Our Five Ring Circus: Why We Started Homeschooling Our Teenager

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Why We Started Homeschooling Our Teenager

Why I Started Homeschooling My Teenager

Although I'm now homeschooling four kids, homeschooling is not a new concept to me. This past Fall, we pulled our then 14 year old son out of the public school he had been attending since Kindergarten, and enrolled him in Cyber School.  It was a bit of an adjustment for us, but it's a method that works well for him at this time. 

I wasn't quite ready to take full responsibility for educating a teenager, so we opted to have him do online schooling after doing our research and reaching out to other parents. Managing his education, making sure he gets PE and outside learning experiences, encouraging hobbies, and allowing him to lead a normal social life (until social distancing happened) is my responsibility. It wasn't a decision we made lightly. We really wished he could continue in our school district, but it just wasn't working for him, and we knew in our hearts that we had to make changes.

There are many factors that led us to this decision, which I will finally share with you. After several months, we are starting to see little steps in the right direction, so we know we made the right decision. Little did we know when we embarked on this path that we would have 3 other kids joining him at home months later!

Dylan was always a bright kid. He was smart and creative, and he never had to study in the lower grades. When he moved into 5th grade, however, we started to see him struggle. Good grades weren't coming as easily as they had before, despite his determination to learn and his willingness to ask for help. Dylan is an exceptionally kind, friendly, and loving person, and he had an impact on all of his teachers. They all loved him, and they worked with us to help him succeed. 

The struggles just seemed to keep getting worse, though, so in 7th Grade, we asked for a meeting with his principal, guidance counselor, and teachers. Nothing really came from it, other than us being told that some kids are just average, and that's okay. Only one teacher suggested that he might have some concentration issues. She was the teacher who worked the hardest with him, and actually helped him bring his grade up in her class.

To appease us, the school district did a simple evaluation, and asked us to give the results to his pediatrician. The evaluation didn't really show many red flags, and we were told to just keep watch. As his parents, we KNEW him, and we knew something was causing him to struggle. As we watched 90% of his 8th grade class stand up with honors at graduation, our hearts felt very heavy, and we could tell how much it bothered him.

In September, high school began, and with it came much more responsibility. Dylan started 9th grade strong, and absolutely loved it. Within a few weeks, his grades started to plummet in several classes. We reached out to his guidance counselor several times through emails and phone calls, and never received a response. His Spanish teacher was the only one who reached out to us regularly, and she gave Dylan the extra help he needed. 

By the end of the first month of high school, Dylan was feeling very down about his grades in half of his classes. As his parents, we were feeling lost as well, and didn't know how to help him. I graduated at the top of my class, and earning good grades was a breeze for me. I was frustrated over his inability to focus and my inability to help him. We knew we had to do something, but we weren't quite sure what we could do for him!

Soon enough, we got the push we needed to change the course of his education...

I never shared the real reason behind our decision, because I didn't want to speak badly about the school district that is such a perfect fit for our other children. Months have passed, and the questions are still coming in. I finally reached the point where I feel that it's okay to discuss publicly. I still love our school district, but I'm very unhappy with the way this situation was handled at the high school.

Dylan is one of those kids who never got into trouble at school. He never had so much as a warning through his entire academic career. On behavior charts, he was always in the green. Behavior was never a concern, and all of his teachers told us that they wished they had more kids like Dylan in their class.

Dylan was once pulled into the principal's office in middle school for questioning over a bathroom incident, along with several other kids, but he was dismissed. The principal called to let me know that he had spoken to Dylan, and that Dylan seemed very nervous, which was suspicious, but they found out he had nothing to do with it. OF COURSE he was nervous - he had never been called to the principal's office before! That's just Dylan. He's a typical teenager, but he always aims to please, and he respects his elders.

