Tag Archives: graduation

21st Century’s Covid-19 Graduation Celebration

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Well, it was…hands down…the weirdest graduation ceremony I have ever attended.

So unlike the graduation celebrations of years past. This one was one for the history books. It was unorthodox to be sure, but it accomplished its purpose in launching our two graduates out of high school into their futures.

Needless to say, this year’s celebration did NOT take place in an auditorium with hundreds of other graduating seniors and family members.

No, this year’s ceremony took place in the comfort of our own living room.

Molly wasn’t in attendance.

Ozzie wasn’t in attendance.

Even Braden, one of our graduates, was not in attendance.

Life has been a hard for Braden these last few months. He has struggled with the same feelings of loss and despair that so many around the world have been burdened by during this time of lock down. Hopes and plans have been dashed by powers outside his control and that, coupled with all the expected angst and uncertainty that comes with launching into adulthood, has made things challenging for him. Molly leaving on her mission was that proverbial final straw that made life at home unbearable for him. Unable to manage those overwhelming feelings of loss, he chose to take his leave at the start of the week and go stay with his pap for a while. It breaks my heart to see him flee, but I get it. Being at home is a painful reminder of the changes that have occurred in our family these last nine months. For Braden, I think it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under him once again. In his heart this feels like the loss of one more family after a lifetime of losses, and no matter how much proof we offer to the contrary, or how connected we work to remain, he feels the winds of change coming and he is determined to leave us before we can leave him like so many before us have.

Right now the loss of Molly is too new, and the feelings too raw, to process through, so we are giving him what he says he needs: space. How long that period of recovery will be has yet to be determined. He may be staying at his pap’s house for a week or for the entire summer. He is in a safe space, with an adult looking out for him, while he allows his hurting heart to heal a bit from this latest loss in his life. It will all work out. I know that. But it still is heartbreaking and so very hard to navigate the emotional pot holes of trauma and loss.

So, at our graduation celebration we had only one senior: Rusty.

We received news earlier in the month that 21st Century Cyber Charter School had decided on a virtual graduation ceremony. We were told it would be played on YouTube Live. At the end of May seniors were mailed their caps and gowns and were asked to submit a picture of themselves wearing them. Then days before graduation we were emailed the link for the ceremony.

Rusty invited Grace and Zach to come over and watch with us. We set it up so we could watch the ceremony on the living room TV.

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When our IT guy had things all set up, he headed upstairs to put on his cap and gown.

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To make the experience feel more celebratory, Toby picked up pizza on his way home from work and we had a pizza party while we watched Rusty graduate.

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Rusty declared it a perfect set-up for his high school graduation. Covid-19 really gave Rusty the graduation ceremony of his dreams. For our quiet introvert it was a win-win. He got to watch it unfold from “the audience.” He didn’t have to wear shoes or walk across a stage in front of hundreds of people. AND he got to eat pizza through the entire thing. I know many graduates are really mourning the loss of that pivotal life experience, but Rusty wasn’t one of them!

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Although Molly was thousands of miles away in Utah, she was able to call in right before graduation to wish her brothers love. She enjoyed being able to see Rusty in his cap and gown.

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21st Century Cyber Charter School began their graduation ceremony with speeches from alumni and three of the seniors. Then scholarships were handed out. Finally it was time for the presentation of the graduates.

As the names and photos of the graduating class flashed across the screen, I was able to catch a picture of my two favorites:

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The ceremony ended with words of care and advice from the principal before the seniors were invited to move their tassels from right to left.

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It is official…

Braden and Rusty are high school graduates!

A Covid-19 Graduation Celebration

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This has been the weirdest graduation year…EVER!

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And it is doubly disappointing, as we have 2 graduating seniors.

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Due to Covid-19, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, like so many high schools across the nation, have opted for an alternative graduation ceremony rather than risk the possible spread of sickness. I certainly agree with their call but it is disappointing for Rusty and Braden who imagined their graduation from high school would look very different from how it looks now.

As Rusty’s senior shirt expresses, “Worst. Ending. Ever!”

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Gracie and Molly’s graduation from 21st Century Cyber Charter School looked quite different. For their ceremonies we traveled out east to Downingtown with friends, so that the girls could enjoy the festivities in person. We stayed at a hotel, they attended prom, and we enjoyed watching them walk across the stage with their high school friends.

