Bee's Wildly Successful School Year

Bee at science camp with her class

Today is Bee’s last day of sixth grade. When she joined our family four and a half years ago, she could not speak English, could not read her native language (Amharic), and had very little formal schooling. She was ten years old, but together with our agency, we legally changed her age to make her nine, hoping that would give her a little extra time to catch up to her peers.

That decision has produced some issues, and having been adoptive parents for over six years, I’m not sure we would do it again, but that is a post for another day.

When Bee joined our family in the summer of 2008, we expected she would be homeschooled with her siblings. We assumed it would help her attach and feel safe in our family. She pleaded with us to send her to school (once again, another post), and would say, “I go school, please Mom?” Dimples’ challenges were becoming more and more significant, and that January she entered a small K – 3 public school; Bee pleaded to join her, and we agreed. That was our first foray into public education and was a hard transition for me, but the girls did very well, and I began to breathe again.

The following year Dimples attended a small Christian school, and Bee came home to be homeschooled with Ladybug and Sunshine. We made it through the year, but it was hard on both of us. We concluded that after nearly an entire life spent in an orphanage, it was so much work learning to have me as her mom, that I couldn’t also be her teacher.

The next two years were spent at the Christian school with Dimples. While Dimples flourished there, Bee struggled. She needed a lot of support and flexibility, which wasn’t possible in that environment. It was a wonderful community for her; each day she was immersed in a climate in complete contrast to the orphanage:  nurture was high, structure was clear and routines predictable, adults were respected, children were to have self-control, the standard for behavior was high.

But Bee struggled – she was a bright, talented girl whose strengths were not able to shine, and the academic gap seemed to be continually widening.

Then we discovered the charter school at the edge of town. Based on a model of Expeditionary Learning, Bee became part of a team, working with her peers to explore, study, and create finished projects to share with the community. One of Bee’s highlights was creating the compass rose for a map of a local area. Her talents shone and with lots of support from her teacher (who was fantastic), she made great strides academically. It was a wildly successful year for her.

Bee told me that last year she felt stupid every day when she went to school. This year she is sad to see the year end and can’t wait for seventh grade to begin. That, my friends, is a dramatic change for Bee, and we could not be happier.

Question: What educational choices have you made for your children? What options have your tried?

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

39 Comments

  1. Stephanie
    May 23, 2013

    I love this! We expected to homeschool and only homeschool. Our little guy (age 8) has really struggled though. Adopted from China at age 3, has made many strides, but still requires SO MUCH MORE. About 5 weeks ago we made the decision to put I'm in public school part time. (Thank you Idaho for having that option!) It's been GREAT, but it was so hard to come to that decision, but now that we've done it, I'm so glad we did!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      I remember being so afraid that we were making the wrong decision when we put Bee and Dimples in school that very first time, but it opened us up to consider many different options for them and for all of our kids. In some ways, it was as important for us as it was for them. Where are you in Idaho, Stephanie?

      Reply
  2. Sade
    May 23, 2013

    I really needed to see this post today. I am fostering an 8 yo and I decided to do a little homeschooling with him along with my kids starting this morning. I am just heartbroken to see this little on struggle to add 2+3 and come up with 8. He can count, but that's about it. He cannot read at all. Praying that I can help him get on his feet a little over the summer.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      Sade, I love that you are supplementing and supporting him to help him catch up. I hope this is a summer of discovery for your little guy.

      Reply
  3. Natalie Teabo
    May 23, 2013

    Can’t wait to read comments. A big concern is middle school out girl will be there in one year and there is no way I see that being a possibility an I feel you on the homeschooling so this will be a hard decision and a limited one too. Thanks for posting. You always seem to get right to the topics that we struggle with.

    Reply
  4. Charmaine
    May 23, 2013

    I have had a similar educational experience, as far as struggles, go. Now my son is 11 and in second grade. I would love to hear more about the Expeditionary Learning!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      You can read more about it here: http://elschools.org/ . I hope you can find the right spot for your son – it's made such a difference for Bee.

