The following article is part of a series of blog posts from the Holcombe family. Peter, Kathy, and their Keystone sixth grader, Abby, are sharing their adventures with Learning Liftoff as they journey on an 18-month tour of the country’s national parks. And Abby is taking her high-quality education on the road with The Keystone School, a fully accredited, online private school.


When we first considered enrolling Abby, our 11-year-old daughter, in an online school, I hoped that this radical shift from traditional public education with which I was so familiar (as a student, parent, and former teacher) would not be a problem for her. I fretted about emotional damage from leaving her friends behind as we set out on our year long National Park adventure. I worried about the social impacts of spending a majority of her time among adults. And I worried about how she would handle a self-paced learning environment. Now as I sit here watching her complete the last couple of weeks of her first year with Keystone Online, I can see so clearly the changes we have made in her education and the huge impacts they have had on her life.

Abby Kayaking

Abby leads the the USA freestyle team to the opening ceremonies at the Freestyle Kayak World Championships in Canada.

As I think back to the end of school in past years, I remember so vividly the whirlwind of activity that signified the countdown to summer vacation. From track-and-field days to musical performances and end-of-year parties, it all seemed to all pile up all at once, leaving us sprinting toward the last day of school and in desperate need of summer vacation just to recuperate.

This year, because of our flexible schedule and in lieu of track-and-field day, we found ourselves en route to Reno, Nevada, for the USA National Freestyle Kayaking Championships, where the best kayakers in the country come together for two action packed days of intense competition. In they days leading up to the event, Abby trained with some of the best kayakers in the world, and with their encouragement, decided to compete for the first time in a national event as a junior, even though she was three years younger than the minimum age for that division. Not only did she compete, but she landed a brand new trick for the first time ever in her competition ride and walked away with the title of USA Freestyle Junior Woman National Champion. If we had stuck with traditional school, we would have never been able to escape the frantic end-of-year schedule of events and she would have missed out on this incredible experience.

Another major concern was her relationship with her teachers. Without the daily interaction of a traditional school environment, I feared that she would miss out on the personal connection that has always kept her motivated to excel in her schoolwork. While she hasn’t had the same face-to-face conversations, I have watched her develop a whole new skill set with which to communicate. She now regularly Skypes, emails, and calls her teachers when she needs support and has learned which method of communication is most effective for each teacher. What incredible skills she has mastered that will benefit her for the rest of her life.

And possibly more importantly, she has learned to manage her own deadlines. At the beginning of the school year she decided that even though she could take up to a year to complete her courses, she preferred a more aggressive schedule and planned out her personal workload so that she would finish all of her lessons in only nine months. Now with just a week left before her self-imposed deadline, she is more determined than ever to reach her goal and enjoy time off during her summer vacation. I love that she is learning that with careful planning, hard work, and determination, she will reap the rewards of accomplishment and time off to pursue her other interests of travel and kayaking.

Lastly, I have watched my quiet, shy daughter morph into a confident, outgoing young woman who is just as comfortable on a stage sharing our adventures from the road in front of a hundred strangers as she is sharing a campfire with old friends. Her circle of close friends has grown exponentially and she looks forward to returning to her favorite places and rekindling old friendships. While I was originally concerned about Abby missing out on social interactions with other kids her age, we have found that there is no shortage of kids to play with in our travels.

Abby kayaking with friends

Abby and three friends explore the American River in Coloma, California.

In just nine short months, I have come to the realization that it is actually traditional school that was a compromise. It hindered our student’s ability to participate in all the extraordinary opportunities that awaited her out in the real world. It held her back from learning to her fullest capacity because students in traditional schools tend to be either waiting or are being dragged along by classmates who learn at a different pace. The system that dictates the schedule is based on the average needs of the group instead of the specific needs of the individual. That, coupled with logistical demands that are set in place by ironclad entities such as teachers’ unions and bus schedules, prevent students from ever reaching their full potential.

We stumbled into online education because of our desire to share our National Parks with our daughter. But even as we look to the future, I can’t even imagine sending Abby back to a stifling environment of a traditional classroom. Keystone Online has shown us the advantages of learning at your own pace and setting your own deadlines. The flexible scheduling allows for extraordinary opportunities outside of the classroom. And it has given Abby skills in filtering information online to find the answers to her questions as well as learning to communicate in a variety of ways—both important life skills. We are eternally grateful for our fantastic Keystone experience this year!

 

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