It wasn’t the easiest decision I’ve ever made. But it was a necessary one.
My social butterfly of a daughter is being homeschooled for 6th grade, and I don’t feel like I had any other choice.
She flourished in her tiny, safe elementary school. We were so lucky. In a school of approximately 250 students — two classes per grade — everyone knew everyone, and that served her very well!
When she was a toddler, I didn’t see how she’d ever be able to attend public school. Or private school for that matter. Any school with her allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts) present seemed too dangerous. She had anaphylactic reactions to just trace amounts of dairy, and whenever dairy residue got on her skin would immediately cause her to break out in hives.
Putting my extremely dairy-allergic 5-year-old into a school with a bunch of other 5-year-olds drinking milk and eating cheese sticks and pizza at lunch scared the bejeezus out of me!
But I wanted to see if it was even an option. At least our local school was small, right? I met with the nurse and guidance counselor of the school when Jillian was just 3-years-old and explained her situation. They were extremely nice and optimistic. They had never had a child with such severe allergies as Jillian, but I could tell they were more than willing to make every accommodation they could to keep her safe and happy.
This is where I’ll stress the importance of a 504 Plan for your allergic child entering into school. It really was the one thing that we could all go back to to see how things should be run, what was working and what was not. If you’re not sure how to go about starting a 504 Plan, or even what one is, I’ve outlined all that for you here.
Oh, I could tear up easily looking at that Kindergarten picture… My baby girl is 11 now, in 6th grade… and I’m 8 months pregnant. Not a good combo if you’re trying to emotionally keep it together.
Let’s move on.
Without going into all the details I possibly could, I will just say that Jillian sailed through elementary school, with barely a hiccup! Her allergies were a minimal problem (I’ve addressed a couple minor issues in my 504 Plan blog), and overall, she just blossomed!
In fact, at the end of 5th grade, this past June, she won the Service Above Self award among all 5th graders for being kind, thoughtful, helpful and just an awesome kid! (That last part is my interpretation.) She really was loved at that school, not only by teachers and staff, but by her fellow students, who always went out of their way to make sure she was not only safe, but included. A very important thing for allergy kiddos.
It was hard to leave her little elementary school by the bay. She cried. I cried. Teachers cried. Emotional is an understatement for her last week there.
And now we’ve ventured into middle school territory. We all know how rough middle school can be in general. Fights, bullying, self-esteem issues. Thinking back on my own middle school years makes me shudder. But, for as rough as it can be on the ego, it’s not always bad for kids to experience that. They learn who to trust and who not to. They toughen up a bit. They figure out what’s right and what’s wrong, and they begin to make their own important decisions about who their friends really are, and what kinds of activities they’ll participate in. I truly do think there is a lot of value in being exposed to situations that may be unsavory, in order to challenge them to come out on top. Use your upbringing to decide that you will not be peer pressured and bullied into doing anything you don’t want to do.
That being said, food allergy bullying is another story completely.
It’s not that I think middle schoolers would intentionally set out to hurt Jillian. But their brains aren’t developed enough to understand that what they perceive as a simple prank (i.e. sprinkling cheese on her lunch while she’s not looking, or smearing peanut butter on her backpack) could absolutely kill her. In a matter of minutes. Heck, that’s hard enough for plenty of adults to understand!
Unfortunately, the middle schools here are already known as “rough” schools. Our protected little gem of an elementary school funnels into a big, scary middle school, full of fights and bullies I’ve heard enough stories about already!
No, I just can’t take the chance. The bullying is the biggest thing for me, but it’s not all about that. It’s a huge school — over 1,000 students. She would be lost among staff. And my baby girl can’t chance being lost. It’s unfortunate, but she needs a close eye on her. At least for a few more years, until she’s really old enough to handle everything on her own.
I’ve been told, for the past few years as we approached middle school age, “Don’t even think about sending her there.” By teachers, guidance counselors, nurses… I have to trust them. One “mistake” could be the end of her life. And I will not take that chance.
There are no schools nearby that I completely trust to keep her safe, so that left us with one option: homeschool.
I work from home (like I’m doing right now), and if you combine that with a baby due in September, I knew I couldn’t be the one to be in charge of her schooling. I also was hesitant about joining homeschool groups, for the same reason I’m keeping her out of public school. I just don’t trust everyone with her allergies. I know there are plenty of people who do understand, and we’ve been blessed with so many of them already in our lives, but the thought of trying to find a safe group for her to join just sent me over the already-overwhelmed edge.
She likes being at home anyway, helping me out. She wanted to be around to help with the baby, too. She’s so excited to be a big sister (again), she’s even made a spot in her room for the baby’s crib!
That’s why we decided that online virtual school was the best option for her.
Since we’re in Florida, she’s using Florida Virtual School, and it’s going really well! We’re only two weeks in at this point, but we’re starting to get the hang of it. As with anything new, there’s a learning curve. I was so overwhelmed trying to get her organized the week before classes started, I literally spent hours and hours watching welcome videos, how-to videos, reading teacher emails, pouring over the site… just to try and get a handle on exactly what would be expected of her on a day to day and week to week basis.
I’ll be honest — the first week was a bit rough. Some things were easier than I expected, some were a lot harder. I had to email teachers asking for simple explanations of how to do the lessons, “Does she watch this video? Or that video? Before the lesson or after?”
And I knew it would be different. Any kind of middle school experience is bound to be quite a bit different than elementary. Suddenly you have multiple teachers, one for each subject, and they all have their own specific way of doing things. It’s an adjustment for everyone. Throw in that it’s your first time doing online classes of any sort, and you’ve got the makings for a chaotic first week.
This second week has been easier, thank goodness. She knows what’s expected, for the most part, and she’s starting to get in a groove of getting started on her own and only asking me for help when she gets stuck on something.
I just hope things continue to get smoother and smoother, because we have a baby due to arrive in a couple weeks, and lord knows that’ll just make things downright crazy!