Fiona turned 14 last week and has just completed her first semester as a mainstream school student at a bricks-and-mortar high school in Nelson.
How are things going in the world of school? Pretty well. She had three Grade 11 courses last semester (Honours Physics, Chemistry and Art) and earned straight A’s with a 97 in the challenging physics course — and a 99% on the final exam. It is one of the five or six courses she’ll likely ‘declare’ on her university application when the time comes, and so at 13 she has nailed down a significant chunk of an academic record which will help propel her into the most competitive programs at the most competitive schools. Not that she necessarily wants to apply to a highly selective program, but it is nice to know you have options.
She does diligently do homework and study, but not obsessively, and I would not say this level is difficult for her. I think we slipped her into the curriculum at the right point for her. There were a few moments of struggle here and there early on in the semester, but they were quickly overcome, due mostly to lack of confidence as she was transitioning into a new format for learning amongst much older, more experienced students.
The school has been unable to hire a Spanish teacher, so Fiona has ended up with a gap in her timetable this semester as well. She has PreCalc 11 and two Grade 10 humanities courses. She’s happy for the spare block again, because she’s pretty busy for a former unschooler who has refused to give up any of her discretionary activities. This week is fairly typical; this is what it looks like:
Monday: School from ~8:30-3:15 with a one-hour block free in the middle. Then a short break, then two dance classes, home by 7:45 pm.
Tuesday: Same school schedule as Monday. Then straight to choir rehearsal, then straight to violin lesson, and home by 7:30 pm.
Wednesday: School from 8:30-3:00. Just enough time to get home and dump her books, then off to aerial silks class followed immediately (run!!) by two dance classes, home by 7:45 pm.
Thursday: School from noon to 3:00 only. Then she is free in the afternoon and has a long dance class after supper. Home at 9:15 pm.
Friday: Same school schedule as Monday. Then a short break to pack her suitcase, then three dance classes, then we drive home to New Denver for the weekend, arriving at about 10 pm.
The spare block gives her a half day off on either Wednesday or Thursday. This week it fell on Thursday, which made that a very easy day, since it’s her lightest day for extra-curriculars. Sometimes things are better balanced. The revolving nature of the school’s schedule lends new challenges to each week of the month. Feeding her is the biggest challenge for me; she’s often busy over the normal supper hour, and with physically draining activities that require sensible fueling. So my role is to meet her with bento-like containers of food I’ve prepped at home and transport her between locations while she eats. It’s chaotic, and it further erodes the sense of groundedness that she used to be to so easily replenish when her life was largely home-based and self-directed. That part is hard.
The other part that is hard is that there’s really not much opportunity to build social connections. She has school lunch hours, and a few minutes on the edges of her extra-curricular classes. But because her evenings are full and then we go back to New Denver on the weekends (and that is very important to both of us: we need to see Chuck!) there is almost no time to hang out with friends outside of school.
Sometimes she stays in Nelson for the weekend by necessity, for instance if there’s a weekend choir performance or if I’m off in Cranbrook for symphony and not able to drive her home. On such weekends she makes good use of the time, inviting friends over for movies or sleepovers or whatever. But those weekends come at a cost: she doesn’t get emotionally recharged by being in New Denver with her dad and the pets and the nice big kitchen and the wood stove and sleeping in her childhood bedroom….
But overall the year is treating her well so far. I especially love the connections she’s made with teachers. Her art teacher is male and serves as the rugby coach, and all her STEM teachers are strong charismatic women. There are stereotypes being busted all over the place here.