Tag Archives: 21st Century Cyber Charter School

So Many Reasons to be Thankful!



This time of year I find myself reflecting on all that I have to be grateful for. With the Thanksgiving holiday comes acknowledgement of all those blessings that we perhaps overlook or take for granted when our focus is not on thanksgiving and counting our blessings. It is perhaps a sad reality that it takes a nudge from Hallmark to get us thinking about all we take for granted. But I am grateful for a reminder to ponder on all the blessings God has bestowed upon our family.

One of those blessings is the opportunity we have had to teach our children at home for the last 14 years.

Homeschooling wasn’t a lifestyle choice we sought out. Rather, it was one that landed in our lap unexpectedly. Gracie attended a traditional “brick and mortar” public school for Kindergarten. It was a wonderful experience and we had no reason to seek out a different educational path for her (or the children that followed) and yet during the summer between her kindergarten and first grade year we began feeling prompted to look into homeschooling. This heavenly nudge scared me to death. I didn’t know the first thing about homeschooling, I had no idea where to start, and I knew everyone we love would think we were crazy, but the more I pushed off the notion of moving our child back home for school, the more God pushed back…

So, I began to research our options.

I soon discovered that the resources and support for this educational path were abundant. There were so many options and so many paths within the path of educating children at home. We finally decided to take the leap of faith. The thought that calmed my nerves was that it was only 1st grade. Surely I couldn’t mess Grace up too badly over the course of one year…It was only 1st grade.

The journey that began with such anxiety and uncertainty soon became the source of much joy and endless blessings for our children and our family as a whole. We decided to take the path of cyber schooling, choosing a cyber school that first year that would allow me to do most of the hands-on teaching but allowed for the teacher-support and accountability that made me feel more secure in this new role.

As our first year came to a close I knew that this was the right model of education for our family. We fell in love with the school-at-home lifestyle and all that it offered us as a family. A year that began with feelings of insecurity and uncertainty ended with feelings of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We had done it and done it well.

When we felt the nudge to begin walking this unfamiliar path we had no idea the “why” behind the prompting. We didn’t have any idea of the challenges the next few years would hold, or how this educational path would benefit our family as we navigated those challenges, until we found ourselves in the midst of them…

Challenges like Grace and Molly’s reading struggles due to Dyslexia, Rusty’s challenges with Selective Mutism, and our adoptive sons’ needs for therapeutic support and opportunity for family attachment made the home school environment ideal for meeting their unique, individual needs.

There is no way we could have anticipated those challenges when our children were small but Heavenly Father could and He set us up for success as a family by placing us on the exact path we needed to be on to support our children in their own individual journeys.

Over the last 14 years we have spent countless hours reading novels while snuggling on the couch, performing countless science experiments at the kitchen counter, working our way through endless math worksheets that got progressively harder with each passing year, traveling around the state to learn first hand about the world around us through countless field trips, and making lifelong friends through our co-op and cyber schools. We have been blessed with thousands of extra hours to parent, teach, and train our children at home while most of their peers were spending their days with teachers and school staff, a blessing that has allowed us to facilitate growth that would have been especially challenging had we traveled a more traditional path.

This pattern of education is not the right fit for every child or every family, but I am so grateful we were nudged (or shoved) onto this less traveled path, because it has made all the difference.

This year Braden was our 6th child to venture down this road. Last year he opted to attend our local public school but during the summer he came to us asking if he could be cyber schooled for his senior year. It has been a great fit for him and he is thriving. So much of that success is due to the phenomenal cyber school that has been an incredible blessing to our family for the last six years. Braden has joined Rusty at 21st Century Cyber Charter School for 12th grade. This is the same cyber school that did such a phenomenal job of preparing Grace and Molly for success in college. As I consider the blessings that have accompanied this educational journey, 21st Century is at the top of that list…

So, it was fitting that during this month of gratitude, we were able to join staff and other 21CCCS families at the Murrysville location for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The outing was split into two parts. First came the preparation. Then came the feast. The students arrived at the school building two hours prior to the scheduled feast to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their families.

We dropped off Braden and Rusty and they, along with other students, began preparing our meal.


When we arrived two hours later the yummy smells permeated the halls.


When Tyler, Toby and I walked in we found the students and staff enjoying a Thanksgiving trivia game.

IMG_8627 (2)

We joined in using our phones to compete against other players in the room.

IMG_8630 (2)

Then it was time to eat!

IMG_8636 (2) - Copy

The students had all done a great job of preparing a mouth-watering feast,

IMG_8637 (2) - Copy

Complete with pies for dessert. Rusty and Braden made the Oreo crème pies for the meal.

IMG_8641 (2)

It was a wonderful celebration of all that we have to be thankful for.

And for this momma, our school-at-home journey and 21st Century Cyber Charter School are found at the top of that list!


We are blessed!


Molly’s Graduation Day!!


Saturday marked the end of one journey and the start of the next one.

It was the day Miss Molly walked on stage, dressed in a cap and gown, and graduated high school.