      Reply
  5. Cindy Thomas McMurry
    May 23, 2013

    LOVE THIS!! Praise the Lord!

    Reply
  6. Leslie Raneri
    May 23, 2013

    That is fantastic! So happy for her!!

    Reply
  7. Elizabeth
    May 23, 2013

    I so miss Julia being in a school like that. She is blessed to be able to learn just about any way, but she loves to learn about things from every angle, and likes to be able to question things and learn from her teachers and her peers. Jack probably would have not done well at the School of Discovery because he learns so very differently, but that is the beauty of our children, their differences!

    I am SO very happy that she is enjoying school and has found her place!!

    Love you!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      So true, our kids are all different! What a gift it is for us to have Bee love school.

      Reply
  8. Elizabeth Andrews Carter
    May 23, 2013

    This post makes me smile!!

    Reply
  9. I was so firm that I was going to homeschool my children but then we adopting a blind toddler and I changed my thought pattern. So I homeschooled Malena and sent Jessalyn to developmental preschool. Malena was lonely but flourishing academically. This year we sent her to private school. However the stretch financially and having to young children in school made us change out minds. Now the girls will be in public school but I really love the school and I am glad I could let go of the dream and let what is best for the family come through.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      I'm glad for all of you too, Monica. Now you're going to have one more little guy to consider!

      Reply
  10. rebekah
    May 23, 2013

    I had no idea that choosing schools for my completely different 3 children would be such a challenge. I am grateful, though, that we have options within a few miles of our home. They're not ideal (diversity is lacking) but do offer a variety of approaches. As always, I wish we could do more for them, but we are lucky to work with what we have. I wanted to share that our daughter, home now almost 3 years, finds even working with us for kindergarten homework to be too stressful. It's an opportunity for fighting, control, and plenty of discord. I just got a deeper understanding of your struggle with Dimples and how tough homeschooling with her must have been. I love that we as parents learn and change and grow to do what is best for our children. You set such a lovely example, all the time.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Litz Seivert
      May 23, 2013

      I can so relate to the homework battle. We finally asked that a concession be put in our son's IEP so that when he is regulated he does homework but when dysregulated we can let it go. We still read to him nightly and when he is able to handle it, we ask him to read to us a minimum of 15 minutes (he is 7 just completing first grade.) But many days it is a battle to do any homework especially with younger siblings around that trigger him with their dysregulation. I would rather work on connection than homework.

      Reply
      1. Lisa Qualls
        May 23, 2013

        Absolutely, Jennifer! While I want my children to make academic gains, I won't put that before our entire family's emotional well-being.

        Reply
      2. DFNY
        May 25, 2013

        Jennifer, a minimum of 15 minutes for a 7 yr old sounds like a lot to me. If your son is able to do this, that is fantastic! My son turned 8 in Feb, is in regular class (no IEP) and it's only been in the last 2 months that he is consistently reading aloud to me. He's been able to read since 5, is very articulate, and loves being read to but would rarely read more than a few minutes to me. My daughter, turning 8 in June, has an IEP and she is still unable to read more than simple Biscuit books. I am thrilled when she can consistently recognize the words in "Biscuit Takes a Walk". Your son sounds like he is doing better than most. Maybe our expectations are too high for 1st graders.

        Reply
    2. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      Thank you, Rebekah. Homework was a nightmare for Bee, but at her new school, not only was there very limited homework, but she was completely responsible for it herself. It took a little while for her to figure it all out, but then she was motivated to complete it.

      Reply
  11. Kathy
    May 23, 2013

    I so love the charter school for Matt. He was struggling with the the public school and I homeschooled him for a semester and realized he is more of a hands on kid.. When I got him in to the charter school, he started thriving and looking forward to each school day instead of dreading them. He is bummed (along with myself) that they only go thru eighth grade as this next year will be his last year there. It has been a true blessing having him there.
    I'm glad to here that Bee is thriving and doing so well.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      Thanks, Kathy, for talking with me when we were trying to make the decision.

