Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The School for My Girl

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the October 26, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

                I’ll never forget the moment I decided to let my daughter drop out of school.  That sounds a bit shocking, I know, but the reality was that I needed to rescue her from failure in the traditional school setting and it was the only idea we had.

                It was 1994.  Ciara was ten years old and she was in the fourth grade.  It was the evening of her first day back in the classroom after the Christmas holiday vacation and the two of us were at dinner together in her favorite Chinese restaurant.  I can remember vividly where we sat and how helpless I felt when we discussed how uncomfortable she was in school, how hard math was, how much she felt like an utter failure.  My child’s self-esteem was suffering, she was miserable and she was not learning in that environment. 

                A crucial moment came and from the depths of this mother’s soul came this brave and crazy question.

                “Would you like to quit school and stay home and learn with me?“


                It was a risky moment.  When we announced our news the next morning, some naysayers in the family and neighborhood wondered at our sanity. Others, I’m sure, thought we were certainly gutsy but completely misguided. 

                If it weren’t for my intuition, my love for my child, and the support of some family, friends and wonderful school administrators, I’d have spent the next few years totally terrified.

                Don’t get me wrong.  I did spend many worried days and sleepless nights in my School for My Girl.   Although I had gone back to college later in life and had recently passed all the general requirements of my bachelor’s degree as a straight A student, I was no teacher.  In fact, I didn’t have one education course under my cap or gown.

                The School for My Girl was a 24/7 experience.  It began and ended with every sunrise. I usually scoured our local library for new materials but found very little in 1994 to help me educate my daughter other than the children’s books we read, the textbooks borrowed from her school and the workbooks from “teacher bookstores.”   We didn’t have a strict curriculum but flew by the seats of our jeans blending community service and volunteerism with visits to museums, rigorous ice skating lessons and private tutoring in math.  We spent long days reading, reading, reading and playing computer games like Math Rabbit and Oregon Trail.

                One day during our first summer I visited our library and found a newly-published book written by a father who had taken the same risk I did.  Best of all, he lived and wrote to tell about it. 

                In the summer of 1991 Dan Riley enrolled his daughter, Gillian, in the Dan Riley School for a Girl. “You should feel very proud …” he wrote in his acceptance letter to her.  “Unlike less discriminating schools that accept students from anywhere … we don’t.  We chose you to be our one and only student.”

                “The Dan Riley School for a Girl: An Adventure in Home Schooling” (1994) was my lifeline. I devoured the book and it saved me from the panic that was rising at the start of our fall semester.  I learned from Mr. Riley that there were bad days and ones that were worse when tempers flared and confidence waned.  I also learned that Gillian thrived and that their experience changed both of their lives just as it was changing ours.

                My daughter, Ciara, attended the School for My Girl for eighteen months until she was promoted into her first year of middle school in seventh grade, essentially skipping the sixth grade. We knew she’d done a great job when her first report cards in public school were mostly As and she had little trouble in any subject.

                In the ensuing two decades, many books have been published to help home schooling parents take the plunge or continue their journey.  I haven’t read them and can’t recommend them but several other memoirs of the experience have been written including “The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling” by Quinn Cummings (2012), “Real Life Homeschooling: the Stories of 21 Families Who Make It Work” by Ronda Barfield (2002) and “Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter’s Uncommon Year” by Laura Brodie (2010). 

                Newly published books in the Minuteman Library catalog are “Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners” by Cindy West (2012) and “Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschooler’s Guide to Self-Directed Excellence” by Jamie McMillin (2012).  “Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath, You Can Do This!” by Terrie Lynn Bittner (2004) was reprinted in 2012. 

                Resources such as “Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles” edited by Paul and Gena Suarez (2006) and “Homeschooling Step-By-Step: 100+ Simple Solutions to Homeschooling’s Toughest Problems” by LauraMaery Gold and Joan Zielinski must be full of practical advice.  Brad Miser has written “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling” (2005) and the American Library Association has published “Helping Homeschoolers in the Library” by Adrienne Furness (2008).
                Years after our school closed its doors, my one and only star student had extremely successful careers in high school, college and graduate school.  She is a confident, smart, gutsy young woman who doesn’t take any failure sitting down. She understands that success is hard-earned but never impossible.  I credit most of our success to her determination, strength and intelligence. I also credit it to our public library that was a resource of extracurricular materials, books that we didn’t have to buy, and that one amazing find, “The Dan Riley School for a Girl.”

                If you would like to reserve any of the titles above please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.