I am cleaning up the kitchen after family suppers, and our Spanish daughter-for-the-year is sitting at the counter. Her Chrome book is out, and her head phones are off her head. My mind is mulling over mundane, random thoughts, like wondering if I should be “really” cleaning the counter with soap, or if the water wipe down is sufficient? Is there supper in the fridge for tomorrow? Who will be home for eating anyway? Is the basketball team playing?
Suddenly, over these oh-so-important musings, my attention is grabbed by a cheery voice: “And then, after that part of the digestion track, the food particles travel further…”
It’s “Human Body Systems”, a class that seemed perfectly tailored for our special guest this year. She is fascinated by medical things. She watches videos on You Tube (in any one of the four languages she’s fluent in), soaking in facts and tidbits. And I know that because, suddenly, out of nowhere, she’ll share these strange little knowledge bites. I’ve learned to be prepared to expect literally anything when she says, “Jill, did you know…”
Our high school offers a tremendous variety of classes, far beyond anything that I would have expected from my small town so many years ago (emphasis on the “many, many years ago” if you ask the teenagers who live in our house). Science was biology one, biology two, chemistry one and, I think, chemistry two.
A quick glance at our course listing shows a much broader list. There is a whole section called “Health and Bio-Medical Courses” included in the Science Department: bio-medical innovation; human growth and development; medical interventions; medical terminology; nutrition; human body systems; biomedical science; global science; environmental science and policy; wildlife ecology and management; physics; chemistry; advanced biology; advanced placement physics; even “independent study” if you want to chart your own experience, under the guidance of the student.
Our Spanish daughter-for-the-year enjoys science. When she arrived, she declared herself “confused” about why sports seemed so important for “school”. She emphatically stated that she was here to “go to school for a year”. If I insisted that she do a sport, she would do it–because she “follows the rules”. But she didn’t really come here to play soccer, she said. She was here to learn.
It’s a fun project, the day you go as a parent to register your child at our high school. I’ve worked with all three of my own children now–and sat with about twelve exchange students at this point. Every single child approaches this novelty in their own way. Our first son charted out his entire four-years right at the beginning. He focused on getting everything he can for college, and availed himself of every opportunity to earn college credit as a high schooler.
Others I’ve helped have approached high school with the same level of determination–but opposite idea of how they need to spend their time. Instead, they have a goal perhaps generously described as “finding a balance”. They look at what they need to graduate, and then look more for stuff that appeals to them. I’ve watched them explore their interests in photography, enjoy an extra physical education class, experience ceramic making and expand their foreign language skills.
I watch as our Spanish daughter-for-the-year carefully draws out parts of the body. She diligently looks up the correct names, then duly labels them on her paper. She is engrossed, clicking the mouse to go back and re-watch several times, until she finds exactly what she needs. When I am done cleaning up, she is still at the countertop, still working away on the same assignment.
Meanwhile, our second son is enjoying his time on his X-Box.
Like many high school seniors in our town, he’s completed all the necessary classes required for graduation. He has chosen his final year’s classes thinking about what would be needed for college–and what interests him (and his friends). This semester, he has a debate and argumentation class, a drawing class and television production. Happily, he, too, likes his classes this semester. None of these classes really give homework–which suits his idea of how life should be just fine.
So many options, so much learning, so many different decisions on how to proceed… and their young lives are just beginning to have those freedoms.
I’m happy that we are preparing them for life this way. They only have a few million more choices to make after graduation!
Jill Stahl Tyler is parent to four kids this year, a college sophomore, a high school senior and sophomore, and an eighth grader. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment. Contact her at email@example.com.