      Reply
  12. Kathy
    May 23, 2013

    Our kiddos came to us @ 15, 16 & 17. I too, had planned to homeschool with 10+ yrs experience, but this time it was different. Way different! They all needed so much help with language and high school seemed to be the best option. The 15 & 16 year old had only completed 5th grade in their native land, but were too old for grade school here, so they started in 9th grade. They 17 yr old had completed 10th grade in his country (and managed to smuggle his transcript over), so he was allowed to enter 11th grade here. It's still complicated. Between college and community college, they all struggle because English is their second language and there are so many gaps in their education. They do the best they can, struggle and often fail classes, but I'm thankful to say they get up and try again. Repeating classes is our new norm. One in particular has worked harder than anyone I know in a class and the result was an "F" It's tough, but they are all learning the life lessons of persistence.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      Your kids have so much to overcome, Kathy, and it sounds like you have made great decisions with/for them.

      Reply
  13. Teresa
    May 23, 2013

    I too have used differing approaches to schooling. It seems that our choices in schooling need to be made in discovering what is the best choice for the child, and sometimes we figure that out by trial and error and over time.

    I started my oldest son with home schooling (K-2). After struggling to teach him with his many challenges we sent him to a public school for Gr. 3-4. Those two years in the public system left him feeling "stupid". A Christian school opened in our small town and became an option for us. He attended there for Gr. 5-7 and excelled there, but the school shut down after its third year in operation. At that point we gave him the option of going back into the public system, or home schooling using an Christian online program for core courses and with me teaching the other required courses. He chose the Christian online program for Gr. 8-9, but at that point I felt it would be best if he re-entered the public system. After much protest, he entered Gr.10 at the public high school. After a year of adapting to things socially, he now wouldn't have had it any other way. He graduates in June.

    My next son started in the public system, went to the Christian school and then transferred to the public school when the Christian school closed. He has a diagnosed disability, but with some extra support has done quite well academically and is now at the public high school.

    My youngest son started out at the Christian school and then transferred to the public school, again when the Christian school closed. This son, who doesn't have an official diagnosis is really struggling and has been asking me to home school him for the last couple years. I have kept him in the public system because he is not a very social child. At this point I feel that the public school is really failing him and I am planning to home school him next year (Gr. 7).

    My girls (twins) seem to be doing okay in the public system, though they too have voiced a desire to be home schooled. I am currently in the process of trying to figure out if I should make this an option for them as well. Not because I don't think it would be good for them, but I'm not sure how it would impact my son, who really needs a lot of one on one time to remediate his learning. I am leaning toward home schooling him alone next year for academic reasons, but socially it would be good for his sisters to be at home as well, so I am not sure. Anyone have an opinion on home schooling one alone as compared to a group of three (they are only one grade apart)?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      Teresa, I had to smile while reading your comment because it is a perfect example of how complicated these decisions are.

      Reply
    2. Bonnie
      May 24, 2013

      The decision to homeschool one vs more-than-one calls into play a lot of non-academic factors. (All lessons learned from watching my older sister homeschool various kids in various seasons…) The advantage of having more than one, especially if they're close to grade-level & get along, is that some of their learning can be done together – projects, field trips, etc. The disadvantages pop up if those particular kids don't get along well, can't work independently (from you or each other) when necessary…. or have personality traits which you find exhausting. One of the hardest kids for my somewhat introverted sister to homeschool was the super-extroverted one… no major academic complications, but this particular child had a really hard time being sent off to work in a separate room (work ALONE? horror!), and it was a challenge for my sister to find any alone/introvert-recharging time since there were other kids who came home after school.

      Reply
    3. Jenice
      May 25, 2013

      You could either homeschool all of them at the same grade level, or at least the same material. Or you could possibly have your girls in cyber school. They could help each other first, and then ask you if they can't get it amongst themselves. Of course, they could also ask their teacher(s), too. You would be physically present to keep an eye on their progress (make sure they're not just goofing around) but could concentrate on your son mostly.