I’m not sure how it is that we arrived at this day so quickly. It is as if I closed my eyes for a moment and my wild child had grown from a “character,” who would smuggle dead chipmunks home in her Dora the Explorer backpack and climb onto the roof in the middle of the night, into a woman of great character. There were a few years there that I didn’t think I would survive Molly’s pre-school years; certain she would be behind bars by age seven. She was my feral child, content to live in the woods, build fairy houses, and fill her pockets with frogs. There was no rule she wouldn’t break and no boundary she wouldn’t test. Her passion for life and her impulsive nature kept life interesting. Our life revolved around coming up with a security system that would keep her safely contained in her room while we tried to sleep at night. She was the child who had to be walked on a leash in public and who charmed the socks off everyone she met by her ever-absent filter and unique perspective on life.

She was our quirky little bird, with a bigger than life personality and a heart that stretched to each corner of the globe.

Over the years the impulsivity waned and her willingness to obey improved, but her sunny disposition, fierce determination, love for nature and animals, and her heart for others and God only grew. She is now ready to leave the nest. She can finally be trusted to leave my sight without walking into traffic.

Well, sort-of …

And Saturday was the big send-off.

After years of parenting, redirecting, teaching, loving, redirecting, supporting, guiding, and redirecting. Our sweet Miss Molly did it…

What a blessed day it was!

It was an action-packed day that began at 10:30 am and stretched to 3:00 pm, packed full of graduation day activities.

Unlike a local high school that might spread graduation preparation over a week’s time, 21st Century has to make it all happen in one day. Many of their families have traveled far distances to be there and are only there for the day, so all the activities that lead up to graduation day for seniors must fit into one five-hour period.

But they orchestrated what could have been pure chaos, beautifully.

We woke early Saturday morning and went down to the lobby of the hotel to meet friends for breakfast.

Then it was off to the local high school where our charter school was holding the commencement ceremony.

We arrived to find what can only be described as a “well-oiled machine.”

We were greeted and welcomed at the door by teachers and directed where to go. Molly was sent to get in line to receive her senior gift bag which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

IMG_1374 (2) - CopyIMG_1454 (2) - Copy

While the seniors were off preparing for graduation, the families waited in the cafeteria where the school had catered a lunch for the families to enjoy while they waited for the graduation ceremony to begin.

IMG_1417 (2) - CopyIMG_1458 (2) - Copy

While we were eating and visiting, Molly, Tatum, Caleigh, Annaliese, Irvin and the other graduating seniors were kept busy behind the scenes.


IMG_1399 (2) - Copy

First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns.

IMG_1396 (2) - CopyIMG_1382 (2) - Copy


After hugs and a few tears,

IMG_1402 (2) - CopyIMG_1413 (2) - CopyIMG_1421 (2) - CopyIMG_1423 (2) - CopyIMG_1424 (2) - CopyIMG_1427 (2) - CopyIMG_1429 (2) - Copy

We let them move on to their next station, “graduation photos,” where they had a professional photographer taking graduation portraits of each senior in their cap and gown.

IMG_1437 (2) - Copy

Once each senior moved through the line, it was time for the graduating class to do a few practice runs before the actual ceremony began.


While we waited in the cafeteria, the other kids kept busy enjoying the delicious spread of food that was provided and playing card games that I had packed in my purse.

IMG_1420 (2) - Copy

It was soon time to head to the auditorium for the commencement exercises. Rusty was asked (as a member of National Honor Society) to stand at the door and hand out programs.

IMG_1465 (2) - Copy

We picked up our programs and waited for the ceremony to begin.

The students walked in and the tears began.

Our girls looked so grown up and pretty.

The students were seated on stage and the school principal stood up to welcome the families and introduce the speakers. Molly was one of four students who were chosen to speak at graduation.

And this Momma and Papa could not have been prouder. Our baby may be all grown up, but what a beautiful young lady she has grown up to be.

IMG_1492 (2) - Copy

Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting five students from the graduating class with scholarships from the school. These scholarships are not funded with school budget money, but rather are funded solely by teacher donations. Throughout the year they will have events at the school for staff, like special breakfasts during in-service days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships. This year they raised $5,000, enough for 5 students to each be awarded a thousand-dollar scholarship.

The teachers of this school are incredible and are at the heart of why this school shines brighter than the rest. Each of my children have been blessed with incredible learning coaches who have been a perfect fit for that child to grow and find success through this cyber school model. I feel like over the last 6 years so many of the staff at 21CCCS have become more like family friends through their interactions with our family.


These relationships that develop over four years of working side by side as student, parent, and learning coach, are what make graduation days bittersweet. Molly was blessed with a very special learning coach in Mr. Winterode.

IMG_1526 (2)

His patient reassurance and constant encouragement was just what Molly needed to overcome her own insecurities about her learning disabilities and finally see how capable and able she is.

IMG_1525 (2)

She blossomed under his care and his homeroom soon became the envy of the school with its fun banter and great group of students that called themselves “Coach’s Doghouse.”


