Ital (eye'-tal): of or from the earth; vital; life giving; natural.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I'm Considering a Homeschool, Part 2

Yesterday the Ministry of Education released the results of the GSAT exam. After two months of anxiety, Earth Mother finally got notification of her future and it was bittersweet. She did very well and was accepted to a very good school. However, she was not accepted to her first choice and therefore she feels like she has failed. Her first choice was the high school Warrior attends. It is a very good school and incredibly popular so the number of spaces available each year are limited.

The GSAT has no pass/fail standard...meaning the students are not trying to score a certain number. It is based entirely on available seats at the high schools the student applies to. A student lists their top three choices on their applications. If a high school has 50 spaces available, they accept the 50 students who scored the highest on the GSAT and listed that high school as their first choice. Earth Mother scored very high but 50 people scored higher and had the same high school listed as their first choice. She gets bumped to her second choice. She didn't fail anything.

She is eleven years old. Her sixth grade graduation is on Thursday. She should not be experiencing this kind of pressure and disappointment. I am sad for her. Her support network is a fragile one. I hope that she is being encouraged about her results and comforted regarding her disappointment. Mo and I are very proud of her and know that no matter which school she attends, she will excel.

This is the article published in the paper today about coping with the GSAT results. The fact that such an article has to be written is just wrong...It's time for the system to change.Link

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Dad

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My dad has taught me how to do many things: How to ride a bike, how to drive a car, how to balance a check book, how to make poached eggs on toast, how to be obsessive about ants, how to support a family, how to work hard, how to plant a garden, how to hammer a nail, how to do math the easy way...

He was always a patient teacher and always ready to help. He has never been a dad of many words. His presence is a silent and steady one. But his love and support is felt deeply...

I remember on my 18th birthday that I had a field hockey tournament. My mom was out of town and dad had to work. No one was going to be in the bleachers cheering for me...or so I thought. Our team was well into the second game when I looked across the field and saw Dad sitting quietly in the stands. He had taken a break from work to come support me. "Well, of course I would be here," he told me later with his usual pat on the back. He stayed to watch me be awarded the MVP medal for most goals scored. He has never missed any milestone great or small.

Thank you Poppo for all that you have done and continue to do for me! Happy Father's Day!
I love you!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inhale Light, Exhale Darkness

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of our journey. June 15th marks the day we flew off into the unknown in the hopes of finding a new (and better) life. Although there have been some bumps along the path as we transition to island living, our overall quality of life has increased ten fold. We are a happier, healthier and more optimistic family.

Already we have made some beautiful friends who have helped us establish and nurture our transplanted roots. We have assessed what is important to us as a family and have carved out quality time to spend together even if it is just sitting on the swing under the mango tree enjoying the warm breeze. We saved and bought ourselves a car which we have named, Our Car Friday or Good Friday for short. So now we can enjoy relaxing Saturdays at the beach. We have recommitted to living in a more mindful and ecological way. Mo and I have found opportunities to advance our careers while furthering our commitment to live creatively. Most of all we have found joy. We laugh and smile and sing and laugh some more!

As I sat in my yoga class this morning, doing the pranayama and listening to the instructions of the teacher, tears began rolling down my cheeks. They were tears of release, joy and peace. With each exhale, I released a little more of the emotional weight I carried with me from Brooklyn. With each inhale, I opened my heart a little more to the joy I've found since moving here. As the teacher instructed, I exhaled darkness and inhaled light until I felt like I would float away. Her words touched my core and I realized how radical our family's move really was.

Wherever you may be in your journey, find joy, find peace, find light.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Building a Business

One of the things I admire about the Jamaican spirit is the lively entrepreneurship people are engaged in. In a tough developing economy, it is hard to find external employment, so people make their own work. There are many venues to support ingenuity in small business. I am currently in the throes of creating my own business, a comprehensive art studio called Rae Studios.

I feel blessed to have the opportunity to follow my bliss and live creatively.

Please check out my website and help me to spread the word!

