Educational Excellence in a Personal Environment

That is the motto of the University of West Georgia, which we visited last weekend, and is also in line with our family’s values.  They have one of the few residential early-college entrance programs in the country. These programs are designed for gifted high school students who are not sufficiently challenged in their home high school.

Even though it is a medium-sized state university, every staff member, including the president himself,  is required to teach at least one undergraduate class per year. To us, that clearly demonstrated the commitment to the personal environment; there are no administrators sitting in offices, ignorant of the “real world” of student life. The president, Dr. Sethna, is passionate about the early college program, known as the Advanced Academy, and the students who are part of it. He encourages many of them to collaborate on research with their professors, and some high school students have the opportunity to present papers at national professional meetings.

The Advanced Academy students that we met seemed to be much like our son – bright, discontented with high school, a little bit geeky, and eager to face the academic challenges of college classes at an early age.

univwga-picThe academic experience appeared wonderful, while the buildings themselves were…not. I am inspired by beautiful surroundings, and 1970’s era brick buildings are not my idea of beauty. But, as my son pointed out, he doesn’t care about the  buildings, and he’s the one who would be living there.

So, what’s not to like about a high school experience where the students are among the nation’s brightest, are taught college level courses in small, seminar style classes by full professors, and who graduate high school effectively as college juniors, often with wonderful scholarship opportunities?

It is four hours away from our house.

My then-16 year old would move away from home before he even learns how to drive.

I tear up just thinking about it. We would only have 16 more months of life together as a family as we now know it.

But, what is the cost of keeping him here? For no choice is without a cost, and a decision to keep him here is a decision to close doors for him that might not open again.

Can we offer him a stimulating, excellent education with peers like himself while still keeping him at home? We’ve been trying, but the options are few and looking less promising all the time.

One alternative we have just discovered is an online classical school. It offers classes in line with our educational philosophy that he could not get anywhere locally. The online school offers educational excellence, but is it a personal environment? Depends on how you define it, I guess.

The wonders of modern technology would allow him to take classes in real time and hold discussions with the teacher and a small group of students during class. They can share written material via an online whiteboard and comment on each other’s work.  It’s almost as good as really being there. Almost.

But there are no friends to eat lunch with or to hang out with on the weekends, except in the virtual chat rooms. No sports or clubs with friends from class.

Virtual friendships are great, but everyone needs some friends with skin on.

And I need some more time with my son at home.

Choices, choices. Wish life didn’t have to be so hard.

Choices are the hinges of destiny.

Pythagoras