As my 25 year high school reunion approaches, I’m thinking about how our world has changed over the years. One of my prized graduation gifts was a huge, silver boombox that probably weighed 10 pounds…complete with radio, stereo sound, and cassette player. It provided hours of enjoyment through college and beyond.   boombox2

And now my 12 year old walks around with his Ipod touch in his pocket, downloading music instantly and volunteering to order pizza for dinner for the sheer joy of being able to do it with his wifi connection.

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that we were wrestling last spring with finding the appropriate educational experience for our now 10th grader. The choices in our small city are fairly limited and none were just the right fit. What did not occur to us at the time was that the same technology that has made my boombox obsolete and made Facebook a household word has also transformed the face of education. No longer are we limited to schools and teachers that are within driving distance. With an inexpensive computer and an internet connection, the whole world is literally opened up to us.

This year, my son is enrolled in Veritas Scholar’s Academy, an online school with live, interactive classes. His instructors and classmates live from Hawaii to Bermuda, and everywhere in between. At first I was leery of the concept of online classes, and didn’t think of it as “real” school.  I couldn’t imagine how a teacher would explain a complex algebra problem online. Until I learned about the digital scribe. This special tool allows someone to work a problem on paper as it is simultaneously appearing on the computer screen. Thus, the kids can take turns working problems and the teacher can see exactly what they are doing.

What about class discussions, I wondered? Never fear; each student has a speaker and microphone. Debates have been an almost daily occurrence in his rhetoric class.

Because each class meets twice a week with study time in between, his schedule is much like that of a college student. He can’t miss the bus in the morning, but he can still oversleep and miss class. He may not see his classmates face to face, but he gets to interact daily with people from all over the country.  The online option has allowed him to continue studying the subjects that interest and challenge him under some of the best teachers and without having to move away from home or break the bank.

I walked by him yesterday during what I knew was a class period. I heard nothing and he was looking at a book. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class?” I asked. “Yeah, we’re working on homework right now,” he replied. Right then, I heard a young lady ask,        “Mrs. S., I don’t understand this …”

And it hit me…it IS “real” school, and this is one of its new faces.

I never understood before how the parents of young Olympic athletes in our country could fathom allowing their child to move away from home while still a child, live in a dorm with other highly driven and dedicated athletes, and only visit their families a few times a year. Now, we were not blessed with gifted athletes in our family, so it was always just an academic discussion, a “what-if” scenario where my husband and I were sure that we would never make those choices for our children. Family is too important and the gold medal too elusive — the cost was just too high. Well, you know what they say about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes….

We still do not have an Olympic-caliber athlete in our home, but we do have a brilliant young son who has hit an academic wall of sorts; the kind of wall every mother thinks she wants to face. When I called the guidance counselor to explain that he just didn’t feel challenged in his honors classes, she responded, “Well, that’s a great problem to have. That’s wonderful!” Only it isn’t. It means that he faces the very real possibility of being unchallenged for 3-1/2 more years before college. That he could cave to the pressure of the masses and just stop caring, never to be all that he is capable of becoming.

So, how do we stave off this potential disaster and help him find a way to stretch himself and his mind? We have met with the teachers and guidance counselor, but their solution seems to be to let him continue on the current path. After all, he is making A’s, so why are we complaining? Also, their hands are tied by local regulations so they can’t let him skip ahead without extensive and expensive testing which they seem unwilling to do.  The other students are already calling him “the kid who knows everything” because of his great vocabulary. He insists that he doesn’t; that there is plenty left for him to learn, but it falls on deaf ears when he appears light years ahead of the rest of them.

He needs a peer group of students who love learning as much as he does and who can feel the thrill of the academic challenge. And where can we find that for him? One option we are seriously considering is an early-college entrance program. There are only a handful of programs like this in the country, where gifted high school juniors and seniors enroll in a particular college, but all live together in a dorm just for them, with more restrictions than the regular college students but all of the academic opportunities.

Yes, I have shed many a tear over this, wrestling with the idea that my first-born may be leaving home two years sooner than we expected. He has a close relationship with us and with his brother and sister, so it would be a tough transition. It’s all still in the discussion stages – no bags packed yet-but when I watched the promo video for this program, I knew. When he watched it, his face lit up. His dad got excited about all of the opportunities it would offer him. Next week, we will attend a Preview Day to get a taste of life on campus.

It’s not a done deal yet. But in my heart, I’m sympathizing with all the parents of young Olympic athletes out there. I get it now – they didn’t make those hard choices for their kids; the children chose because it was who they were created to be. Having a child with an exceptional gift or talent is certainly a blessing, but helping them to find the right outlet to refine their skills can be a bittersweet experience.