The state of Oregon has set an ambitious goal to graduate 100 percent of high school students by the year 2025. OPB is following more than two dozen six and seven-year-olds who are in the class of 2025. For the next twelve years, OPB aims to follow these students, in school and at home. These are some of their stories from first grade.
Ethan likes to make his mother laugh. It’s 10:30 a.m. on a sunny spring day, and they’re walking to the neighborhood community center.
The shy, sweet seven-year old leans in to his mom, Melissa Seamon, as they walk.
“If I burp into my coat, it’s not rude because it’s like covering my mouth,” he says. He proves his point by uttering a tiny burp.
Seamon tussles Ethan’s sandy hair. “You crack me up, bud.” Ethan beams, and then muffles seven more burps into his armpit. Seamon says he’s a well-behaved kid. He helps out a lot with his three-year-old sister. He loves Legos, video games, and reading. His favorite book is his children’s Bible, which always sits on the corner of his desk at home.
They’re walking to the community center so that Ethan can do schoolwork outside. Ethan is home-schooled, and on sunny days Seamon likes to have “class” in the fresh air. Usually, Ethan works at a small desk in the living room of their trailer home.
Ethan is among the more than 20,000 students in Oregon who are home-schooled. That’s nearly twice as many students who are home schoolers than there were in Oregon in 2000. Parents choose home-schooling for a number of reasons: health, social, religious. Often, they want more control of their child’s education.
“You gotta do at least a couple of pages, and then you can play for a little bit,” says Seamon. Ethan is carrying a black binder that contains his lessons for the day.
They pick a shady spot in the grass, situated between the East Portland Community Center and the field of Floyd Light Middle School. Ethan wants to do his reading lesson first. Seamon gives him a lot of flexibility with school; she doesn’t care what order he does his work, as long as he gets it done.
Ethan opens his workbook and reads the passage of the day. It’s an excerpt from Genesis, about God’s creation. Seamon is teaching Ethan through a program called Accelerated Christian Education.
“On the first day God created dark and the light,” he traces the words as he reads.
Choosing To Home-School
Ethan started school at Earl Boyles Elementary last year. Seamon liked the school and his teachers, but she says Ethan was made fun of for praying before lunch. When Seamon went to watch a kindergarten assembly, she disapproved of how the five and six year old students were led to dance and wiggle around to pop music.
Ethan says that sometimes other students were mean to him. Seamon says he was bullied. In late spring of his kindergarten year, a student on the bus threatened Ethan. That was the final straw for Seamon. She allowed Ethan to finish kindergarten at Earl Boyles, but decided she’d home-school him from then on.
While Ethan crouches over his workbook in the grass, middle school students run on the track nearby during gym. He looks up a few times when he hears their shouts and laughter.
Ethan works through his reading comprehension lesson quickly with very little help. Most of the time, Seamon serves as more a guide than a teacher. Ethan is a quick study. He’s already finished with most of the first grade lessons, and in some subject areas, he’s into second grade. Seamon likes how home-schooling allows them to work at Ethan’s pace.
After reading, it’s time for social studies. Ethan zips through a lesson about Christian missionaries in less than ten minutes. Seamon looks over his work, and initials at the end of the lesson to mark it complete.
“Now I get to play!” says Ethan. “Mom, I’ll race you!” He sprints to the playground outside of the community center. Seamon doesn’t take the challenge.
“Will you push me on the swing?” asks Ethan.
“Will I push you on the swing?” says Seamon. “Sure.”
She repeats Ethan’s questions, not only because he has a soft, high voice, but also because she’s recovering from an ear infection that affects her hearing. This has been a difficult year for the family, in terms of health. Both Ethan and his younger sister had strep throat in the fall. In the winter, Seamon tripped over a toy and broke her ankle. Ethan fell off his bike while a friend was babysitting him and suffered a concussion. For the past ten months, at least two of the three family members have had a cold or a skin irritation at any given time.
Seamon suspects that their small trailer might have mold, and that could be the source of their health issues. But she’s worried about bringing the issue up with her property manager. Seamon doesn’t work; she receives food assistance from the federal government and the state has helped her with rent through Child Protective Services a few times. But money is tight. She’s been late on rent a few times and doesn’t want to stir things up with the landlord.
She says Ethan can tell when she’s stressed. He gives her big hugs throughout the day.
“He’s always got a big old smile on his face and he’s ready to be there,” says Seamon.
They’ve moved from the playground to the track at the school, where Ethan is playing in the dirt with a stick. A new crop of middle schoolers emerges onto the school field wearing purple shirts and gym shorts.
When Ethan is their age or a little bit older, she says she’s going to let him decide if he wants to continue with home schooling or enroll in public schools. If they stay in this neighborhood, he’d go to this school.
Seamon calls to Ethan to come away from the track.
“It’s time to get off the field,” says Seamon. “I’ve heard some bad things come out of the mouths of middle schoolers and I don’t want you hearing that.”
Ethan puts down his stick and runs to her.
“Mom? I love you,” he says. “Will you push me on the swing again?”
“I can do that, bud,” says Seamon. She says she loves him, too, and leads him under her arm back to the playground.
This project is part of American Graduate — Let’s Make It Happen! — a public broadcasting initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.