4/9 Education and the S-Word

Education & the S-Word (Private/Public/Charter/Home/Un)

The subject of schools is a complex one. As a parent, you have a choice to make when your child reaches 4 or 5 years old. What are you going to do about school? If your child has been attending preschool or daycare, the transition might not be as major. It’s still not an easy answer, because you can’t be 100% confident that you have the right plan. How can you know whether your child will have a good experience overall? What about safety… Curriculum… Emotional well-being… The other kids… The germs… The teachers… The drills…  If you’ve been the primary caregiver and instructor in your child’s life, the jump to a full-day school program, 5 days a week will be truly be a life change.

I had a conversation with my husband about it last night, which may have been the 40th discussion we’ve had about sending the boys to school. We talked about the pros and cons of private school vs. public school. We talked about the benefits and negative aspects of homeschooling and unschooling. We talked about charter schools and the government and common core and PAARC tests and tutors and and college and just about everything else under the umbrella of formal education. I asked him if I could record our conversation for my blog. He said no. So here I am a day late, with a recap. (Note: my writing style on this post is free flowing, so do not hold the run-on sentences or the fragments against me. I won’t even promise to spell-check myself today, which is ironic given the topic of this post.)

Back to our conversation:

He asked me hypothetically, that if I had all the money in the world, would I hire a tutor in place of sending them to school. I said yes, hands down, but that I wouldn’t stop there. I’d also start a co-op- an alternative to school- which would provide organized field trips, workshops, competitions and team-building exercises, and classes focused on teaching LIFE SKILLS (More on this in the following paragraphs). I feel strongly on the subject of elementary education and high school because my own experience was very eclectic. My mom also felt strongly on the issue of education and school, and struggled with the difficulty of choosing the right plan. As a result, I’ve been sent to a laid back Christian school, to a military-style private school, to a creativity-driven charter school, and I was also homeschooled and for a few years technically unschooled since I was motivated enough for a self-taught method of learning. (The best part is, I made and retained friends from all of these experiences. Network building, to the max!)

I’m not claiming to be the authority on education, but I can objectively provide input on the vast array of education styles that I have experienced. The truth is, I loved ALL of them… except for the one military-style private school (although I’m STILL pen pals with the teacher I had in third grade). I loved the family environment of the Christian school where my son now attends Kindergarten. I felt right at home in the charter school with the block scheduling and the theater arts classes. Being homeschooled was amazing because I had the freedom and flexibility to focus on my natural interest and develop my skills as an artist and pursue my interest in legal studies and mock trial, while taking advantage of the outside world in all of its glory. PLUS I still had friends. Don’t buy into the hype.

Now that I’m a mom, I don’t know what to do.

Homeschooling would require so much of me and I’m not sure I’m up to the task, even thought I would love to give my children that luxury. Freeing up the schedule and using a child-led learning style and direction is the biggest draw for me, on behalf of my kids. The six hour days, five times a week, ten months a year schedule is designed for the convenience of working parents. I don’t believe it’s necessary or preferable for elementary grade students, and I’ll just say it: we’re robbing kids of their time. Not cool. It doesn’t get any better for adults.

Private school is expensive, and while I’m blessed with this option right now for Caedyn, I’m not sure if that’s going to work in the long term, especially when my younger child joins the group next year. I also don’t love the concept of teaching Bible as a subject in school. Before I get attacked for saying this, I’ll clarify by saying that I absolutely believe in God and support what’s written in the Bible, and I’ll teach my kids that I believe it and I’ll take them to church where they will learn more. But I don’t think teaching Bible as a subject in school is ideal because it’s not about education it’s about a lifestyle. What I appreciate most about Christian school is that the environment is faith-friendly and that the kids are allowed to pray and talk about God without being discouraged or dismissed.

Charter school was awesome. Still long days, but it provides a more student-guided experience and it doesn’t seem as politically correct as public school- at least that was my observation at the time.

Public school….makes me cringe. (And it’s not because I never want to a standard public school. And it’s not because I think public school is evil.) Years ago, sending my kids to public school was the obvious choice in my mind, but the more I learn and read about public school practices and curriculums, and the more teachers I speak with about their roles in the classroom and the situations they deal with regularly, the more convinced I am that choosing one of the other options would serve my family better. I understand that public school is the most feasible option for many people, quite possibly even myself. Still, something in my mom-intuition makes me hesitate to enroll my sons. It’s my opinion, and I’m speaking in very general terms, that most public school environments are not family-friendly (read: parent-friendly) and the information being pumped into the kids is not presented without bias. On the other hand, I went to a liberal arts college with no hesitation whatsoever, and while taking it all in with a critical eye, there were only two classes I had that were conducted with questionable underlying agenda. The deal-breaker for me and public school system was the brief stint we had at the public preschool down the road. But I’ll save that situation for a different post.