Gracie’s graduation day:  https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/graduation-day/

Molly’s graduation day:  https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/mollys-graduation-day/

For Rusty and Braden there will be no trip, no prom, no graduation celebration with friends from school. All of our traditional graduation experiences are on hold, so I have spent the last month trying to come up with an idea of how we can celebrate their achievements and make them feel loved in a world where graduation parties are unsafe, restaurants are closed, and vacations are on hold.

This is what we came up with…

Memorial Day was our graduation celebration day for the boys. Their actual graduation ceremony will take place on June 11th on YouTube…the world we are living in is SO BIZARRE…but we wanted to celebrate the boys’ graduation from high school before Molly left for her mission on June 2nd, so Monday offered the perfect opportunity!

Our day was split into two parts. First we planned an outing for the morning, and then ended our celebration with a fun dinner at home. There was so little open on Memorial Day that it took some searching to find something we could do for their special day. We finally landed on Wagon Trails drive-thru animal safari.

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This was our first time visiting this local attraction, located 45 minutes away near Youngstown, Ohio. Wagon Trails Safari has been able to keep its doors open by making some adjustments to the experience they offer. Rather than having visitors board an open wagon and feed the roaming animals, they now have visitors remain in their car and drive through the park on their own. Guests are not allowed to feed the animals or get out of the car to walk through the petting zoo area of the safari, but the experience was still a lot of fun. It was nice to get out of the house, do something novel and unusual to celebrate the boys’ graduation, all while supporting a local business.

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We arrived, pulled up to a booth, and paid the admission fee. Our crew of eight were split into two cars so that everyone could have a window seat.

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Rusty and Tyler rode in Gracie and Zach’s car,

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And Molly and Braden rode with us.

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The animal park was split into enclosures where the animals freely roamed.

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Many species mingled with each other.

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Feeding troughs were placed near the road as to entice animals to hover close enough for guests to enjoy.

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It was a delight!

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Some of our favorite critters included the momma and baby pot belly pig,

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The herd of zebras,

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Goats, and elk, and deer…oh my!

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And of course, the bison.

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But the star of the safari were the ostriches!

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They did not recieve the social distancing memo!

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Standing as sentries along the road, they greeted each guest who approached, hoping that someone had treats stashed in their car. They were sorely disappointed and only let us pass once they realized we were contraband-free.

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These log-necked pick pockets were a delight!!

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It wasn’t the traditional senior celebration, but Wagon Trails offered us a great way to “make lemonade from lemons.”

Next Stop: home…for the second half of our graduation celebration!

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Since a graduation celebration with guests was an impossibility, and since restaurants are still “take-out” only, a meal out or a party with friends was impossible. Instead we celebrated at home with family.

The boys requested wings for their graduation celebration so after our animal safari Toby and I headed to Cranberry to pick up wings from Big Shot Bobs. We ordered a variety of flavors and when we returned home we had a veritable feast of meat!

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My big boys were in heaven!

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We gathered in the dining room to eat. It was already decorated for our celebration. The girls had helped me transition our dining room from the Disney décor leftover from our themed dinner night, to a graduation decorations for our two seniors.

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Following dinner we presented the boys with their graduation gifts. Typically our gift to the graduate is a trip or a personalized experience. As a family we definitely enjoy “doing” more than “having.” Unfortunately,  we are living in an uncertain world where so much is closed and travel plans must be written in pencil, so I racked my brain to come up with an alternative gift for the graduates. We didn’t want to just give them something or throw money at them. We wanted them to have something to look forward to…an experience that could be enjoyed. We decided to gift them each with a subscription box, personalized to their particular interests.

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We thought it was the best plan. It was doable, even with all that is going on in the world, and it would give them something to look forward to each month. Who doesn’t like getting a package in the mail?!

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With so many subscription boxes to pick from it was tough to chose. For Rusty we decided on a Disney World themed box in which he will receive a variety of theme park gifts and goodies each month. For Braden we subscribed to Loot Crate. His monthly package will include a mix of gaming gear. It was one of those “different but equal” gifts we strive for as parents when our children reach milestones simultaneously. I wanted them to feel equally loved while feeling loved in a way unique to their personalities and interests.

They were both thrilled!

Next Thursday the boys will graduate from 21st Century Cyber Charter school.

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Their ceremony will be a YouTube Live event, and rather than walking across a stage, these photos of them wearing their cap and gowns will be flashed across the screen.

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It may not be the ending they envisioned but it will be a notable beginning to an exciting future. Congratulations, boys! You did it!

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Rusty and Braden’s Senior Photo Shoot

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Being the bizarre spring it has been, it isn’t surprising that tasks that I would normally be on top off have fallen to the wayside. One of those tasks being senior photos.

