higher education

Church drawing.  What was she hearing?
Church drawing. What was she hearing?

Settling into home—we have some summer heat although I’ve only used my air conditioner twice, two weeks of morning swim classes for Julia and a weekend reunion of our China travel group coming up.  Ponderings percolating about traveling together, what I need for a much longer journey, Julia’s ability to enjoy and learn from experience. Julia’s interest in galleries and churches grew as we travelled.  Umm, there was a morning in Venice when she said, “no more churches” but I was poised to go a overboard.  I have a weakness for old churches.

Most days, we did some academic work, some of it informed by the places we visited.  A kid’s biography of da Vinci was ingested and commented upon days afterwards.  An email travel journal sent to friends, mostly adults, was a good way to get her to remember and write about daily doings.  The friends responded to Julia’s mail and we talked about those responses.  In every one, the writer commented about what Julia wrote, told Julia what she was doing and asked at least one question.  I was grateful for such socially appropriate friends. We talked about this form, especially the asking questions part because that mirrors a therapy goal.  I don’t think she wrote a single question, but she kept writing.  Her present teacher asked her to continue writing at home, something that Julia has not done spontaneously.  It is part of today’s tasks.

And now, the question on my mind:  What should high school look like for Julia?  She has two more years of middle school and I have firm commitments for those two years, but then what?  The question which quickly morphs into two or three: Is there an optimal educational experience for Julia?  What and where is it?  Can I find it abroad? At least for a year?  Can I manage a year away?  Financially, logistically, socially?  It is not idle wondering.  If we do something that departs far from the usual, it will take planning.  Long time planning.

Julia:  Julia is not and probably will never be a typical student.  School has been so valuable for basic skills and social skills, but Julia is not on the traditional university bound trajectory and the alternative—transitional services for kids with disabilities—will probably not address her profound artistic gifts or provide her with a way to further her natural skills.  I write this acknowledging that we live in the high school district that is one of the best in the country for transitional services.  I may engage in an extensive search and find that the best is still in my backyard.  Clicking ruby slippers, there’s no place like home.

I don’t think Julia will ever get beyond decent basic math.  We are working on word problems this summer in a second grade book.  I think it is a hard second grade book.  We still work on key words to indicate operations but this year we can also work on what the story says.  Counting money and telling time are moving along.  Geometry may make sense but I doubt that algebra ever will.  Still, Julia’s math skills are improving with time and effort.  I don’t imagine that traditional science class will make much of an impression.  She enjoyed science in sixth grade when it was about plants and what was under a microscope—something she could experience.  Life cycles and talk about atoms could be memorized for quizzes but went no further.  Social studies from books— political systems and battles— will be wasted on her.  During our traveling, I re-discovered Julia’s learning through her natural abilities.  I remember how, in third grade, Julia began to learn for the first time through her interest in, more accurately, her obsession with, dinosaurs.  Letters, words and numbers.  Some social studies—a world map with dinosaurs pasted where they were found—and science—carnivores and herbivores.  It was not easy for her teachers or therapists, it was not easy for me.  We all wondered if she had the capacity to learn anything other than exactly what she was interested in.  So many people believed that she did but we had not seen it yet.  I believe that we are coming to the same kind of time and the question about method is almost the same as it was back then.  As traditional students dive into the abstract contained in more and more cerebral writings, Julia will gain nothing and lose more ground by comparison.  I don’t care about comparing her to typical students but I do care about expanding her knowledge base and developing her skills as an artist.  What if she learned geometry stretching canvases, chemistry understanding why frescos lasted so long, history sketching the walls of the secret study in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.

In Italy, we looked at art and I told her the stories, mostly the religious stories that I have stored in my brain from 12 years of Catholic education.  I have no art history background but we used audio tours where ever we went.  Most of them, Venice being the exception, provided information about artists and some history of the place.  On occasion, Julia listened to extended stories/explanations that were offered.  Learning the history of Florence from the paintings and sculptures on the walls of the Duomo beats reading history books any day.  At least, for Julia.  What will she remember?  I don’t know.  What does she remember about last year’s social studies class?  Which makes the most sense for her?  Which can I best create for her?

When I first thought about this, I wondered if we could move somewhere where I could find art and music instruction for Julia and take on the rest of her education through homeschooling. I can’t home school.  We will always do lots of work together-in the summer we do math, reading, comprehension, therapeutic exercise and cello on most days— but trained teachers bring insight and experiences that I cannot replicate. There is an online alternative in the Madison schools that I can check out but I think that would be like homeschooling plus guidance.  Right now, I imagine a place that provides lots of hands on experiences for academics, art and music. She does best in small groups and thrives with some individual support.  A friend suggested that I also look at traveling with someone, like a grad student or a retired teacher, who could be Julia’s tutor.  At first, I rejected the idea outright—could I ever find someone I liked and could afford?  But it bears thinking about, getting the idea out there and seeing how it develops.

Updates, good and no so good:  Last week, Julia joined a visiting friend and I to see a stage version of Pride and Prejudice.  Julia enjoyed it.  She was interested in what happened to the people, especially Lizzy and although the kiss at the end was “ucky,” she clapped with the rest of us.  Julia is in a 2-week swim class in a class that is teaching her the breast stroke and side stroke. There are nine kids with two instructors which seems like the norm for that many kids.  She had no assigned aide or individual support.  She is not 100% compliant and she talks more than the other kids, but it is another foray into typical-kid instruction/camp.  It is day 3 and going reasonably well.  On the other hand, Julia is scratching and picking at the back of her head.  She is losing hair and there is a growing bald spot.  This is not new behavior but it had disappeared for awhile.  A tiny bit of steroid medication seemed to help for a long time but no more. I put her in my bed last night, cut her nails very, very short, had her wear gloves.  She is sitting in the front seat of the car.  All this to attempt to prevent further damage — it will take months to grow back.  One problem is that she cannot see what she has done-the bald spot is now almost impossible to cover up with other hair.  I took pictures of it and it will be the home page picture on her ipad.  I have no idea if that will help.

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