- Jess Forte-Paul
From Public School to Homeschool
Updated: Jan 9
It has been such a journey to get to where we are now.
Our son started kindergarten last year and let me tell you, at times I felt personally betrayed by anyone I knew with school-aged kids in public school because I was not prepared for what was to come.
There were many red flags throughout our journey. The first red flag came within two weeks. The kindergartners were experiencing their first standardized test to compare them to “the norm.” I understand needing to find students' baseline but these babies had just endured a pandemic and most did not experience traditional pre-k.
After the testing, it was determined that our son would need additional support to foster his education. When we had our first meeting to discuss this, my biggest concern was that he would be labeled as a “tough kid” and picked on by his peers. I have seen it happen so many times, I knew what his future would hold. However, we agreed to receive the support because ultimately we wanted him to have all the things he needed to learn his way.
Shortly after this meeting, he missed 4 weeks of school in the first semester due to covid related issues. However, he was expected to not have missed a beat academically when there was little to no supplemental work and guidance were given to support his continued growth while he was out.
At the time, it was much appreciated because it felt like they recognized we were dealing with enough. However, when he returned, it was clear that the expectation was different than the outcome. Not to mention the transition back into school after being out left my son struggling socially, which he had not prior to being out of school. There was no support given to make his transition back into school smooth after being left out of relationships that continued to grow in his absence.
All of these things felt like an emotional rollercoaster at home. We even spent time having him practice “reading” several books per evening at the request of the school but continued to watch him fade further and further from wanting to learn.
He actually got to a point where he wanted nothing to do with learning, not even in his sports which he had always loved. Everything that was challenging him became a battle.
The concerns I had about what would happen to him were unraveling right before our eyes. We started receiving more reports home about his behavior and he was starting to use language about himself that was heartbreaking.
By the time December came his teacher was already hinting at having him repeat kindergarten. I am so thankful for my wife who said, “we are nowhere close to making that decision yet. He hasn’t had a fair shot to show you what he can do.” However, we both knew what this meant. From this point, we both went into full advocate mode.
By February we pushed for more communication home about how his days were going. Initially, only the behavior issues were shared. I immediately let the school know, this is not what I am looking for. I need both what is going well and what is not if I am going to fully work as a team with you. I know with confidence my son is not at school just being bad all day, however, if that is what we focus on he will never get to where you want him to be.
At some point early on in his second semester, I started to realize I was trying to force my son to be who the education system wants him to be -- quiet, patient, hardworking, focused -- and not who we have taught him to be: proud, active, imaginative, curious.
I want to circle back to my feelings of betrayal for a moment.
The root of this, I have come to realize, is that I had no idea how much I would have to advocate for my 5-year-old from the moment he walked through those doors. Once February had reached, my wife and I were very aligned on what needed to happen next for our son. We knew that he needed to have unconditional love and guidance at home with no shaming if he wasn’t perfect at school.
When I say advocacy, I mean, we really had to hold the school accountable for doing right by our son. Leading up to this point we had minimal communication on how he was doing.
I don’t just mean on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, we essentially went 6 weeks without hearing about what was happening in the classroom or at school unless the communication came from us.
Now, I completely support and love teachers. As a former teacher, wife of a teacher, and still educator, I understand the grind better than many parents. I recognize that this was likely a system issue, but nonetheless, this system was not going to get the best of my son.
At this point, we requested weekly reports on his progress. To my surprise, these reports only came with what he was not doing well, rarely did we get feedback on his progress academically or behaviorally, it was solely focused on any unwanted behaviors that he displayed that week.
Now I knew I had to step into another gear, which honestly was well outside of my comfort zone. I am used to being the type of person who goes with the flow but I will tell you this, when it comes to my baby boy and his education, I don’t believe in sitting idly by.
So now I have the teacher sharing daily reports with me that highlight both the good and the bad across the different transitions in the school day. This wasn’t ideal for me, but it was necessary.
Now, my wife and I were able to get a better glimpse, encourage his positive behaviors, and address the unwanted behaviors. Which, for the record, most of these behaviors were clearly coming from a place of boredom or were in reaction to how he was being treated by others. We were able to very quickly pick up on this trend and coach him through it.
By the time April reached, I started doing my research on homeschooling. Luckily for me, my wife was homeschooled and her mom has a wealth of knowledge and resources. After joining groups, connecting with other homeschool moms, and digging into the curriculum options, I knew that this wasn’t just what my son needed but what I wanted to provide for him.
From the moment my wife and I said we would adopt him, we committed to providing him with all of the experiences and opportunities he would not have otherwise had and so to me, this was a part of that commitment.
Homeschooling so far
The thing about homeschooling is you can literally make education happen for you not to you. It has truly been enlightening going on this journey with my son.
One, our relationship has never been better. We get to snuggle in the middle of the day, I can give him hugs whenever he wants them, we can laugh together, and we can play silly games together. For me, the stressful part of being a parent was trying to maintain an unrealistic schedule, a full-time job, and wanting to miss less of his life.
Two, as a homeschool parent, I get to be the one who influences the various aspects of his day to day. Now, not to say every day is perfect; just because you take the boy out of the school doesn’t mean you take the school out of the boy.
We really have had to spend some time resetting what it means to be a learner and enjoy learning, but I do think we are getting there. It has taken longer than I expected to figure out what he’s willing to do when it comes to more traditional learning and what is not worth fighting over but I think we are starting to find the balance.
Three, he has committed to reading together daily, which was something he used to dread doing. We also spend time learning how to spell and doing math (we alternate between those two daily). Then we let history and science find their way to us.
Whatever he expresses interest in, we dive into learning more, if he wants to learn about electric cars, we do that, if he wants to learn about insects we do that. Recently, he told me he needs more culture, so we have started to explore his Mexican heritage together and bring more of his culture into our home.
Lastly, I think he has grown so much in how he navigates social-emotionally. We have found an activity he loves, Capoeira, as well as a kids center he asks to go to every day.
On Fridays, the two of us go on Field Trips just because we can. Soon, we will be traveling to Upstate NY, with just the two of us for the first time to visit my parents. He will get to learn all about the north country, how to care for animals and bring in crops before the winter hits. If you ask me, nothing outweighs the life experiences we now get to have together.
I am just so excited about who he is becoming now that he is free of the restrictions forced upon him while in school. He no longer has to stifle who he is and can just be himself at any and all moments.
I have watched this boy fall back into the kid we have always known him to be; silly, inquisitive, energetic, and excited, but also serious, a deep thinker, and processes information on his own time. At home, he has all the time in the world to be all of those things.