In past years, with my past seniors, we have coordinated our senior photos long before the final days of the senior school year, but in the midst of navigating a worldwide pandemic certain things have fallen to the wayside.

It wasn’t until I realized we needed to send out graduation announcements that I realized that we still needed to take some senior photos so that we could create the announcements.

This year we have two graduating seniors. Both Braden and Rusty will be graduating from 21st Century Cyber Charter School on June 11th. The school has opted for a virtual graduation. Rather than traveling to Downingtown, Pennsylvania, like we did for Grace and Molly’s graduation ceremonies, we will be watching Rusty and Braden graduate from high school in the comfort of our own living room. This brings mixed feelings as our excursion east to celebrate our kids’ academic achievements is always a highlight of the senior year, but the decision is a wise and prudent one.

The school, in an effort to celebrate their seniors from afar, sent yard signs to all the graduating seniors.

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For seniors across the world, the ending of their academic journey isn’t at all what they expected. We acknowledged this disappointment with some special gifts for our graduating seniors…

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Gifts they donned for their senior photo shoot.

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On two separate sunny spring days we took the boys out in the yard to capture some photos for their graduation announcements. Grace and Molly helped me out.

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I always find boy’s photo shoots to be more challenging than girls. They are less willing to get silly and it is more of a challenge catching their personalities on camera during a staged shoot. We found adding dogs to the mix helped capture their inner joy.

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It was a joy celebrating our two senior sons and we were able to get some great shots of our handsome sons, just in time to create their graduation announcements which will be sent out to all those family and friends that we won’t be able to celebrate with in person.

Rusty’s post-graduation plans include continuing at CCBC (where he was duel enrolled for his senior year) to pursue a degree in unmanned aerial vehicle piloting. He plans of becoming a drone pilot.

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Braden will be attending New Castle School of Trades in the fall as he pursues a degree in Automotive Technology.

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The future is bright for both our boys and we can’t wait to see what God has planned for them!

Escaping to the Homestead

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We find our summer flying by at a breakneck speed. It seems like just yesterday was Molly’s graduation, but the calendar says otherwise. Six weeks have passed since that monumental day and we are now halfway through summer and eight weeks away from Molly’s departure to Idaho for college. I find myself wanting to pump the breaks and slow down time. Since that is an impossibility, I find myself trying to steal moments of stillness whenever I can, soaking up the last of this season of “normalcy” before life changes once again and we find ourselves down two daughters: one to college and another to marriage.

This last week I was able to capture a day of memories to file away for future reflection when we escaped to the Homestead for a day of celebrations.

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My Aunt Denise was in town for the month, following my grandma’s 90th birthday celebration. Since Aunt Denise lives so far away, and getting to visit with her is a rare and treasured treat, we decided to squeeze in a visit before she had to head home. My parents invited us over for a Sunday dinner and a celebration of all the big events from the past two months.

Every few months we try to carve out an afternoon for Sunday dinner at the Homestead, and while there we celebrate all the big events of that quarter of the year. This visit we found ourselves celebrating Toby’s birthday, Father’s Day and Molly’s graduation, with Molly’s graduation being the focus of the day.

We arrived, after a 2 1/2 hour drive, to find the barn decorated and ready for the party.

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Zach joined us, as he will soon be an official member of the family…

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97 days till they say “I do!”

We enjoyed a yummy picnic lunch in the barn.

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It was warm, but the open doors provided a breeze, helped along by a couple box fans.

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When Lunch was over, Molly was presented with her graduation gift from Mimi and Pop pop. Following tradition, they presented Molly with a hope chest. It was a beautiful Lane chest from the 1940’s. It is to be used by Molly to start collecting goodies for her future home. It was a beautiful gift with a beautiful purpose.

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Inside the hope chest they included Molly’s bag of letters.

When my children were very small my mom came up with the idea of having a letter bag for each of her grandchildren. As the kids drew her pictures or sent her letters through the years, she would collect them in their letter bag. At graduation, they give the bag of letters back to that child to read through and enjoy.

Molly, being the resident letter writer in the family, had a full bag of sent mail to look through and enjoy.

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What a delightful trip down memory lane it was, as we enjoyed her earliest years of artwork and phonetic spelling.

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After we exchanged gifts for all the loved ones we were celebrating, the remainder of the day was spent enjoying the magic of the Homestead with it green vistas, grazing animals, and peace.

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The kids had fun driving around the golf cart that was recently purchased to help G.G. move around the farm,

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And we all enjoyed playing games as a family.

