We are not actually adopting, I just didn't know a nice short way to get my point across in my subject line. :)
My husband and I live in Hawaii with our 2 y/o daughter and my 14 y/o stepdaughter lives in TX with her mother. Today her mother called and asked my husband if we would take custody of her. She is failing in school and her mother has tried everything and nothing is helping. She's at her wit's end and as a full-time-working single mom, she does not have the time needed to help DSD. She has no behavioral problems and has been evaluated and she is in every way a wonderful, caring, bright and amazing young lady who we adore and would be blessed beyond measure to have. She is just having trouble completing all of her work in school despite every measure, drastic or otherwise, that has been tried. Honestly, I think it's just too much for her as it seems to be for many children.
We have never had a teenager and while we relate to her extremely well (she visits in summer), I'm not sure how to go about helping her through a huge change like this. The biggest change of all is that I would be homeschooling her myself. Does anyone know of any good books or other resources for families who are very suddenly caring for a teenager? Any good books out there on converting a public-schooled teen to homeschooling, specifically unschooling? We are already an unschooling family with my daughter. I know the homeschooling requirements for our state.
This may all blow over and DSD may suddenly find a renewed love for school but I'd like to read up on things just in case so I have a head start before the end of the semester.
Well, I think if mom is giving her up, you should brace yourself for bigger issues than just schooling ahead of you. Honestly, I can't imagine what my teen would do if I sent her to live in a different state. She'd be SO hurt even if she loved the person she was going to. She'd also be angry at having to leave her friends, her activities, ect. It may not happen but being with a teen full-time is quite different from having them on summer vacation. I'd just be prepared for some rockier times than you've been used too.
Are the academic issues new or has school always been an issue? If they are new, well, it could be the age. Even my over-achieving 13-year-old has been majorly distracted in high school lately and let things slide in school this year. The discovery of more freedom as a teen, boys, hormones racing, ect. She's far more grounded than a lot of teens we know but it's not unusual for them to sort of let things go a bit at this age. Most seem to turn it around but it's possible this is what mom is seeing at home. If this has always been an issue, has she been evaluated for learning disabilities? I think I'd want to know this before doing any sort of schooling with her. SHE should know this too.
Based on my knowledge of unschooling, she will no longer have any academic requirements placed on her. It'll be up to her solely to continue her education correct? I know you'd offer support but it's her choice whether to continue with math education or not for example. The tricky part is when you're starting. The unschooling teens we know actually start seeking more traditional and formal education options in the high school years where your DD will just be starting as an unschooler and I suspect, will go through a pretty long period of not wanting to do anything academic at all given the choice. Do you know if she has any future ambitions and what sort of education she'll need to get there? Have you looked into college admissions as an unschooler? Do you have quality community college options should she go that route? It's certainly something unschoolers do but since you aren't getting 18 years to research and prepare for it like you would for your little one, I'd research it heavily and have all the options laid out so you DD can go into this KNOWING what all her options are and what each path would require of her should she choose.
How does mom feel about unschooling? Does she fully understand what it means? Will she be OK that her DD could choose not to continue any formal education for some time? If mom changes her mind in a year and wants her back and in traditional school, it's quite possible DD could be put back in a lower grade than age since she might not have kept up in math and science particularly. Does mom and DD understand this going in?
If you choose to homeschool her as opposed to unschool her, I'd start looking for some programs for teens that offer support in high school level courses like chemistry. I know around here we have lots of homeschooling charters that can help greatly during this particular time.
We don't do 100% unschooling, so the way it basically would work would be that I would require her to learn what she needs to complete the standardized testing. In our state, she has to take the test every two years for evaluation. As long as she passes that, she's good, so she would have to stick to basic algebra and geometry as well as proper English and spelling. Other than that, I'm lax with what she would do. She can do whatever makes her happy.
She actually wants to be an actress. She has devoted her whole life to it and wants that for a career, so I was planning on putting her in the local theater organization. She is currently going to a special high school for acting and the arts. Also, her best friend has Down Syndrome so she wants to go to college to work in social services for kids with disabilities. We have a very large college here that she can go to if she likes and I have a whole network of homeschooling/unschooling parents as well as a good friend with two teenage boys who were unschooled.