I could share stories like this about all the teachers we have gotten to know through our time in the school. 21st Century Cyber Charter School is unique in the experience it offers and I have tried to put my finger on the exact formula that sets them apart from other cyber schools. I think it comes down to this: Their standards are high. They know and appreciate the worth of a good teacher, a good staff member, and a good cyber schooling family. They hire the best and then treat them like the best. The teachers love what they do. They feel appreciated. Because those at the top treat their most valuable asset with respect and appreciation, the entire vibe of the school is uplifting and supportive and positive. The joy and enthusiasm of those teachers then trickle down to the students and families under their care, making everyone excited to be part of something so uniquely special in the world of cyber schooling options.

IMG_1563 (2)IMG_1567 (2) - Copy

How blessed we feel to have been led to this educational gem six years ago.

Next, we watched as they handed out the scholarships for greatest academic excellence to the student with the highest GPA, the Eagle service award for the student most service minded, and the leadership award. Then it was time for the scholarship awarded to the student that shows the most exemplary character, as voted on by the teachers of the school, and we heard them announce Molly’s name!

IMG_1500 (2) - Copy

We had no idea that she would be a recipient of one of these scholarships, and for me that was the acknowledgement that we, as her parents, have done something right these last 19 years. I remember being a young mom and praying over that little bundle in my arms and saying to God, “It matters little to me that this child grows up to be exceptionally pretty, or smart, talented, or gifted in the areas of music, art, or athletics…as nice as those traits might be. What matters most to me is that I raise a child who is known for her kindness, her selflessness, and her goodness. Help me to raise a woman of character.”

God has been merciful.

This is the same scholarship that Gracie was gifted with her senior year. Once again we were moved by the honor they bestowed on Molly when she was chosen by the teachers at 21st Century Cyber Charter School as the second McCleery to receive this special scholarship.

IMG_1583 (2)

Then it was time for the diplomas to be handed out. The students were called to the front of the stage one by one.

Once everyone had received their diploma it was time for the traditional turning of the tassels, signifying the transition from high school to life beyond.

13 years of hard work, sleepless nights, advocating for her needs, teaching and reteaching tough concepts again and again, endless fieldtrips, dyslexia tutoring, IEP meetings, 3 schools, and the culmination of a decade of my life’s work came together in that moment as we watched our baby girl walk down the aisle with diploma in hand.

It was time to celebrate!

IMG_1519 (2) - CopyIMG_1524 (2)


IMG_1562 (2)

It was a joy to see how happy Braden was for Molly on her special day. ❤

IMG_1571 (2)

Sweet friendships created at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.


Molly did it!

IMG_1510 (2) - Copy

Tatum did it.

IMG_1506 (2) - Copy

IMG_1555 (2)

Annaliese did it.

IMG_1514 (2) - Copy

Caleigh did it.

IMG_1518 (2)

We did it!

IMG_1528 (2)

Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you!

IMG_1542 (2)

What a beautiful journey it has been!


A recreation photo of Grace and Olivia’s graduation day.

IMG_1539 (2)

We can’t wait to see where God takes you next!



Snow Much Fun!


Saturday was “SNOW much fun!”

img_5624 (2)

Saturday morning, we had an outing scheduled with the Adventure Club at 21st Century Cyber Charter School. This outing was unique in that it wasn’t scheduled for normal school hours. Because it was scheduled for a Saturday Toby and Brandon were able to join us. This is a rare and treasured treat!

img_5593 (2)img_5603 (2)

In addition to Hhving Toby join us, we also were joined by other familiar faces, including one of Molly’s dearest friends, Irvin, who traveled all the way from Gettysburg with his two younger brothers to join Molly and Tatum on the slopes.

img_5600 (2)

This outing was a snow tubing activity at Boyce Park.

img_5629 (2)

This was a first for my kiddos who had never been to a facility like this one to “sled.” They are used to zooming down our driveway on sheets of plastic and digging their heels in for a quick stop before flying across the road at the bottom. The fact that this hill was free of obstacles AND had a conveyor belt to shuttle riders back to the top for the next trip down, made the experience downright indulgent!

img_5598 (2)

Upon arriving, the kids added layers of snow gear to combat the frigid temps of the day,

img_5590 (2)

And even received a surprise gift of winter hats and chap stick from the adventure club for attending!

img_5591 (2)

Everyone greeted friends in the warmth of the lodge before heading out into the snow for some snow tubing fun.


Each rider grabbed a tube and stopped long enough to humor me as I took a few photos for posterity, before getting in line for their ride to the top of the hill.

img_5626 (2)

The Adventure Club members and teachers made trip after trip down the hill.

img_5608 (2)

It seemed as the morning wore on, and the snow became more compact, they flew at greater speeds down the hillside.

img_5618 (2)

After an hour of watching from the bottom, I headed inside to join friends for adult conversation, choosing to watch the excitement outside from the warmth of the lodge.

img_5631 (2) - copy

The activity lasted for 2 hours. At 11:30 the kids all shuffled in with pink cheeks and icy lashes.

