It’s been not entirely smooth, Fiona’s entry into mainstream bricks-and-mortar schooling.
For those who have been keeping track, Fiona got her first tastes of regular schooling at our tiny local K-12 school. By tiny, I mean tiny. The high school portion has fewer than forty students, and even if you’re a homeschooled kid who rarely does local group activities, you know everyone there before you walk through the doors, students and teachers alike. Four years ago she joined the Grade 7/8/9 Intro to Spanish class for a semester. Three years ago she dropped in for the math “independent directed learning” program at the same school for an hour or two a week. And then last year she enrolled officially in math and science courses there, which were taught in a multi-grade STEM classroom (more independent learning) during two morning blocks a week. So she has had little tastes of classroom academics.
But suddenly moving to a high school of 750 students, where she knows none of the staff and few of the students, with traditional grade-levelled classroom-style teaching, and attending full-time, that’s a very different experience. Naturally we knew it would be a big adjustment.
It’s the end of Week 1 now. The wrinkles:
On orientation day she received the timetable that for some reason hadn’t come by email the previous week. And the bad news was that she was scheduled for only two of the courses she had requested, both second semester. Her first semester timetable was essentially empty. She had submitted requests for seven courses, by the deadline almost six months earlier and had given alternates for almost all of them. She had been placed in one first-semester class, but it was for a course she had already taken a year earlier, which had shown up as completed with a rosy A on the report card we had submitted when we’d enrolled her. A mistake, obviously.
Although she did an excellent job of approaching people and getting her name on the right lists for urgent attention, the administration was putting out PR fires in the media and elsewhere over a wait-list situation, and didn’t get to her. The next day came and went. And the next day. She had managed to get herself invited to unofficially audit the physics course she had requested, but nothing official was happening.
And so I did the parent advocacy thing and wrote directly to the guidance counselor. The counselor was great, apologizing profusely for the gross oversight; somehow no one had told her there was a new student on her list for appointments who had no courses. It was well into the evening but she jumped back on her scheduling software and got Fiona into all the subjects she’d requested at appropriate levels. Near-instant gratification. I’m so glad I didn’t politely wait any longer for the student-led channels to start flowing.
For the last two days of this first week, Fiona went off to her now-scheduled classes. While it was a relief to finally know what her days would look like and to meet her teachers and classmates, that was when the next layer of stress kicked in. Wrinkle number two.
Despite her confident social skills and affability, Fiona is an introvert by nature. Coping with a brand-new large-group institutional environment for hours a day proved to be more stressful than either of us anticipated. She was arriving home absolutely emotionally exhausted. Compounding the stress was her realization that this wasn’t anything yet: she’d soon (next week!) be adding fifteen-plus hours of dance and music to her schedule.
We unpacked this a little during a heart-to-heart late one evening. We talked about how SVI, despite entailing really really long days, doesn’t feel nearly as exhausting. Sure, there’s some physical exhaustion that builds up due to sleep deprivation; that’s to be expected. But the scheduled hours of instruction and performances, and the social demands, those don’t feel tiring and stressful. And we talked about how comfortable and unstressful her time at the dance studio feels. So it’s not having a full structured schedule in a large-group setting that exhausts her. It’s new situations.
And school won’t be new for long. Pretty soon it will start feeling routine, and when that happens her adrenal glands will dial back their settings from “high alert” and “fight or flight” to “same old same old.” It’ll just take another couple of weeks probably.
Now that it’s the weekend she’s home in New Denver taking things very very easy. Barely socializing with her parents, even. Spending all day in her bedroom. It’s fine, it’s good. It’s what she’s going to need during the first few weeks.
As for the academic load, it’s obviously too early to know for sure whether it’s hitting the sweet spot or not. She’s got three Grade 11 courses this semester and initially she was worried that the academics at her previous school (where everything is individualized and kind people are there to help at every step and one might be excused for thinking the education is less rigorous) might not have been sufficient preparation. But she is easily one of the more competent students in her Chem 11 class. And in Honours Physics 11, which has a sizeable number of university-science-bound Grade 12 students in it, she is finding the material and the pace more demanding but is understanding the work fine and more than keeping up.
The week has been a lot for a 13-year-old who has never really been to school. But she’s coping, and is gaining confidence that it’s all going to be manageable.