I do about 90% unschooling. The rest is closer to regular homeschool. I require learning for the tests, but I don't require "homework," assignments or take grades. Aside from the testing requirements, I provide and promote educational activities, but do not require them. If there's a particular thing she doesn't want to do, I wouldn't push it, just drop it and move on to something else. I figured she would have a period where she just didn't want to do anything, but we don't have TV or a Wii, so there isn't a lot of media-driven activities she would be doing all day.
I have already spoken to her about moving out here and she told me that she loves us, but would never want to leave her friends or her school. At this point, her mother is fed up with her, though. She wants to hand her over so that we can try something totally different. We wouldn't present DSD's schooling to her as "unschooling," especially since it isn't, really. We'll be presenting it as homeschooling. She has been tested for learning disabilities. She used to have trouble when she was very young as well. She was diagnosed with ADD and put on Ritalin, but we stopped that fast because it made her a zombie. Come to find out, she actually had a wheat allergy so once that was taken care of the problems stopped...until now.
Honestly, her behavior doesn't seem to have anything to do with being a teenager. She has also been evaluated for depression. She is fine. She just seems really tired and "done" with it all. That's why I think unschooling might help her to some degree. It will give her a break for a while and then she can take charge of the direction in which she wants her life to go, whether that is college or not or going straight into acting. My aunt (DD's godmother) is a full-time professional actress and can help.
I've always seen unschooling as an "all or nothing" sort of thing. Your talking more homeschooling which will likely work better for her at this stage. Being "tired" and "done with it all" is sort of what I mean by being a normal 13/14-year-old. Many really tune out these years due to physical and developmental stages but pull it back together at 15 and 16 when they realize adulthood is approaching.
I would certainly get her connected with professional actors and many of them. I was a professional stage manager for many years (have a degree in technical theatre and started working in the field professionally at 15.) My 13-year-old has the bug and has done a lot of professional stage acting the last 5 years or so as well as goes to arts high school and does youth and educational theatre. She's worked with many broadway artists and they all tell her the same thing... go to college, keep training. The goal isn't fame, it's being able to support yourself doing what you love. Yes, there are some who drop out of high school and make it big but the vast majority of young actors today are educated and go to college. It's insanely competitive and those interested in being theatre majors have a lot of hoops to jump through before even being accepted into one. If this is something she's serious about, I'd make sure she has a broad understanding of the field. Some regional theatres have internship or other such youth programs. My own is actually looking more into playwriting and directing than acting. She's on the student board of a major regional theatre and learning all about theatre management and the business of theatre. Something like this could be quite valuable for this girl.
I'm all for homeschooling especially when school is clearly not working for her. At her age, I'd just want her to have a clear understanding of what is ahead and what needs to happen to get where she wants. She should be aware that state exams are pretty low level and if she decides that is going to be her academic goal, than she may have troubles moving straight into the university. She may have to be prepared for junior college first. If she wants to go straight into acting, now is the time to start saving money and to build her resume.
This is going to be REALLY hard.
But, it also sounds really exciting. I think this can be a great experience for everyone.
Also, I just read that she's interested in acting. I have a friend who works on the show Hawaii 5-0, and something called "Off the map" <--no idea what that is. He also did a few episodes on "Lost".
He works with an agency called ADR
http://www.facebook.com/ADRAgency <--facebook page. It's on Oahu.
Thanks, guys! We know it will be hard if it happens. It will probably be really awful for a little while while DSD and the rest of us are adjusting. I want her here with us more than anything, but I know that she would be happier with her mom and her friends, so I hope she's able to find some way to pull herself out of this funk and take care of all of her work. If not, we'll see how things go from there.
She's not interested in fame. She just likes to act. I think she is more interested in Broadway type work and she's not expecting to get rich from it. She won an award for best actress and she is currently going to a special school for acting and the arts. It is her passion, but she is realistically wanting to go to college as well and get a degree to do social work. She's only just now turning 15, so she has plenty of time to change her mind still and find out where to go from here if she does.
I think it's really awesome that you are welcoming her into your life with arms wide open. She will be okay! It doesn't have to be "hard"....it's just going to be a change. Change happens! I bet she'll eventually feel relief that she doesn't have to put out so much useless time to learn and will then have time to do what she is really passionate about! Good Luck!