Returning back to the daydream that I’m having about starting a co-op, here is an idea based on what I believe would be ideal for my family. This isn’t some fail-proof plan I’ve spent years developing, but just a collection of thoughts thrown together with a big “WHAT-IF”.

If I could, I would start a co-op elementary classroom that served to instruct students on life skills and to provide a variety of applicable information: basic math, money management, grammar and reading, research and writing, scientific theory, diet/food prep and personal hygiene, geography and maps, nature and animals, and maybe a few others that I’m not thinking of at the moment but you can leave the other important ones in the comments for me.

Envision classes being held 1-2 times a week, for a couple of hours. The learning wouldn’t start and stop in the “classroom” but the co-op would be effectively preparing the students to take the reigns of their own unique learning process. They’d be encouraged to take what they learned in the class and apply it by doing independent projects, visiting galleries, interviewing industry professionals, volunteering, etc.

Co-op for grades 7-12 would be broken up into smaller groups and provide specialized education and training in areas of interest to the particular student (business or biology or journalism or art or healthcare or engineering, etc.) Additionally, the upper grades would provide education on social issues taught without bias and would teach world views and cultures, but instead of reading about it and having a test, they would be taken to museums, travel, volunteer in different cultural fairs. They would be encouraged to volunteer and work as interns to gain real life experience and be laying the foundation for a career path.

I’m sure I’ll have more to add on this but for now, I’m going to close this blog so I can get back to work. Real work in the real world. 😉

What do YOU believe is the best education plan?

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4/7 My top-secret, styled wedding ceremony

SO I filmed this yesterday (despite the fact my eyes were barely open but yay for the sunny day!) and I didn’t get around to posting it until now… Which means I’m skipping today’s V.E.D.A topic and justing posting about The Wedding that Planned Itself: >>>>>>>>>READ THE FULL POST <<<<<<<<<< Don’t miss this one- Quite possibly the best blog post that I’ve written yet.

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4/2 My Community

I know, I know. Only Day 2 and I’m already jumping around in the order of topics. Today I couldn’t bring myself to talk about the dentist when the community and economy is so heavy on my heart. SO- I’m using #19 today. (My blog, my challenge, my rules) 😛 This post/video is about Main Street in Mays Landing, New Jersey. This section of my town has such amazing potential with being centrally located and home to two major intersections, plus the beauty and charm of its parks and buildings. However, the main strip is struggling to attract and maintain the interest of tourists and residents alike. Inspired by a presentation I heard at the Mays Landing Merchants Association (MLMA) on revitalizing Main Street, I feel strongly about being part of the solution. The advice given by Joe Molineaux of Stockton University’s New Jersey Small Business Development Center (public community service for entrepreneurs) was to decide as a group what types of businesses we need to incorporate into the mix. He challenged us to work together and create a draw by hosting different event nights once a month, to start. The president of the MLMA, Fred Kneble of Knebles Auto Service Center, expressed his willingness to form a committee that will create an carry out an action plan. Meanwhile, I’m working with a team of people in business and ministry, to plan and host a FREE COMMUNITY business expo/networking event, Saturday, April 18th which will include workshops and seminars to educate and empower the people of Atlantic County. Register for free and Get More Info here: http://www.christianbusinessworkforce.com (Accepting vendors now! $30/table) Are you local to Atlantic County, NJ and interested in becoming part of the solution? Comment below with your feedback and get in touch with me.

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A different kind of Valentine’s Day

Here’s the situation… Before kids, we loved to go on extravagant dates. Expensive,delectable restaurants in the center of town. Spontaneous excursions. We had fun. Even on a college budget there was always fun to be had via snowboarding trips to the mountains, game nights with friends, renting out the rink for private ice skating, karaoke, Harlem globetrotters games, open mic night, dance clubs, blah blah blah…

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Hanging out at Dave & Busters Arcade
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Snowboarding in the bitter cold of the Poconos
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At my friend Karen’s wedding

Fast forward to 2014: Having two preschool-aged boys makes it tougher to get away from the homestead, and it’s truly impossible to be spontaneous. Competent babysitters are few and far between, and going to Philadelphia so we can dine at our favorite restaurant is not in the budget.

So- it is time to get creative. How can I make-believe we are having dinner at Tequila’s, and avoid spending hundreds of dollars? How can we get around the challenge of finding an available, trustworthy babysitter for the night? (Where are all the level-headed, interactive teenagers hiding??)

The answer: Steal ideas from the menu, put the kids to bed for the night, and make cooking as a couple part of the experience. The result: AMAZING food, surprisingly good teamwork, and a memory far more special than the usual night out.