Irvin had suggested we all go out to lunch together before his 3-hour drive back home, with the hope of spending more time with Molly and Tatum.

So, we joined the Hudak family, Irvin, and his younger brothers for lunch at Blaze Pizza.

Having never eaten there before, we required a quick tutorial before beginning. Luckily Rusty had visited another Blaze Pizza with Grace and Zach earlier in the week, so he was able to guide us through the process a bit.

img_5643 - copy

It was a very neat place…sort of a pizza version of Subway. The premise of the restaurant allows customers to move along a serving line and “build” their pizza. The choices of toppings are abundant, with customers getting to choose their sauce, meats, and veggies all for a flat price regardless of how much you load it up.

img_5633 (2) - copyimg_5635 (2) - copy

The kids all loved the idea of being able to build their own “dream pizza,” and the combinations of flavors were as unique as the creators.

img_5640 (2) - copy - copy

Blaze Pizza was a toasty way to round out a chilly morning!

img_5641 (3) - copy

A Snowy Day for Snow White


Between outings planned by our co-op group, 21st Century Cyber Charter School and PA Cyber, we have many opportunities to get out of the house and experience some hands-on learning through educational outings. These outings are always a highlight of our week and the “icing” to the cyber school experience.

On Thursday we put on our fancy pants and headed north for a more cultured outing. We were signed up to join 21st Century Cyber Charter School for a outing to the Erie Playhouse to watch
“Snow White and the Prince.”

Our sojourn north began with a quick stop in New Castle to pick up Tatum. From there we headed north to Erie where we were meeting up with teachers from our cyber school and other 21st Century families.

img_5537 (2)

It was a VERY snowy day to go and see “Snow White.” The flakes came down heavy around New Castle, but surprisingly lightened as we drove north.


We met at the Avalon Hotel at 9:15.

img_5519 (2)

We were pleasantly surprised to see quite a few familiar faces. It was fun to connect with friends, new and old!

img_5536 (2)

At 9:30 we walked across the street to the Erie Playhouse to watch a youth theater production of “Snow White and the Prince.”

img_5518 (2)

img_5523 (2)

We got settled in our seats and waited for the show to begin. We were the first group to arrive and be seated, but soon the quiet of the theater was interrupted by cacophonous chatter as hundreds of kindergarteners arrived and were directed to their seats.

img_5521 (2)

That troop of 5-year-olds proved to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the show.  Behind us sat a group of little girls. It was so much fun to listen to their chatter and enthusiastic responses to the story playing out on stage.

snow white

There were “Oohs and Ahhs” every time anyone stepped on stage wearing a crown or gown.

snow white 4

There were shouts of warning as Snow White debated whether to taste the apple.

snow white 3

“No, don’t eat it! It’s poisonous!” they shouted behind us.

The play itself was cute, but the running commentary behind us made it a fantastic play!

snow white 2

After the curtains closed for the final time we crossed the street, back to the Avalon Hotel, where the students split up into groups to work on a literary assignment for extra credit:

img_5588 (2) - copy

While working and socializing with friends, everyone ate their packed lunches.

img_5532 (2)img_5533 (2)

The outing ended with the students making use of the open dance floor in the center of the ballroom we were using for our lunch room for an impromptu dance party.

img_5584 (3) - copy

Playing music off a cell phone, Molly and Tatum taught the group the steps to Church Clap. There was much laughter and glee as the kids got their moves on and burned off excess energy before the two hour drive home.

img_5540 (3) - copy
img_5579 (3) - copy

It was a fun way to spend a snowy day!



A little of this. A little of that..


Time for another catch-up post.

To answer the questions of concern from those who love us and have wondered at our apparent disappearance from their lives…

Yes, we are all still alive and kicking.

No, we haven’t fallen off the edge of the Earth.

Yes, we realize we haven’t been the best friends/family members these last 6 weeks.

No, we aren’t mad, sad, or hurt by something you said or did.

 And no, we are not trying to avoid you…

We are just stretched to the max and trying to keep our heads above water.

Even blogging, my favorite therapeutic outlet, has taken a backseat to the everyday tasks we are trying desperately to stay on top of…

You know those necessary irritabilities that have to occur regularly, like meals on the table and clean clothes for the family. But we are still here and still working to find our groove with the addition of another child in the family, additional activities that the kids need ushered to, appointments out the wazoo, and school work. I have never slept so well, so deeply, or so quickly as I do in this season of life. I pray we might find our rhythm again and our days will eventual settle into an upbeat, little two-step rather than this frantic, “flight of the bumblebee” freestyle we are dancing at the moment.

But I can’t complain too loudly. God has been incredibly gracious and we have witnessed the multiplying miracle, much like the loaves and fishes, with our time and energy. On paper the math doesn’t equate. How we fit so many tasks, responsibilities and obligations into a 24 hour period is nothing short of miraculous. It testifies to the Heavenly promise that God will make a way if we but faithfully answer His call to “Go and do the things that He commands.”