The incident that led to us withdrawing him from school happened during week four of high school. At that point, Dylan was struggling in several classes, but working hard to try to improve. During lunch one morning, Dylan was sitting with his friends. His best friend, who was sitting across the table, asked him for a grape. Instead of handing it over, Dylan tossed it across the table to his friend, and a teacher caught him, and wrote him up for inappropriate behavior. Later that day, he was called to the vice principal's office. 

I know what you're thinking. This story is going to lead to a detention or two. But this is where it took a turn that led to homeschooling.

I received the phone call just as I was putting Coen down for a nap. I tiptoed out of the room, and answered the phone, expecting it was the school nurse calling to tell me that Dylan was sick. Nope. It was the vice principal, calling to tell me that he had Dylan in his office. My heart sank, and I braced to myself to hear something terrible that he had finally done.

A list of things went through my head - skipping class, getting into a fight, vaping. I never expected his offense to be a thrown grape. Truthfully, I almost laughed when he read "Dylan was caught tossing a grape across the table to another student" from the write up slip. We hold our children accountable for their actions, and they know there are consequences for bad choices. This was definitely considered a bad choice, but it was a little bit funny that he was getting in trouble for tossing a grape. Honestly, I was RELIEVED that this was Dylan's bad choice at school, and not something worse!

As he moved onto the punishment portion, with Dylan in the room, and the phone on speakerphone, I fully expected, and supported a detention. But what came next made me fall into a stunned silence. I couldn't even process what was being said to me, and I basically hung up the phone with just a few last words. Dylan's punishment for tossing a grape across the table, instead of handing it over, was IN SCHOOL SUSPENSION. 

I called to tell my husband what had happened, and he initially had the same reaction as me, until I told him the punishment. He wanted to see the write up slip as soon as Dylan came home, because he felt like there was more to the story, so I snapped a picture and sent it to him. It was just that one simple sentence, along with Unacceptable Action written below it in another person's handwriting, and circled. His best friend confirmed that he had asked for one of Dylan's grapes, and instead of leaning across two people and handing it to him, Dylan nonchalantly tossed it to him.

Dylan was completely defeated and embarrassed, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, the punishment phase moves quickly, and the following day, he had to go around to each of his teachers to tell them that he received ISS, and get work for the following day. My husband and I had a very difficult time talking to Dylan about the incident. We believed he should have received some form of punishment for making a bad decision, but we didn't feel like the punishment fit the crime.

Dylan asked us if we thought the punishment was fair, and we answered with a heartfelt no, but there was nothing we could do since ISS would be happening soon. Looking back, we should have kept him home until it was resolved, but this was a first for us. All we knew was that it felt wrong. We didn't stand up for him.

We aren't the parents who cause friction. We never faced a situation like this before. Instead of sticking up for our child, and letting our thoughts be known that afternoon, we just went with the decision. In that moment, we failed our son. I can admit that now. 

We weren't the only people who thought it was wrong. Our families agreed. Our friends agreed. Grant's coworkers were appalled.  I contacted friends who are/were principals and guidance counselors, and even sent them a picture of the write up slip, and they thought it was very extreme.

As the hours passed, my anger intensified. I called and emailed his guidance counselor. I let her know my concerns over this extreme punishment, and again, asked for help with him. By the end of the following morning, I still hadn't received a reply. It was time to call the vice principal about the punishment.

When I spoke to the vice principal, it was very difficult to keep the emotion out of my voice, but I expressed my concerns to him, and asked him why he had to go for such a harsh punishment when there were other options available. such as warnings and detentions. I told him we felt like the punishment was too extreme for a what he did, and that he should probably take into account the fact that Dylan has never been in trouble before. He insisted he would give the same punishment to any student, whether they were a star athlete or the smartest child in the school. 

I told him I respectfully disagreed, and asked him what we could do. He explained that the punishment fit the crime because Dylan's actions could "incite a riot in the cafeteria." (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) He told me that the ninth graders were giving him a run for his money, and that they all needed to grow up. He said some of the kids had to set an example for the others by serving their punishment. I told him that we were just going to agree to disagree, and that I felt that he was very wrong with this decision.

