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June 3, 2011
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School has always been very difficult for me. The academic part itself is not so hard, but the environment that traditional schools create makes it difficult to concentrate. It always seemed that school made it hard to learn. But help was on its way. The year I finished seventh grade, my parents and I decided that, instead of continuing traditional school, I would attend an online charter school and make some changes in the way I approach learning.

My difficulty began on the first day of Kindergarten. We were given the simple assignment of writing our names. I thought it was going to be easy, since I already knew how to spell my name. Whenever my mom had to spell our name, she would always pronounce it rhythmically. “N-E-U, M-E-I, S-T-E-R,” is how the spelling of my name was burned into my memory. Needless to say, I expected writing it down to be effortless. But once I started writing, I discovered it was actually physically painful to write. It got harder as I went through each letter. Why did my parents put nearly every letter in the alphabet into my name? It was torture for a five-year-old, and it was only a sample of what horror there was to come.

Elementary school became increasingly difficult. I expected it to get easier, better, as I grew older and became more used to handwriting. Wishful thinking. As the assignments got longer, it became more and more painful. I was almost afraid of writing, since I had begun associating it with pain. The addition of cursive in class did not help. Only because I was allowed to do my homework assignments on a computer did I last as long as fourth grade. At the end of that year, though, everything changed. Several specialists evaluated me. I’m not sure if I was aware at the time of what was going on. I just followed instructions. I’ve always been good at that. Near the end of the year I was introduced to a piece of technology that would change my life. It was called an Alphasmart. It was basically a keyboard with a small screen, and eight different documents, or files, where writing could be kept. I was shown how it worked, and it was explained that I could use this device in class for writing assignments. A whole new world opened up to me. For the first time, writing and pain were no longer synonymous. I could do assignments just as easily as any other student. Then I found I actually liked writing. It was fun to put words and ideas together, and they ended up looking like something I had read in books. I was coming up with, and writing down, my own stories. Granted, they weren’t great stories, but I was nine. While the first seven files I used for schoolwork, File 8 was strictly reserved for my own writing, personal musings, and stories.
In sixth grade, my parents got me an Alphasmart Dana, which was much more advanced and had a palm pilot. This assistance in scheduling was helpful in the transition to middle school. Assignment became easier to deal with, but the school environment itself was still difficult. Testing that showed I had physical difficulty with handwriting also showed I was extremely sensitive to outside distractions, particularly noises. A loud, noisy classroom was not my ideal learning situation. Nevertheless, middle school was a good time for me. My teachers were supportive and helpful, and it was the first time that I had science classes, a subject I enjoyed. It was also a time when I was introduced to college. For a long time, people had told me and my parents that, if I could make it past high school, college was where I would thrive. My father took this very seriously. The summer after sixth grade, he told me about a course he had taken in Marine Science, one of my favorite subjects. He had taken it as a telecourse through Coastline Community College, and he was absolutely sure that I could pass it. So sure, in fact, he said he would pay me one hundred dollars if I got an A in the class. I was nervous about taking a college class, but the nature of the course and the temptation of monetary gain convinced me to go for it. It took some work to actually get into the class, since I was still in middle school, but by the end of the summer I had my first college credit and a hundred dollars in my savings account. It also brought me one step closer to an “alternative” school environment.

The entire time I had been having difficulties in school, my parents, especially my mom, had been advocating for me. They saw that I was having a hard time, so they had me diagnosed for any learning disabilities I might have. It turned out I did have a few learning disabilities, so they made sure that the schools provided me with the modifications I needed. By the time I was in middle school, it seemed the school system had done as much as it possibly could to adjust for me. But it still didn’t seem to be working. Finally, we took a big chance. My parents had heard about an online charter school called Connections Academy. All the assignments were online, except for a few that had to be mailed in, and the local office was a five minute drive from our house. It was risky, because if it didn’t work out, then I would be a full year behind in school. The risk, however, was worth it.

Online school was one of the most important decisions made in my young life, and one of the most rewarding. The online courses let me work in a quiet, distraction-free environment, allowing me to concentrate more on the academics. It also gave me an extremely flexible schedule. For example, I could spend my spring break getting ahead on schoolwork. Then, I could take a different week off to go on vacation with my family. The flexibility allowed me to spend some of my free time working on other college courses. In the four years I spent in online school, I completed eighth grade, high school, and twelve college courses, totaling thirty two units, all with a GPA of 4.0. The introduction of the Alphasmart and the completion of the first college course helped me with the decision to start “alternative” school, which led my perception on school to change from a negative to a positive light.





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sew sew said...
Jun. 29, 2011 at 10:47 am
A great article.
 
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