So outside the tasks that take priority in our lives these days, filling our calendars with schooling, tutoring, therapy, home management, sports practices. and CYF appointments, here are some of the small moments that make up our days on Patchwork Farm:

The weather has been crazy lately. In the last few weeks we have lost power multiple times due to high winds and thunderstorms. One particularly exciting storm brought down three trees in our front yard and knocked out our power for 2 1/2 days.


It was a fun adventure at first. We lit candles and enjoyed a fun dinner and board games in the candlelight. It ceased being fun when bedtime came and my kids that are scared of the dark didn’t want to go to bed.


The next day we ran into more problems when my cyber schooled children, who rely on electricity and internet service to do school, couldn’t log in. Our short term fast from modern conveniences was humbling and was a good reminder of how many everyday blessings we take for granted.

School is in full swing for me. I have begun BYU-Idaho’s Pathway program. I am slowly adjusting to the academic workload as I manipulate the free minutes of the day searching for the 3-4 hours of study time I need to allow each day to keep on top of my classes. I have a consistent 2 1/2 hours set aside in my schedule each morning while the kids have live classes and then make up the difference by carrying my laptop with me to ball fields and waiting rooms, taking advantage of free minutes to read and complete assignments. (School is majorly cutting into my blog time!) I am, however, loving the challenge and its been fun exercising some mental muscles I haven’t worked for a while.


(The kids insisted on a back to school picture of Mom on the night of my first Pathway Gathering class.)

A few weeks ago Tyler and Brandon shared their first joint activity with the youth. It was the first youth activity Brandon was able to attend since he moved in a month ago and it was Tyler’s first joint activity having recently turned 12. It was fun that they were able to experience this “first” together, and the fact that they had Molly, Rusty, and Ozzie there as well made it even more fun.


The youth leaders couldn’t have picked a better introduction activity to welcome in Brandon and Tyler than the activity they picked: Human Foosball! The high energy activity, coupled with ice cream sundaes after the game, made for an awesome night!


Last week Miss Grace came home from school eager to show off something special.


She called us into the kitchen and pulled from a plain white envelope this:


Her ASL certificate!

Grace has completed the first half of the program, earning her certificate in sign language interpreting and is now working on the second half of the program which will earn her an associates degree in the same field before she transfers to a four year college. Grace worked so hard to earn this ASL interpreting certificate and we are so proud of our hard working girl!

Speaking of our “girl on the go”…

Miss Grace has kept busy this last month with a task beyond her normal workload. She volunteered to take on the task of planning a luau for her Young Single Adult ward with the help of a great committee. This undertaking was a big one but it was a challenge that played to her strengths. She had a blast getting creative and creating a dinner and dance around this fun theme. She said the night was a blast! Here are some photos of the night:

P1120371 (2)P1120374 (2)P1120373 (2)P1120372 (2)P1120380 (2)P1120387 (2)P1120400 (2)P1120401 (2)P1120430 (2)P1120424 (2)

Molly and two of her best buddies went out last Friday night to celebrate some exciting news. Molly, Tatum and Caleigh each campaigned for leadership roles in National Honor Society. Molly campaigned for the role of President, Tatum campaigned for the role of Parliamentarian, and Caleigh campaigned for the role of Historian.

Well, on Friday they each received the exciting news that they were elected to the leadership roles they were seeking. These three sweet girls make up 3/4ths of 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s new National Honor Society presidency.


Congratulations girls!

And in final news…

Brandon has joined Tyler and Ozzie on the back of a horse. This past week Brandon began equine therapy at Glade Run Adventures in Zelienople. He was paired with Pumpkin for the lesson and the connection was immediate. It was his first time on the back of the horse and I could tell he was a bit nervous,  but any unease disappeared as soon as he climbed atop Pumpkin.


It was an immediate connection and we soon discovered that despite lack of previous experience, Brandon was a natural.


Like Tyler, his God-given athleticism and calm confidence made him a natural on the back of the horse. Like Tyler, he also had a way with animals. He loved it and his equine therapist commented to me at the end of the lesson, as we watched Brandon squeeze and love on Pumpkin, “This is why I do what I do.”


I think equine therapy is going to be a great blessing in Brandon’s healing journey.



Visiting Seminary Ridge



“Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union “Army of the Potomac” and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia.”
Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.
It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.”

IMG_9091 (2)

And it was here we joined 21st Century Cyber Charter School students from across the state for our school-wide end of the year field trip.


Throughout the school year our cyber school offers outings across the state. These outings allow students to connect face to face with other students and their teachers. Since the student body is spread across the entire state of Pennsylvania these outings occur regionally, allowing every student access to at least some of the school’s outings. The exception to that rule occurs every May when all the students, teachers, and 21st Century families come together for one big field trip. It is always very well orchestrated and is the highlight of our school year. In the past our school has taken us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mount Vernon, and Annapolis, Maryland.

This year the school took us to Gettysburg.


As a way to encourage attendance and lessen the financial strains on their families, 21st Century charters buses to pick up families from various corners of the state and bus them to the field trip. This means an early morning for those students on the western side of the state but there are rarely complaints from my crew as they find it to be a grand adventure waking up at 4:00 am, boarding a bus with all their friends, and taking a road trip across Pennsylvania.