I'm stating it again. We should have kept Dylan home from school until we had time to cool down and handle this. Instead, we sent him to school to serve his time.

It felt wrong sending him to school that morning, and I couldn't let it go. I walked away from the previous conversation feeling like I was just banging my head against the wall, and getting nowhere. I was concerned about a possible downward spiral with Dylan after this incident. I called the guidance counselor again, and emailed the head principal. Soon, another phone call came in from the vice principal, and he insisted that he had the guidance counselor in the room with him, but she never made a sound or addressed a single comment or question.

He insisted he spoke with Dylan in ISS, and he was "cool" with the punishment. I asked him what would happen if Dylan got into trouble again. If you start a punishment so high for an inappropriate action that wasn't terrible, any subsequent punishment will be harsh. The only punishment to lean on for the next time would be out of school suspension!

I also asked how Dylan's action was worse than that of a classmate who was caught skipping class that same day, and got away with a warning. I was again reminded that Dylan was very immature, and needed to set an example for the rest of his classmates. I knew then that any argument I had would be pointless, so I simply stated that this better never happen again, or I would be aiming much higher with whom I contacted.

A grape. He served In School Suspension for throwing a grape. My son was used as an example for his peers.

Do I believe Dylan did something wrong? Absolutely. Did he deserve a punishment? Yes. Did we speak to him about the incident? Of course. Did we agree with the punishment? Absolutely not. 

When I was a teenager, ISS was a scary punishment given to the kids who did really bad things. So when did it become a fitting punishment for a child - yes, a child who is maturing, but still a child - goofing off at lunch? 

Sure enough, this did affect Dylan. He was THAT kid who got In School Suspension - for a minor offense. His confidence was gone. He stopped trying. We were LOSING him. I envisioned him on a terrible path, all because of one harmless incident. After countless more attempts at contacting the guidance counselor for help, we gave up and knew we had to pull him out of a school that didn't have his best interests in mind. He was just a number there.

We didn't make the decision hastily. Dylan continued to go to school for almost an entire month after the incident, and we watched how it played out. In those 4 weeks, the guidance counselor never responded to any of our emails or returned any of our calls. We realized that the school district that we loved so much was no longer a healthy, supportive learning environment for Dylan. We let Dylan know that we were proud of him for serving his punishment, but it was wrong, and we were wrong. We apologized to him for not standing up for him and doing the right thing. And we made the decision to bring him back to us.

Within a week, Dylan was enrolled in PA Cyber School. He had a guidance counselor who contacted us every single day. We found a psychiatrist to evaluate him. As soon as the school found out he was leaving, the head principal emailed us to find out why, and I held nothing back. She kindly offered to help him in any way she could so that he could remain a student, but it was too late. 

I don't blame the school district for what happened. I do think the vice principal made a poor decision while handing out the punishment, and was so caught up in trying to set an example for the 9th graders who needed to grow up that he didn't really consider the situation or read Dylan's file to see who he was. I will never agree with his decision, and we were never on the same page about it. I should have done more. Dylan was literally just a face in the crowd; a number on their list of students. I do, however, believe the guidance counselor failed Dylan in every single way. She did not do her job whatsoever. 

Four weeks after the incident, Dylan started cyber school. Sure enough, our concerns were legit, and Dylan was finally diagnosed with ADHD. He began to speak to a therapist twice a month, who also helped him learn how to effectively manage his schoolwork. 

We eventually made the mutual decision to try medication, and we are seeing big jumps in his grades in the classes he still struggled with. Other than online schooling, and staying home each day, the other aspects of his life haven't changed at all. Most of all, he does seem happier, and it feels like we got our son back!

As for what the future holds, we have no idea at this time whether he will return to public school at some point or just continue with cyber school until he graduates. That is something that we all will have to put a lot of thought into! I think he really likes cyber school, but also wants to possibly return to public school. Right now, cyber school/homeschooling is serving him much better than public school. We will take it day by day, and discuss it when that time comes!