Have you found your bliss? Are you living your dream?
Peace and Wellness,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Disruption

I haven't written about Warrior and Earth Mother lately because we haven't seen them since Easter. Whenever we attempt to make arrangements to see them, we are told they have plans. I haven't written much about being a blended step family because our relationship Warrior and Earth Mother's mother is a tenuous one and I fear a backlash if she felt the post was inappropriate.

I would like for the situation to be a different one...a cooperative one where Warrior and Earth Mother's interests are at the heart of every interaction. Instead there is silence...followed by a lot of yelling...and then more silence. So that brief moment of yelling is how we get information on Warrior and Earth Mother's well being. It is like a grenade thrown from a distance, blowing up and disrupting the flow of life. Then when the dust is settled it's back to silence and life as usual...only everyone involved feels a little more fragile, a little more vulnerable, a little more broken...

It is a frustrating cycle and it is time to put an end to it...but how?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why I'm Considering a Homeschool

Once upon a time I thought homeschool was detrimental to a child's well being. That was a long time ago, before I had children of my own or was finished with my own public high school education in rural Pennsylvania. I liked school. I liked being with my friends all day and joining a ridiculous amount of extra curricular activities. I felt bad for the isolated homeschool student who was stuck at home with their mom all day unable to join Student Government, the Drama Club, Spanish Club, Art Club, Ski Club, M Club, Marching Band, Orchestra, Varsity Field Hockey, Environmental Club or sport around campus in their Honor's Society sweater.

Now that I am grown and there is some distance to look honestly at my education, I realize how stifling and lacking it really was. I excelled because of my own drive to learn and because my parents sought out extra lessons and opportunities to assist me in my learning. My mom was a huge advocate for improving the public education system in our community. She worked doggedly to make sure that we got the best of what was available. I can only imagine what our school would have been without her voice calling on teachers and administrators to do better. It is my turn now to advocate for my own children...

Let me put my disclaimer in now: I believe in free education for every child in every part of the world. I believe strongly in investing in the public school system wherever it exists. I feel it is the right of every child to have access to pre-school, primary school, high school and junior college...(Yes, I believe some tertiary education should be free!!) There are few jobs I feel are more noble than being a public school teacher. If we still lived in Brooklyn, Shine would attend the local public school. Jamaican students who attend the top schools in the country, consistently out perform their American peers. There are a lot of great things about the education system here, but like anywhere else in the world, there is room for improvement. I no longer believe homeschooling is detrimental to a child's well being.

Now back to the post:

Currently Shine is enrolled in a Montessori School. Mo and I are thrilled that we could afford to send him to such a school. (In Brooklyn the cost of a Montessori education was out of our price range.) We felt like it would help him develop self confidence and a sense of independence, which it has. It has also served as a good transition school for him having come from a daycare in Brooklyn that a friend called, "Montessori Lite". We have been very happy with his school this year, but it is only a preschool/kindergarten. He could attend for one more year but eventually we have to make a determination about the rest of his education.

Most students graduate from the Montessori School and go on to Preparatory School which would be like attending a private school in the U.S. There are also Primary Schools here which can be considered "public school". No matter which school a child attends, they must wear the uniform of that school and the parents must pay a tuition fee (and an activity fee and admin fees and lunch fees and field trip fees plus purchase textbooks and workbooks, etc. etc.). Primary schools cost less than Prep schools but they still cost...a lot...for most Jamaicans. Generally speaking, the problem with education in Jamaica is not what goes on in the classroom but getting to the classroom. Truancy is a huge problem because parents just cannot afford to send their children to school.

So one of the reasons we are considering homeschool is to reduce the cost of educating our children. When we add up the figures for when Shine and Song are both attending school, we could potentially be paying half of our monthly income in school fees! It's just not sustainable.

Another reason we are considering homeschooling is because corporeal punishment is the main form of discipline in the school system here. Parents who have requested that no such discipline be used on their child have told me that teachers still spanked their kids because they are just so accustomed to do so. There are many people in the Ministry of Education who are advocating that spanking be taken out of the classroom but it is going to take a lot of work and many years before a cultural mindshift can be made. I don't have to tell many of you reading this that hitting a child does not inspire them to learn more or do their homework better...