IMG_8975 - CopyIMG_8978 (2)IMG_8977 (2)IMG_8981 (2)

By 9:30 am buses from each corner of the state rolled into the parking lot at Seminary Ridge and unloaded.


IMG_8984 (2)

The 21st Century Students from our local co-op.

IMG_8990 (2)

Tyler and Ozzie sporting the t-shirts from this year’s field trip and Ozzie’s teacher popping in to say “hello!” We LOVE Mrs. Scarpignato!


Students, families and teachers were split into four different groups and were given colored wristbands to guide them through the schedule of the day ahead. Each group was 25+ people strong and the amount of preparation and planning that went into this event was evident in how smoothly our large group moved through the activities of the day…much like a well-oiled machine.

IMG_9104 (2)

Our day was broken up into 45 minute chunks with 15 minutes set aside for moving from one activity to another. It was a perfect set-up as it allowed the kids to really delve into the history of Seminary Ridge in a meaningful way without losing their attention.


Our day began with the kids in the blue group stepping into the shoes of a Civil War soldier, quite literally, with field training.

IMG_9014 (2)

Each student was given a harversack bearing the name of an actual Civil War soldier. On the outside of their harversack was their name, age, occupation, and their status as a confederate or union soldier.

IMG_8999 (2)IMG_9028 (2)

Using the information on their harversack they went around and introduced themselves allowing the gentleman who was leading the exercise to illustrate the wide variety of men who came together to fight side by side during the Civil War.

IMG_9097 (2)

Once introductions were sufficiently made, training began. The students began by learning the basics of standing at attention and marching.

IMG_9018 (2)

Once they could march seamlessly as a group then they were issued their riffles for war and guided through the motions and movements of various commands.

IMG_9037 (2)

The kids really enjoyed this hands-on activity and the soldier leading the exercise did a wonderful job of bringing a sense of reality and connection to something that had previously been only words in a history book.

IMG_9033 (2)

When our time at that station was done the students were allowed to open their harversack and pull a paper from within that revealed what happened to the soldier they were representing for that exercise. It made it all the more personal to discover their fate as they read what happened to the soldier whose name they bore.

IMG_9044 (2)IMG_9047 (2)

The next station we visited was the medical tent where students learned about the important role of field doctors during the Civil War.

Once again they were each given a biography of a soldier who was injured on the battlefield and were able to learn about how that particular injury would have been addressed and treated at that time.

IMG_9065 (2)

They quickly realized that the risk of death by infection was higher than deaths actually caused by the injuries themselves.

IMG_9063 (2)

They also gained a lot of respect for the tenacity and strength of those Civil War soldiers as they read the accounts of bullets to the brain and amputated limbs, only to read that soon after being patched up from injuries that would land you in an ICU ward today, these men would be back on the battle field again as soon as they could walk and carry a gun.

The shock over conditions at Civil War field hospitals only escalated when they were introduced to the surgical tools and procedures of surgery during that time in history.

IMG_9071 (2)

During lunch break we enjoyed a stroll around the grounds of Seminary Ridge before joining our group for the next activity of the day.

IMG_9049 (2)IMG_9057 (2)IMG_9053 (2)

Following lunch it was our group’s turn to tour the Seminary Ridge Museum. To make the experience more interactive and engaging we were each given a scavenger hunt to complete. The answers to the questions on the sheet were found throughout the four floors of the museum.

IMG_9075 (2)

As we searched for answers, we became acquainted with the history of Seminary Ridge and its significance to the Battle of Gettysburg.

FB_IMG_1525397659417IMG_9076 (2)

“The museum touched on three main topics: the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, care given to wounded soldiers at Schmucker Hall, and moral questions from the Civil War era.”

IMG_9079 (2)

Our last activity of the day was an interactive tour of the grounds. The historian that led our walking tour guided us through the events that occurred on the grounds around the seminary building on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg.

IMG_9084 (2)

Role in the Battle of Gettysburg

The Seminary building served as a lookout on 1 July 1863, the first day of battle. From the cupola, Brig. Gen. John Buford both observed the opening of the battle to the west of Seminary Ridge and witnessed the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds marching to his relief from the south. By the late afternoon, the Union lines on McPherson’s Ridge, west of the seminary, were forced back to Seminary Ridge by Confederate troops. Before the troops could dig in on Seminary Ridge, a further attack by Pender’s Division broke the line. The I Corps streamed across Seminary Hill and through the town of Gettysburg, covered by a delaying action on the grounds by the famed Iron Brigade. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia occupied the seminary grounds and held them until the Army’s retreat on 4 July 1863.

There was no further infantry combat on the seminary grounds, but it continued to play a prominent role in the battle. The seminary building had begun to be used as a field hospital for soldiers of both armies during the first day, and this continued throughout the engagement and after the battle was over. Artillery was posted on the hill and participated in action against Union artillery on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills on July 2nd and 3rd.