Just for the record, Lexie, Lily, and Liam still go to this school district, and we love it for them. I don't think homeschooling is right for every child. It works well for Dylan, but my other three school-aged kids thrive in a school setting, and love going to school. We're learning that as we're in the midst of week 3 of homeschooling, and they HATE it. We're doing our best, but there is no way this would work well long-term for them or for me!

Our experience at the high school was far from good, and I sure hope it's different when Lexie gets there in two years. One thing I've learned is that it's okay to fight for my children when I feel something is wrong, even if it will create tension. We taught our children to stand up for themselves and others, yet I didn't fight hard enough for Dylan. Maybe it's because I've never had to do it before, but I learned a valuable lesson during all of this.

We taught our children principles and morals, but they are children, and they make mistakes. Yes, they will always be held accountable for their mistakes. They know we have high expectations for them. A punishment of some sort was necessary, but in this instance, it was taken too far.

In the end, I think the three of us made the best decision regarding Dylan's education. Sometimes change needs to happen, and that incident was the push we needed to make those changes for Dylan, and get him on the right path again! So much good has come from the move to a homeschooling environment. I wish he didn't have to go through years of struggling, or be embarrassed by that harsh punishment at the start of his high school career, but as human beings, we have to learn how to adapt and change. Dylan did just that, and came out stronger. 

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Did you/do you homeschool? If so, why did you choose it for your child(ren)?

Homeschooling Teenagers


  1. For the record- if it was a nonchalant toss as described, I truly think anything more than a warning would have been too extreme!! Hell, my husband and I occasionally do stuff like this and we are functioning members of society! I'm so glad you found a better fit for Dylan and even though you regret not standing up against the crazy school admin sooner, you are teaching your kids a valuable lesson by taking accountability for that and apologizing!

  2. This story is just unbelievable. I think you did the right thing. As a parent of two teens, sometimes you wonder "what were they thinking?" But to get such a severe punishment for something so silly is just ridiculous. I have spent lots of time volunteering (selling tickets etc) in the high school cafeteria and I see many things much worse than a grape being thrown! Hang in there!

  3. Wow! I think this was very extreme punishment. I think that you guys tried so hard to fight for him and certain school staff members failed him. Cyber school has been great for my twins. We enrolled them in grade 8 and they are graduating from it this year. My little one though really is hating being schooled at home right now. She really enjoys that active classroom full of kids and teachers. Doing it online is just not the same for her.

  4. Wow! We homeschool our three boys and thankfully nothing like this ever happened as a catalyst; we just thought it would be a better fir for our family. I have heard similar stories from other homeschooling parents though and it always amazes me.

  5. I am sorry but in school suspension for throwing a grape across the table is ridiculous. Maybe detention or a warning, but suspension, NO. I totally get why you guys decided to take him out of high school.

  6. Some schools districts and or private schools will work with you to homeschools some subjects. We looked in to that with our son. For example, the one Christian school we spoke with said that they would work with us in math and Spanish and we could home school the rest of the other subjects. Just another idea to put out there.

  7. Man he should have received a warning or write up at the most. That is ridiculous! I'm so glad homeschool is working out for him!

  8. Holy crap. Stefanie...I was ENRAGED reading this! How absurd! I've heard of some ridiculous things in my life, but that's awful. That's just shaming Dylan for the sake of using him as a scapegoat. Ugh. It makes my skin crawl. You are fantastic parents for doing what is best for him and starting him in Cyber School <3

  9. Honestly, for throwing a grape in the lunch room? I would say a warning at most. People are doing way worst things, for worse reasons. ISS is just wayyy past what should have happened. That's crazy! I'm glad Dylan is doing well in cyber school though and it's great you all have a diagnosis of ADHD so he can get more of the help he needs!


  10. I am happy you were able to do what has worked for Dylan. I am sorry you all had to go through all of this!


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