Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The adventure begins!

First, some background about us and our experiences homeschooling.  We started homeschooling three years ago, when Mariah finished 2nd grade.  Our public school experience had been a rollercoaster ride the entire time we were there.

We started out in preschool in Omaha, NE.  Mariah was an EXTREMELY active child who could not speak so that you could understand her.  She talked constantly!  She moved even more!  But since you couldn't understand anything, there were tears and meltdowns.  The school tested her and she was diagnosed with severe ADHD.  Her preschool experience was really nothing more than intense speech therapy.  By the end of the year, we could understand all but a few words.  But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that there was still something we were missing.  Because of a family emergency, we had to move back to IL at the end of May.

Kindergarten started in Steger, IL.  Mariah was placed in a Special Ed classroom.  Mariah is an only child and, unfortunately, we have never lived anywhere where there were other kids for her to play with.  Her only playmates were her cousins (all but one of which are younger than her), adults, and her imaginary friends.  Her 'friends' are the characters from her favorite TV shows.  Her class was made up of seven students - herself, her one older cousin (who she does not get along with), and five boys.  At playtime, she chose to play school in the corner with her imaginary friends rather than with the rest of the class.  To make matters even worse, there had been a major disaster at home and , through NO fault of his own, her daddy had been taken away from us for awhile.  Rich is mentally disabled and therefore I have always worked to support us while he stayed home taking care of Mariah.  He was gone from us for seven months.  To a five year old who has been uprooted, had to give away the majority of her toys, and then have her primary caretaker suddenly disappear - this is catastrophic!  Her teacher and social worker could not comprehend all of this and tried to label her as being schizophrenic.  They sent us to a child psychiatrist who, after several hours of evaluation with her, flatly told the social worker that she was NOT schizophrenic.  Instead, she had a severe case of ADHD & mild autism.  She was extremely intelligent, just could not communicate her needs to us in a way that we could understand so she used her 'friends' to do so.  The school still didn't get it.  At our last IEP meeting, I was told that she was only learning at a 2 year old learning level and would never advance beyond that.  One week later, she was going to an independent learning center for the remainder of kindergarten.  By the end of summer, she knew her numbers, letters, colors, shapes, days of the week, months, etc.

First grade was in Peotone, IL.  Remember that major disaster I told you about?  Well, it resulted in us borrowing a small motor home from a friend and living in a campground for about 6 months.  Technically, we were homeless.  The school in Peotone was marvelous and if all public schools were that good, homeschooling would never have been an issue.  They have no Special Ed classes.  All students are in mainstream classes and are pulled out of class for any extra help they may need.  At the beginning of the year, Mariah scored 0 for all tests.  By the end, she scored 9 out of 10 on almost every test!  It was amazing.  My child loved to learn and learned very well!  The only issue was math.  We ended up in tears every time we tried to do math.  She was also evaluated during the year by a group specializing in autism.  After that evaluation, we got a definite diagnosis of PDD-NOS.  She has about half the markers of Autism Spectrum Disorder and a little more than half of Asperger's.

Just before Christmas, Rich & I sat down and did some serious soul searching.  We had gotten his back pay from SS and with some budgeting and downsizing, I was able to quit my job where I worked 60 hours a week in downtown Chicago (2 hours away) and stay home to help Mariah.  We started looking for a house that we could afford and still live on just his monthly SS.  After the holidays that year, we bought a house in unincorporated Manteno, IL, a small town next to Peotone.  Because we were exactly halfway between the two schools, we appealed to Peotone's school district to let her stay there.  We had been driving her to school every day the 2nd half of the year and would gladly continue to do so.  Unfortunately, we were denied.  She was inside the border for the Manteno school district and would have to go there.

Mariah was placed in a classroom with 22 other students.  At least half of them had some type of learning disability.  She had two co-teachers, one of which was a Special Ed teacher, and a full time teacher's aide.  We had an IEP in place with what I thought was a good plan.  By the middle of the school year, things started to fall apart.  I had to fight weekly with the school to get them to do what was in her IEP.  Mariah came home daily in tears saying that she had flunked again.  Every morning was a battle to get her to go to school.  At our last IEP meeting of the year, we were told that she would be placed in a Special Ed classroom the next year.  In Manteno, the classroom is completely segregated from the rest of the school.  They don't even go to lunch with the other kids.  This was completely unacceptable to me.  Mariah didn't need to be placed in a seperate room, the teachers needed to find a way to teach her!  Thus, we began our homeschooling adventures.

For the first year, we simply had fun learning, making Mariah eventually come to love learning again.  I heard all the negatives every step of the way - 'she won't get enough interaction with other kids', 'you aren't qualified to teach her'.  I could not find a co op or other support group for us to join.  We had tried Girl Scouts but Mariah had a hard time with the activities and the other girls thought she was weird.  I started searching for groups online and found several great groups on Facebook - Special Needs Homeschooling, A Journey Through Lapbooks, Home Educating Family, just to name a few.

The second year, we started to seriously do schoolwork.  I set up lapbooks and software for us to do in all the core subjects.  Mariah was doing well, but I wondered if we were missing something.  I just didn't feel like she was getting a good enough education.  I started looking at the boxed curriculum.  I found several that we really liked.  The problem was that they were all way beyond our budget.  $1300 a month didn't leave a lot for spending several hundred dollars on curriculum so we continued to use the library, free curriculum, and the few things that I could afford to pay for at that time.

Throughout all of this, we have remained a deeply faith-driven, Christian family.  We know that God has a purpose for us and we pray daily that we live our lives to that purpose.  God has chosen a path for us and we try very hard to follow it.  We have sold our house and moved to St. Charles, MO.  We  have found a wonderful church and a homeschool co op that Mariah is anxious to start in.  I am looking for a part time job to make ends meet as things are more expensive here than we had arranged back home.  Together with my friends Dee & Lynn, we opened an online shop - where we sell the things that we make.  Follow along with us as we continue our journey through homeschooling.  Ask questions, make suggestions, and pray along with us!

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