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Here’s why I decided a hybrid school was the right option for my teenage daughter.

I worked full-time when I had both of my children. Fortunately, I had the luxury of going back to work on a part-time basis because I wanted to spend more time with my babies. I established a routine during my 12 weeks of maternity leave so that while I was away they napped, ate lunch, had a little play time and napped again. Since my mother was the one who cared for them in my absence I was able to assuage my guilt of leaving them knowing they were spending time with their Nana and I was missing minimal milestones, or at least milestones that my mom could photograph or video record.

I breastfed them and pumped in my office and convinced myself that the time I spent away from them was healthy for both of us. With each of them that lasted about a year until I was ready to go back full-time with a clear conscience and the comfort of that first year bond I had established. After all, that was the most important year of their life, right?

My son breezed through elementary school in a typical fashion with play dates, video games and sports practices. Middle school was an adjustment but he excelled, made lots of friends and participated in extracurricular activities. High school has also been somewhat routine with the exception of a medical diagnosis. He has maintained some of those elementary school friendships, got a steady girlfriend, a part-time job, and life now consists of music, working out and Netflix with some homecoming dances and the occasional party thrown in. We’ve always been extremely close and he’s quick to let me know when something is wrong. He tries not to take life too seriously resulting in an almost permanent smile on his face and, whether it’s because he’s a boy or because he’s so laid back and easy going, isn’t bothered by other people’s opinion of him.

And then there’s my second born – my daughter.

I first noticed the difference between the school experience for the two kids when she was in kindergarten. I picked her up from school and she was in tears. Apparently another little girl on the playground had asked her why she was so fat. Fat! My daughter was well within the pediatric guidelines for growth percentiles, both in height and weight, but she carried the tiniest bit of belly fat. I was heartbroken for her and that night we talked about not only body image but the difference between being honest and being rude. I was happy she had forgotten all about it by the next morning while I continued to seethe every time I visited her school and saw “that girl.” Little did I know then how much worse it would get and how cruel kids could be.

By third grade we had had our consistent share of girl drama. It was so completely foreign to me, having had a son who never once came home from school upset that a classmate was ignoring him or that he didn’t get invited to a birthday party. By the time she was 9 years old, I was encouraging her to spend recess with boys because they were so much easier to get along with. Sometimes she was on the receiving end of the silent treatment but sometimes she was the initiator. She had learned that practice from her peers and felt it was the normal thing to do. We spent countless nights talking about who was mad at who and who was invited to a sleepover and who got left out. It was exhausting! It had been so easy with her brother and I felt I was doing everything exactly the same.

I continued to reiterate what being a good friend was and the behavior that I expected as a member of our family but by fifth grade the drama reached an all-time high. As hormone levels skyrocketed and friends became enemies overnight, there were now more serious issues being brought into the mix. Girls started “dating” boys, which basically meant hanging out at the local baseball field, but body image now included who was menstruating or had pubic hair and this information was shared with the boys. Some girls were being humiliated for being “flat chested” and others were already being labeled as “easy” — not by the boys, but by their female classmates. In fifth grade! It was at this time that I began to wonder if it was like this everywhere and started doing some research.

What I found was eye-opening! Behavior like this was rampant through the country and with the inclusion of social media it was so much worse than anything ever experienced before. With all the common apps like Music.ly, Snapchat and Instagram, our kids, particularly the girls, were being forced to grow up at an alarming rate if they wanted to keep up with their friends.

It was then that I realized she needed me in her life more now than ever – much more than she’d needed me that first year of life.

When her sixth grade year finished and we had covered topics her friends were experiencing like eating disorders and suicidal thoughts I decided to hit PAUSE. My daughter has always been a bit of a mother hen. In fact, I recall taking her for a walk around the neighborhood when she was 4 years old and we came upon an 8 or 9 year old skateboarding up and down his driveway.  She was so concerned this little boy was lost she walked up to him and said, “Sweetie are you alone? Where’s your mommy or daddy?” I about died laughing!

And here we were 8 years later, her overwhelming compassion for others causing her to worry endlessly, unable to process why her one friend would want to end her life and why another was starving herself. It was too much for her and in no way was I about to send her to the local middle school where the behavior and subject matters would get increasingly worse. I wanted to scoop her up and carry her around with me in a baby sling all over again! It was time to get back to the basics and since my upper body strength wasn’t what it used to be carrying her around was no longer an option.

hybrid school

Fortunately, I found the perfect solution in the form of a hybrid school.

With so many choices on educational institutes these days, from traditional public schools to charter to parochial and home schools, it’s fairly easy to choose a school that works for your student and your family.

I just want to reiterate that I am not anti-public school – my son has excelled at our neighborhood public schools. I’m thankful I was able to go a different route for my daughter though, who needs something a little more customized, at least for these next few years. The traditional, public middle school worked well for my son, as it does for a majority of young teens. But I realized that one size doesn’t fit all and in this case, I don’t think it would have fit my sensitive daughter.

A hybrid school is what we chose for her and it’s been a great fit. A hybrid school is one where the students attend 2 to 3 days a week, with the other days consisting of home instruction. The teachers and parents partner and share the responsibility of delivering the curriculum and giving them tools for future success. It’s a great option for kids that excel in a certain activity such as soccer or performing arts so they have the freedom to purse those potentially professional passions while still receiving the benefit of a classroom environment.

For us it means that I get to spend more time with my daughter when she needs me most.  Since our hybrid school is Christian based we get to spend time focusing on servant leading and have time for volunteering and helping extended members of our family in times of need. We read history together, learning about the influence of religion in art and literature. We practice Latin, work on math problems she may be having trouble with and read books together like A Wrinkle in Time and Prince Caspian.  We have discussions about current events, pop culture and Shawn Mendes.

What we don’t have with a hybrid school is drama. None! I don’t know if it’s because her class sizes are small or the ages are varied or because she wears a uniform — it really doesn’t matter. I’m just happy the drama is gone! It works for our family because we are succeeding in returning to the basics and eliminating the distractions since I have more control over what happens on a daily basis. Since I have the flexibility of working remotely when needed I can choose for her home instruction to be in our pj’s at the kitchen table or at my office in the adjoining room.

Yes, she will eventually enter high school and be faced with all those issues we are lucky enough to be avoiding right with the hybrid school setup, but she will be a few years older and better equipped to handle them. She will have had more time to establish her personal boundaries and principles without the pressure of trying to fit in with her peers. She will have avoided distractions so as to have more time to develop her self-esteem and self-worth. And she will have had more time with me during this critical period of her life, arming her with the tools needed to navigate her teen years and come through with minimal damage. While this hybrid school middle-school option would have never benefited my son, it has done wonders for my daughter. I encourage parents to research the types of schools available and choose the best fit for their students.

hybrid school Candice Hodge

Candice Hodge is a mother of 2. She was raised in a small beach town in Florida and returned shortly after graduating from college. Her MBA led her to many years as a consultant in the wireless industry but her passion for both children and volunteering steered her into the non-profit sector. There she enjoys the balance and flexibility of meeting the needs of her clients with meeting the needs of her family and community. Her interests and hobbies are diverse, from gardening and playing with her backyard chickens to having epic rap battles with her kids and going to wine club.

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