      Reply
  14. Lori Schneider
    May 23, 2013

    Struggling to make these decisions right now for three adopted kids – all with different needs.

    Reply
  15. Beth Peterson
    May 23, 2013

    Yes! I was so impressed with that charter school.

    Reply
  16. findingmagnolia
    May 23, 2013

    We are in the middle of figuring out the best school situation for our six-year-old. It is frustrating! I don't think that homeschooling alone is right for her for the long term, but I also know that she needs flexibility within the classroom, or she will struggle mightily. I am so glad you wrote this, because Bee's learning needs sound a lot like my Zinashi's. Thanks for giving me hope that the right fit is possible.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 23, 2013

      I've had a great experience this year with my little boys. They are taking a homeschool class three mornings a week, which gives them time in the classroom while still allowing lots of time with me at home. It has been wonderful for all of us. Maybe you can find something similar in your community or a very flexible school environment.

      Reply
  17. Margaret
    May 23, 2013

    Thank you for this Lisa. Our daughter is 13, finishing sixth grade and has been with us since 2009. We started her in a small Quaker school as a third grader, one year older than everyone in her class, but she could not read or write English and could only count, no mental math. She works so hard but last year when she was in fifth grade her school's very traditional approach was not helping her learn…through evaluation we know some things about her learning issues, but those are hard to figure out because there are so many layers…language, emotion, background and experience, etc. Now she is in a larger, mo progressive Quaker school. The child community is not as comfortable for her but the learning is better, although still very challenging. I often ask myself if a school exists that would work better for her. I think homeschooling, which we sort of did for her first eight months home, would be too tough for the kinds of things you mention with Bee…although the complexities of my relationship with my daughter are in part because she was raised by her birthmother who is still alive…many tangled feelings there…the hardest part is to be continually trying to figure out what will work and what matters…when to support her with homework and when to just let it get done however, etc…there is no single solution it is always a work in progress.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 24, 2013

      Margaret, your situation sounds extremely similar to mine. I'm with you on this complex journey.

      Reply
  18. Karen P
    May 24, 2013

    We homeschooled our two oldest for six years before enrolling them in a private, all-boys school. It was a wonderful atmosphere for boys, but very advanced academically. That was a challenge for our oldest who struggles with ADHD. Our fourth grader was diagnosed with dyslexia three months into the school year and began intensive tutoring to address it. We made the hard decision to pull him out of school and go back to homeschooling after the Christmas break. This year, they switched to another small, private school that is not so rigorous with academics, is closer to home, and is more willing to work with our special needs. Our two new foster boys go to school there, as well. (Our state does not allow for homeschooling foster kids, so that is not an option.) There are few minorities students at this school, so I don't know that our youngest will go there at all…he would be the only African-American on campus and in the deep south that is sometimes not a good thing. Bee's school sounds wonderful! I wish there were more options like that around here.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 24, 2013

      Our town is not very large, but it is a university town, and I think that may have an impact on the charter schools and other school options available. I'm so thankful we have a few choices here.

      Reply
  19. Jennifer P
    May 25, 2013

    An encouraging update on Bee! And when I came to leave a comment, I found even more wisdom and commonality. So valuable. Funny, I was just saying to a younger Mom yesterday that some of mine would probably do better academically in school but I'm not sure what the social cost would be as they already struggle with attachment and behaviors. We use tutors and I am looking at online classes to keep progressing. Actually, my oldest bio son went to public school. He is the one that needed the space from the masses. Thank you for helping others to understand that we have to think outside the box with kids from hard places.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 25, 2013

      I love the comments too, Jennifer. I do worry about the social influences, but when it comes down to survival as a family, we've had to make some hard choices. It was way outside our comfort zone – until we actually did it, and now we're thankful.

      Reply
  20. Lorna
    August 20, 2013

    I got to know Bee in February 2008, when I volunteered at AHOPE. She was such a sweetie! I am so happy to hear that she is thriving and happy.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 20, 2013

      Thank you for sharing that with me, Lorna!

      Reply

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