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The source of the inspiration. Tequilas Restaurant on 16th & Locust, Philadelphia, PA

Do I feel guilty for stealing the menu of this grand restaurant, and practically replicating their options in my kitchen? A little bit. No. Many people would never take the DIY approach (it’s no good if you’re impatient and hate cooking), and I hardly expect the restaurant’s business will suffer because of my choice. And so, inspired by their Valentine’s Day themed Special Lovers Banquet menu, we agreed to make sangria, a festive salad, rib eye steak in chorizo sauce, chocolate truffles with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet, and our favorite appetizer: queso fundido.

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Queso Fundido is a cheesy dip served with small flour tortillas or corn chips.

Next, I scoured the internet for recipes (links included below) that sounded close enough to our selections. The ingredients list tool on Allrecipes.com was helpful for some of the choices, and I also used Google to search for things by name.

I had a memo on my cellphone with a list of the ingredients needed for our dinner. We went shopping yesterday, and spent $73 at the grocery store, and another $26 at the liquor store (wine & raspberry pucker for sangria, mexican beer for the queso fundido). Spanish/Mexican food is CHEAP when you shop at the grocery stores! You may have to find a Spanish store for chorizo (hot sausage) or chayotes (a Mexican squash) but we found practically everything with no trouble at all.

Chayotes (a type of Mexican squash) look a lot like pears, but the bottom has a really funny shape. The whole family was joking about it looking like an old man's expression when eating something sour.
Chayotes (a type of Mexican squash) look a lot like pears, but the bottom has a really funny shape. The whole family was joking about it looking like an old man’s expression when eating something sour.

I also will admit that some of the prep was done last night. I made the raspberry sorbet (it needed to freeze) and mixed up the sangria (the flavors blend better overnight), and we also made the chocolate truffles and put them in the fridge. It was easy and didn’t take long.

Chocolate Truffles dipped in Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate. I colored the white chocolate pink with strawberry juice to decorate the top, and made taffy hearts. Cute?
Chocolate Truffles dipped in Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate. I colored the white chocolate pink with strawberry juice to decorate the top, and made taffy hearts. Cute?

Today needed to be an early dinner because of a commitment at 7pm. (Although I highly recommend you do this at night if you have young children, and let them watch a movie in bed while you cook. Tuck them in, say goodnight, and you’re ready for your date in the next room!)

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Neither of us are drinkers, and wine doesn’t appeal at all- But thanks to my friend taking us to a Portuguese festival back in 2006, it’s now our occasional beverage of choice.

The sun was shining, it was time to make dinner, and I needed a hat.

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Marques cannot take finding hair in his food, and despite my best efforts, it happens from time to time. I was considerate enough to stuff all of my hair into this pink striped hat that I found in the closet. (My grandmother bought me this when I was ten. True story.)

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At 3:30 this afternoon, we started chopping, grating, and sautéing.

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Carmelized Almonds, to top the salad
Carmelized Almonds, to top the salad
Poblano peppers had to be blackened under a broiler, then peeled and diced
Poblano peppers had to be blackened under a broiler, then peeled and diced
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I could easily be a vegetarian, or a pescatarian, since I’m not a fan of cooking meat. I eat steak maybe once a year.
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Searing the Rib Eye Steaks

I branched out of my comfort zone and touched raw steak. Massaged it, actually, with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. Not my favorite part of this thing.

I sipped some sangria while the steak was cooking
I sipped some sangria while the steak was cooking

By 5:00pm, we were sitting down to a very Tequilas-esque dinner, all within the comfort of the kitchen.

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It was fun, and really delicious. And I am no chef. Want to try? I dare you to get inspired by your favorite restaurant’s menu, and research some recipes to make with your honey. Make a memory and save money. By the way, the amount of food we made was way more than we would have been served while dining out. We had enough to share with others, plus there is queso fundito and a plate of truffles in my fridge right now.

Going to Philly for dinner at Tequilas would have cost us $303.95

Appetizer (queso fundido) $9.95

2 extra glasses of sangria $16

Valentines Special ($75 per person) $150

20% gratuity fee ($40)

Roundtrip train tickets $38 (to avoid the gas, tolls, & parking garage cost)

5 hours of Babysitting (rate: $10/hr) $50

– darkshot

We spent almost $100 on everything we needed, and our kids were safely at home with us while we enjoyed our dinner for two.

Here are the recipes we followed!

Queso Fundido

Carmelized Almonds (for the salad)

Raspberry Mango Sangria

Rib Eye Steak with Chorizo sauce (the rub wasn’t included with this guide, but I used olive oil, sea salt & black pepper)

Chocolate Truffles

Raspberry Sorbet