I have a 17 year old daughter who was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune deficiency. Specifically, she has no immune system against common viruses such as colds, flu, strep throat, pneumonia and so forth. Illnesses common in any school environment.  From December 2007 to February 2007 my daughter’s immune system went from bad to worse. While prior to December she appeared to have some immunities, after December she contracted infections even if the visit inside the school building was kept to a single hours.

Little Falls school district was unsympathetic and down right rotten throughout the ordeal. They knew my daughter was scheduled to see an immunologist in February but couldn’t actually be seen until the end of August. The only thing her doctors could report to them was that her white count fluctuated and that they would need an immunologist to figure out why.  This information was insufficient for the school district, even though that information was supported by a litany of other notes from local doctors saying that she was being treated for a throat infection, and ear infection and the like. Instead of acknowledging the impairment noted by her doctors they chose to ignore the impairment because it wasn’t a specific diagnosis.  Instead of providing the education support to which chronically ill children are entitled, they processed her as a high school drop out over and over and over again. Each time she was sick for two weeks she was booted from school. Not only was her health a state of disaster but the actions taken by the district ensured that my daughter’s education in a state of disaster as well.

Obviously, the topics of education, chronic health problems and disability cover a broad range of subject. Topics I plan to cover in subsequent articles.  For the moment I’d like to bypass all the nasty things some districts do to the sick and disabled to save money and instead share with you all the wonderful education opportunities not far from you. They are not miles away, or blocks away…they are keystrokes away.

We first enrolled in online high school after my daughter fell too far behind to get caught up. Northern Star Online offered semester credit in 8 weeks! She was registered to take World Studies and American Literature. I half expected flimsy, busy work and education credit handed out like a prize in a cereal box. Oh, contraire!  In 8 weeks my daughter completed 30 to 40 assignments per class and there weren’t any crossword puzzles either! The curriculum she was required to complete was not wholly different that that of her older brother attending Central Lakes Community College.

What was extraordinary was the delivery of the material. My daughter’s textbooks were all online. Difficult words and concepts were hyperlinked to definitions and in depth explanations.   Similar to a classroom textbook, online textbooks also had pictures…except the pictures were often linked to a narrated, virtual tour. A completely wired, interactive textbook…FTW!

What was the most precious of the entire experience was that for the first time my daughter had access to all instruction. The quality of her education was no longer tethered to her health. The most profound lesson she learned from her entire summer experience online was to fully realize her own capacity to achieve. She was no longer the girl who couldn’t push past a D, she earned A’s in B’s in the face of huge time constraints and a rigorous curriculum.

It really sort of blew the districts theory that my daughter poor performance was due to her unwillingness to apply herself. Amazing what happens when you’re not missing half the classroom instruction. Her math teachers were the worst and most arrogant. They had a habit of making her take math tests the moment she was well enough to return to school. Never mind that she missed the curriculum that preceded the test, the objective was to see to it that she kept pace with all of the other students whether she had the opportunity to cover the missed material or not.

Certainly, this must be an oversight. Oh, contraire again.  When I asked that she have the opportunity to learn the material then take the test my request was denied by her math teacher. When I approached the district office regarding the testing without teaching policy asking that they abolish the practice because it; falls outside the realm of “basic good teaching practices.” The district repeatedly ignored my request and the practice continued on until my daughter’s information loss was so great that she could no longer comprehend her math.  At that juncture her math teacher advocated for moving her into remedial math, stating that the placement would be more appropriate for her.

Obviously, no placement could remain appropriate if the student is not taught. I argued that unless the testing without teaching practice was discontinued that no math placement could ever remain appropriate so long as the information loss was allowed to continue. In a letter to the district I wrote, after remedial math is rendered an inappropriate placement due to the glaring lack of instruction, maybe she just spend her time at your school coloring. As you can imagine, I was well loved by the district office but based on the teaching approach of her math teacher there was truly no direction for her to go but backwards.

As my daughter began succeeding as an online learner, the school district began having second thoughts over allowing her to attend the program. Since the online school my daughter was attending was not a charter school, it was necessary for her to be enrolled at the local school district in order to attend at no cost.  When Little Falls school district began to discuss reconsidering their decision to allow my daughter to learn online, I went shopping for an e-charter school and I found loads! After carefully considering a number of online high schools including the one affiliated with Little Falls school district (their website was punitive and their curriculum was stogy and uninspiring.) we finally settled upon Blue Sky Online. They teach middle school and high school courses and have a student body of over 700.

We have now been with this school district for just over 2 weeks and my daughter and I love it! While Northern Star Online offered an online classroom where your monitor became the blackboard and your teacher’s voice piped in through your computer speakers, Blue Sky offered e-classroom, the online education software used by many colleges. While we loved Northern Star Online, the clear difference at Blue Sky was their ability to recreate the atmosphere of interactivity among students within an online learning environment.  Students respond to classroom discussions on messages boards and become familiar with one another’s thoughts and opinions. Our greatest concern with online learning was the isolation my daughter would experience. While easier on her health, she truly did love learning and being in school, she was the girl who waited for summer to end.

As I was typing this blog by daughter was at her computer doing school work. She came into the room and exclaimed, I just listened to my teacher give a lecture. I felt like I was in school! Even though its school and its work…it was so cool to feel like I was a part of a class. I said, then your liking Blue Sky and she replied…I love Blue Sky.

In addition to the interactivity level with fellow students, learners receive a weekly phone call from their homeroom teacher…a mini conference on how it’s all going. Add in curriculum covering Mandarin Chinese, a mini women studies course directed at teens and young adult women cover everything from advertising to anorexia and you have a recipe for a great first semester.

Our commitment to Little Falls school district has had everything to do with the quality of teachers. With the exception of a few, the teaching staff was great. It was the scant highly paid few at the very top that decided what could and couldn’t be done in the face of my daughter’s illness. It has to be said, that if Mary Jo Morgan and special education director Linda Maron were booted to the curb tomorrow Little Falls school district would be a better place for all learners, not just mainstream students…even if they were replaced with mushroom spores. My daughter and I both give Mr. Mushel, her science teacher an A+ with a gold star for having an inner compass that pointed, without fail to doing the right thing…just because it was the right thing to do. While we hated to leave the teachers we loved, we were ever so happy to find new and friendly faces at Blue Sky.

In an age of digital technology, it is so important to remember that we are no longer confined to the offerings contained within our small geographic locations.  By tapping away at the keyboard before you, you make the whole world, your neighborhood.

Out of the fishbowl and into the great blue beyond,

Olive Rockfish

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