Confederate troops also used the seminary building cupola as a lookout.


The day came to a close all too soon as students said good-bye to their friends and teachers and boarded the busses for the long haul home.

It was another amazing field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School!

cupola 2


A Time to Heal


A few weeks ago we received an invitation in the mail to attend a recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of our cyber school. The invitation was for Molly and her family. She was one of the students be honored. We made plans to attend and initially we planned on making it a special mother/daughter trip for just Molly and I.

As Ozzie’s return home neared I watched the kids came to terms with this transition as they individually sorted through the mix of emotions tied to Ozzie’s return home. Molly in particular struggled to reconcile her past hurts and the need to forgive with anxiety that Ozzie would return home unchanged. She had such a desire to forgive and move forward but struggled to let go of the past hurts Ozzie had inflicted and trust that it was safe to emotionally open up to him. I saw the conflict playing out as she worked to forgive and move forward. My heart broke for her and Ozzie and all the other kids because I knew the hard emotional journey before her…before us all.

I also saw the spiritual maturity she showed as she approached those struggles humbly and prayerfully. As her recognition banquet approached she came to me to ask my thoughts on inviting Ozzie to come along on her special mother/daughter weekend. It was with great love she decided to set aside her own selfish desires and invite Ozzie along, hoping that some one-on-one time and special shared experiences might serve as a healing balm to past hurts.

When she extended the invitation to Ozzie he too was touched and motivated by her desire to heal their relationship and move forward, so he reciprocated her efforts with his own and decided to treat Molly to a fun, shared experience.

While he was at Harborcreek RTF Ozzie had the opportunity to earn “allowance” for daily chores and community work. After returning home he received a check in the mail closing his account. He decided to use a portion of that check to do something special for Molly on the trip and make a memory that was just theirs to share.

As a Mom I was touched and moved by both of their desires to forgive, heal and mend their relationship as siblings and the maturity and selflessness they each showed in sacrificing their own selfish desires for something bigger than themselves…

So, on Monday morning we left on a road trip of hope and healing as we headed east to Downingtown.

After a few stops along the way we made it to our hotel. Molly and Ozzie reveled in the fun of staying at a hotel,

IMG_9159 (2)IMG_9156 (2)

Swimming in the hotel pool,

IMG_9163 (2)

And enjoying the most delicious complementary breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel!

IMG_9172 (2)IMG_9173 (2)

After breakfast we got dolled up and ready to head over to the school for Molly’s recognition banquet and lunch with her teachers.

IMG_9179 (2)

The celebration began with a catered lunch of salmon, zucchini patties, chicken and macaroni and cheese. We enjoyed picnicking outside with the Hudak’s who were also there for Tatum’s recognition.

IMG_9180 (2)

After lunch we moved inside where a board meeting was taking place.

IMG_9182 (2)

There, in front of the board and their families, two dozen students were recognized and honored for achievements apart from their academics.


It was a delight to see Tatum and Molly celebrated for their charitable endeavors.

IMG_9194 (2)

After they received their awards we stuck around long enough to visit with some of their learning coaches and teachers, both past and present.

IMG_9189 (2)

Ozzie was over the moon to get to see his learning coach, Halley Scarpignato, who surprised Ozzie with a new 21CCCS t-shirt.

IMG_9191 (2)

After saying our good-byes we were on the road, headed back home with a fun stop along the way.

IMG_9204 (2)

(In the next blog I will share some of the fun Molly and Ozzie shared these last two days.)

It was two days of healing and connecting for two of my kiddos.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

But I know healing can be found in the most torn relationships if you can surrender the pain to the Heavenly Healer…

The same healer who turned water to wine, brought sight to the blind, calmed storms, and raised men from death…

I testify that God can take relationships left in ashes and breathe life into what was destroyed, making it better than before.

IMG_9176 (2)

I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.

Erie Art Museum



Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

IMG_8743 (2) - Copy - Copy

I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

IMG_8619 (2)

We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

IMG_8608 (2)

Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

IMG_8650 (2)

By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

IMG_8642 (2)

It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

IMG_8637 (2)

From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

IMG_8662 (2)

Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

IMG_8666 (2) - CopyIMG_8668 (2) - Copy

After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

IMG_8688 (2) - CopyIMG_8691 (2) - CopyIMG_8696 (2) - Copy

IMG_8698 (2) - Copy

Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

IMG_8699 (2) - Copy

After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

IMG_8706 (2) - Copy

It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

IMG_8709 (2) - Copy

2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

IMG_8714 (2) - CopyIMG_8720 (2) - Copy

3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

IMG_8723 (2) - Copy

Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

IMG_8726 (2) - Copy

4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

IMG_8733 (2) - Copy

At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

IMG_8736 (2) - Copy

It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

IMG_8740 (2) - Copy





A 21st Century Christmas Party



Last Thursday we loaded up Big Bessie with our crew of 21st Century students, and a few spares, and drove an hour away to Murrysville, the home of the recently opened western office for our cyber school. It has been so nice having a satellite office for our school so close to home. It has allowed the students located in western Pennsylvania to enjoy more interactions with their teachers, more face to face support, and more field trips in the Pittsburgh area.

