Fiona finished her first year of school, Grade 10, just over a week ago. Over the previous three years she had taken two core courses (math and science) and two short electives (Spanish and dance) at our local village school, but this year was the first time she attended school on a daily basis. And for this she followed in Sophie’s footsteps and attended the larger school in Nelson. She took four Grade 11 courses and two Grade 10 courses, which amounted to 75% of a full course load. The reduced course load was possible because she already had a number of Grade 10 credits banked, and desirable because we knew she was going to feel very busy and experience a fair bit of culture shock with the transition.
She kept up all her previous extra-curricular activities (violin, aerial silks and a bunch of ballet and dance technique and conditioning classes), and added Corazon choir. Adding the overlay of a daily school hours and structure, the academic accountability and the new social and cultural expectations of a mid-sized mainstream school was a lot to have heaped on her plate.
Really though the most challenging thing has been the living situation. In past years we had commuted to Nelson twice during the week, staying overnight maybe a couple of nights per week, but this year she was there at least Sunday evening until Friday evening. She desperately needed the refuge of being home on weekends, spending time in the bedroom she’s occupied for a decade or more, reconnecting with Chuck, cuddling the cat, baking in the big kitchen. But being away from Nelson on weekends (and being so busy during the week) meant that she has no real opportunity to deepen social connections with friends from school. She has plenty of friends, but she pines for a more multi-faceted relationship with them, one that really needs time and experiences together outside of school lunch break, choir rehearsals and dance classes. She has spent a few weekends in Nelson, when I’m away in Cranbrook doing symphony gigs and can’t run her back home, or when she has performances. She takes advantage of these times, but she ends up really missing home too. No matter how well-appointed the space in Nelson is, it isn’t home, and she has felt like no matter where she spends the weekend she’s missing out on something she needs to round out her life.
There isn’t a perfect solution. There are just compromises that have to be made. And I suppose making peace with this emotionally, not continually trying to find the solution that solves all the issues, is really what she needs to do. She and I need to stop trying to fix things, so that she can just get on with coping with the constraints.
Academically and socially she’s adapted to school beautifully. She managed straight A’s with the highest mark in several of her classes. She’s had some absolutely amazing teachers who have enjoyed her and become very much like friends. And the lovely thing we’ve discovered is that the girl can write. We always knew she had math and science skills and knowledge way beyond her years; she had proven herself more than capable with the accelerated courses she’d taken in those subjects in the past. But she had never taken a humanities course, or written an essay, or for that matter “written to task” in any way. But she earned ridiculous marks like a 100% on her major essay in English.
My philosophy-prof father used to say that the commonest cause of bad writing was bad thinking. He felt that if one’s thinking was clearly organized and logically connected, the writing would mostly look after itself. I took this to heart with my writing-resistant younger three kids and believed that if they grew up with good thinking skills, the writing would come when they were ready … especially if they were exposed to compelling writing, complex grammar and rich language as readers and listeners. Having watched them reach adolescence and then simply start producing work of great merit, I really agree with him. I can’t help but think that the difficulties that many school students experience in this area come from spending years producing output despite having little worth articulating. The primacy of the thinking is difficult to appreciate when the apparent focus is all on the paper.
Anyway, Fiona’s two-year grade-skip we had agreed to back in her DL home-learning years had been untested against mainstream benchmarks in the humanities until this year. Phew! It was not a mistake! In fact, overall a three-year skip probably would have been the best fit academically and socially; by and large she preferred her Grade 11 courses and classmates to her Grade 10 ones. But there is also the issue of having her graduate too early, so I think the two-year solution is the best on balance. She’ll be newly 16 when she graduates. Still too young to easily travel, maybe too young to want to attend university (which she’d have to move away from home to do). But at least legally able to be out of school and work as much as she’d like, which wouldn’t have been the case at 15.
As she looks forward to next year (because there’s no question there will be a ‘next year’ at school), she wants to do more dance. So she has somewhat reluctantly decided to give up aerial silks. She will likely give up choir as well, at least for 2017-18, partly to reduce her schedule to manageable levels and partly because the Marine Biology course she’s doing in Baja conflicts with the major choir event of the year. She’ll probably continue to carry a spare block in her school schedule through most or all of her remaining semesters, which is a nice option to have.
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