Anyone living in the U.S. who has a child in a public school knows the frustration of standardized tests. Well imagine this: when students here reach sixth grade, they take the Grade Six Achievement Test or GSAT. This test will determine the student's entire future!! Think I'm being dramatic?? Think again. It is an entrance exam for high school. Your score on the test determines which high schools you are accepted to. Score high and you have access to the top schools in the country where you will be encouraged to strive for academic excellence and be prepared for college. Score low and you are sent to a vocational or technical high school were resources are scarce and moral low. Forty percent of students attending technical schools drop out! The pressure on students preparing for the GSAT is immense. Earth Mother just sat the exam at the end of April. For the months prior her weekends and after school time were dedicated to studying for this exam on top of doing her regular school work. She is currently still waiting for her results. Mo says that he has heard of students taking their own lives after learning their results. It's way too much pressure for a child.

Shine is a very intelligent, articulate and creative little boy. He loves to learn but he has a lot of anxiety about learning the right thing and saying the right answer and performing at the same level as his classmates. In a recent conference with his teacher, she was saying that Shine was feeling frustrated because his friends were ready to read blended consonant sounds and he was still working on long vowel sounds. He insisted that his teacher allow him to read the same book his friends were working on. So she let him try it but he realized (in a wave of embarrassment) that he wasn't ready for that book yet. My fear is that if he continues in a traditional classroom, that he will continually compare his own performance to that of his peers and place a lot of undue pressure on himself to perform. Eventually, I think he would just give up on learning all together. In order to build his self confidence, I think he would do better in a one on one or small group (5-6 students) learning environment.

Mo and I also want to develop Shine's amazing imagination. We would like to give him an arts based education and so we are looking at using a Waldorf curriculum with him at home. Shine has also expressed interest in learning a musical instrument (the guitar) and a foreign language (Japanese!!). The Waldorf method emphasizes both music and foreign language and by homeschooling we would have the extra time and money to provide him with these lessons.

Our vision for our family is to become truly international by spending a few months here, a few months in the states and maybe a few months in Europe or South America. Having a flexible homeschool schedule would be ideal for this kind of lifestyle.

I think we are lucky to be living in a time where there are so many education alternatives to choose from. I also think we are very privileged to be able to consider homeschooling as an option. It will be interesting to see where this journey takes us...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lights Out

Last night as I was reading Shine his bedtime stories, the power went out. (It is a common occurrence here especially when there is heavy rain. It's been raining for three days straight). At first I was irritated because I was tired and I still had things to do that necessitated having lights. Luckily I caught myself in the moment of irritation, took a deep breath and calmly told an anxious Shine to stay put and that I was going to get the flashlights. Song was already asleep and Mo had gone to a friend's house to do some freelance work. So it was just Shine and I in the dark.

There was enough light coming in the windows from the security booth (which has a generator) for me to find the flashlights (and the batteries!) and make it back to Shine's room. He was sitting in the middle of his bed hugging Winston, his teddy bear, eyes wide. I sat down on the bed next to him and gave him a hug. "It will be alright," I said. "This will be fun. It's like camping." He carefully held one flashlight while I put new batteries into his own Buzz Lightyear flashlight. When both were working, I finished reading the story.

When the story was done, we laid in the bed together talking. He was shining his flashlight all around the room while he told me about school and the games he and his friends played. As he moved the light around, I began making shadow puppets on the wall. Soon we were both making dogs and eagles and sharks and rabbits and butterflies and kitty cats and tiny mice. The eagles flew to the moon. The dogs chased the cats. The sharks ate everything. We giggled and snuggled and played in this wonderful shadow land until he finally fell asleep, his fuzzy head tucked under my arm.

I felt a peaceful calm washing over me. "This is exactly how it should be", I thought. I was grateful that I was given this unexpected but very much needed quiet time to spend with my child. It was a reminder of how wonderful it is to just be in the moment.

Find your joy...be present...LIVE!
Peace and Wellness,

(Image borrowed from the Internet)