along, and after she adjusted her major from Classical Languages to Linguistics, all was well.

Like her older sister, she decided to stretch her undergraduate experience out to three years by earning a minor in French and spending a quarter abroad in France, Switzerland and Italy. Bitten by the world travel bug, she capped her college career with a month-long service trip to Vietnam, where she taught English to kids in an after-school language program called Fisher's Super Kids..

Well. That amazing adventure changed things up a bit. Originally planning to join the Peace Corps in the hopes of teaching English to some French-speaking African children, she decided that her experience in Vietnam was exactly what she looking for. Rather than roll the dice with the Peace Corps, she would just go back to her sweet Asian students and spend two years teaching at the same school where she had volunteered.

And that is where my third-born is happily living and working, right at this very moment. 

Last but certainly not least, my fourth-born walked her own highly individual path toward graduation and I was amazed to see how many new wrinkles and complications we managed to find.

Eleventh-hour changes in graduation requirements led to quickly improvised home-based coursework.

An uncompleted diversity credit at the college necessitated one last class during the summer quarter after her graduation.

And after a fall spent completing a series of in-state college applications, a New Year's Eve conversation with a family friend caused my fourth-born to completely rethink her choice of universities. She ended up submitting one last application to the new school of her dreams, the University of Arizona, where she was readily accepted and is currently studying astronomy.

Sigh. That girl's senior year was a real nail-biter. But we made it through and in the end, everything worked out perfectly.

* * * * *

No matter where kids go to school, their high school graduations are momentous, messy, and highly emotional rites of passage. 

For homeschooling families, the milestone is exponentially more intense. 

Such a bond we have, us parent-educators to our student-offspring. 
Such responsibility we take on, in guiding them through this series of accomplishments. 
Such guilt and shame we would feel if we were to fail them.

But that moment when all is said and done, 
     when the dust finally settles 
     and, lo and behold, there is your cap-and gown-clad student, fake diploma in hand, 
Beaming with excitement, 
     ready to lift off to a bold new chapter in her education 
     - one that does not require you -
This is when the magnitude of this accomplishment hits
     and you realize It is finished.
     My homeschool journey has ended.

And this is when you breathe a mighty prayer of relief and say Hallelujah and praise the Lord! I did it!!!

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