This was the first year my kiddos have been able to attend one of the school’s Christmas parties in person. Each December the teachers throw a holiday bash in their Downingtown office but the craziness of this time of year has made driving 4 hours for a Christmas party unfeasible. Rusty has attended “virtually” in the past but it just isn’t the same as being there in person. Watching the festivities through a web cam while your peers decorate and eat cookies is really more torture than fun, so this year when it was announced that there would be a Christmas party in the Pittsburgh office we signed up to attend.

In addition to Molly, Rusty, and Tyler (Grace had finals that day) we also brought 3 friends from co-op.

The kids were encouraged to bring a toy donation for Toys for Tots.

IMG_5206 (2)

We arrived and discovered that in addition to the teachers based in the Pittsburgh office of 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we also had a few teachers and principal who drove out from the Philly office to attend. It was wonderful getting to catch up with Ozzie’s learning coach, Mrs. Scarpignato. She was eager to hear how Ozzie was doing and I was eager to share the good news of his successes.

It was a fun group of students and teachers.

IMG_5271 (2)

The party began with the kids getting to enjoy a hot chocolate bar and decorate Christmas cookies. The kids liked visiting with their teachers and making some new friends while indulging in the tastes of the Christmas season.

IMG_5208 (2)IMG_5213 (2)IMG_5218 (2)IMG_5219 (2)

When everyone was sufficiently hyped up on sugar, the games began. The teachers planned a series of Christmas themed Minute-To-Win-It games for the kids to enjoy.


There was…

Movin’ On Up:

IMG_5227IMG_5236 (2)

Merry Fishmas:

IMG_5251 (2)IMG_5237 (2)

Suck it Up:

IMG_5266 (2)IMG_5262 (2)

Golf Ball:

IMG_5275 (2)IMG_5280 (2)

Everyone’s competitive streak surfaced a bit as friends competed against friends and siblings competed against siblings.

IMG_5245 (2)

In the end four winners walked away with a 21st Century travel mug and bragging rights, including Rusty who won “Merry Fishmas” and Caleigh who won “Suck it up.”

IMG_5255 (2)

At the end of the party everyone left with a Christmas bag of school goodies from the teacher,s and some new, albeit useless, life skills. 😉

IMG_5268 (2)



Adventure Club!


(I am a week behind in my blogging, having set aside all non-essential activities these last few days as we prepared for Ozzie’s departure. Our focus has been on preparing everyone emotionally for his departure and packing in some memory making, family bonding experiences for Ozzie before he left. I will now catch everyone up on this past week, but for those who have inquired, Ozzie is now at the trauma center. We drove him up yesterday. We were able to tour the facility, meet the staff, and spend time helping Ozzie get situated and acclimated to his home away from home for the next few months. The facility was beautiful, the staff was awesome, and the Spirit was strong. This Christian based center had a completely different feel from the places Ozzie has had short term stays at. There is a special spirit there as staff works with kids who have experienced the very worst the world has to offer, and helps them heal. I have no doubt God’s hand was in the series of “circumstances” that opened the necessary doors that led to Ozzie being accepted there, but even with that knowledge it was heartbreaking to leave him. I have never done anything harder in my life than driving away from my son, leaving him in the care of strangers, knowing his absence would be felt in our home for the next few months. I know it is where he needs to be to heal, but that knowledge doesn’t lessen the pain of being two hours away from my son. It seems the heartbreak of abuse is never ending, and it continues to affect not only Ozzie but all of us who love Ozzie.)


But now onto happier thoughts.

Last Thursday was an outing with our cyber school’s Adventure Club. Since the school is headquartered 5 hours away, on the other side of the state, we don’t have access to quite as many outings as the students out east, so when there is something planned out our way we always try to attend. This particular outing was only a short jaunt from the house.

We woke up early to prepare to leave. The outing began at 8:30 am. We planned on leaving the house by 7:30. There were lunches to pack and Molly had to finish a special gift for a friend before we left.

Her best friend, Tatum, was having surgery on her ear the following day, so Molly wanted to do something special for her friend. We found this cute idea online and recreated it as a get well gift for Miss Tatum. Since Tatum was planning on being at the outing, Molly took it along so she could deliver it in person before Tatum’s surgery.


At 7:30 am the Allans (friends from church) arrived to hop in our van to catch a ride over to the outing.


When we arrived we checked everyone in and then left for a special surprise outing I had planned for Tyler and Ozzie (more on that in the next blog) while the big kids joined their friends and teachers for a 4 mile hike through McConnells Mill State Park. Their day was filled with hiking, touring the mill, a poetry writing activity, and lunch as a group.


Rusty and Molly had a fantastic time hiking with their friends and teachers. It was a perfect day. The sun was shining and the scenery was stunning. At 1:00 pm we returned back to pick up the kids. We had an afternoon filled with appointments, but we were glad we were able to fit in some morning fun with friends.

Thank you, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, for another awesome outing!