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Life doesn’t allow us the time we’d like to visit family. Often it is months or even years between our visits, but when we are granted the rare gift of an afternoon together, we fill it with a month’s worth of fun!

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Here’s to the stolen moments of life that make life worth living!

Molly’s Graduation Day!!

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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.

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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.

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

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First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns.

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After hugs and a few tears,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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

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Sweet friendships created at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

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Molly did it!

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Tatum did it.

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Annaliese did it.

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Caleigh did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you!

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What a beautiful journey it has been!

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

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

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Road Block Ahead

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This week was a big one at Patchwork Farm!!

It was graduation week for Miss Molly and her nearest and dearest friends, and we had a few action packed days planned for the graduate.

On Wednesday it was secretly decided that we would drive out in shifts; with most of us leaving to head east on Thursday, and Toby and Molly leaving bright and early Friday morning due to work conflicts that prevented them from leaving on Thursday. I knew this trip was going to be especially challenging for Braden. I anticipated the combination of heightened emotions, family togetherness, Ozzie’s absence, and Molly preparing to go away to college, would set off insecurities deep inside that might prompt him to flee rather than have to face Molly’s graduation ceremony… as this has been his pattern recently. My solution to scaling that possible roadblock: throw him off by eliminating the anxiety brought on by anticipation, and simply show up at school a day early with bags packed and jump right on the turnpike, travelling at a speed that would discourage passengers from jumping.

This plan was divinely prompted and it worked out perfectly. By not anticipating a Thursday departure, we were able to avoid the self-destructive behaviors that present during anticipation of upcoming family connection experiences,

And the unpredictability and adventure of an impromptu road trip fed his need for chaos and risk, in a way that was healthy and parent-led.

This plan worked perfectly.

At noon I stopped by the high school to sign Braden out. He joined Grace, Molly and Tyler in the car with all our luggage, we jumped right onto the turnpike. 3 1/2 hours later we found ourselves in Harrisburg for our first overnight stay. The juggling of multiple schedules required us to travel in shifts. My most pressing requirement was to arrive at a location that offered Pathway gathering classes so I wouldn’t miss out on Thursday night gathering points for my college courses. As I looked up Pathway gatherings on the Eastern side of the state, I decided Hershey/Harrisburg area was our best shot. It was timed out perfectly, allowing us to arrive, check-in, settle the kids into the hotel room with dinner and a movie, before I left for class.

My plans were thwarted, however, when we pulled into the Radisson that was to be our home-away-from home for the night and found it surrounded by armed guards, swat teams, local police and military.

My first thought was, “Oh, Crap…They must of heard we were coming.”

My second thought was, “Or maybe someone was murdered.”

It turns out that neither was true. The reason behind the walking/talking fire power was that the Vice President of the United States was spending the night at our hotel for a GOP convention.

Mr. Mike Pence almost lost me 60 points in class credit this week when the armed guards refused to let us through the barricade to check into our hotel. Lucky for my family, I have grown bolder and more fearless in recent years, thanks to MANY opportunities to grow those assertiveness muscles…

Needless to say, after all I have lived through in the last few years, armed soldiers with intense scowls didn’t scare me in the least.

They were simply just another roadblock that needed to be scaled as we moved toward a bigger goal.

I have come to appreciate the roadblocks of life.

They stretch us in ways that the easy seasons of life don’t.

They grow muscles that can only be built through adversity.

They give us a healthier perspective on life.

And they gives us the opportunity to fight for those things and those people who deserve to be fought for, despite the lies that have argued otherwise.

The road blocks of life allow us to prove our diligence, our courage, our tenacity, and the depth of our conviction for the cause we are fighting for.

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Road blocks allow our empty words to have a voice…

The powerful and resounding voice of ACTION.

After some sweet talk and then some straight talk, we were waved through and allowed to check in. I settled the kids in and left them with their faces pressed to the window in hopes of catching a glimpse of someone important, while I raced off to class. I arrived and was only 15 minutes late…a sure miracle given the obstacles we faced.

Everyone did exceptionally well in my absence despite disappointment that no one of note strolled by their hotel window.

On Friday we met up with Toby and Molly at the Home 2 Suites in Downingtown, PA, that would serve as home base for the weekend.

The first big event: Molly’s senior prom!

Stay tuned for pictures of all our gussied up girls!

Extra, Extra…Read all about it!

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In the excitement of BIG, life changing events here at Patchwork Farm, I have been less diligent in recording the daily living moments that are the molecules that make up our life. In an attempt to remedy this I downloaded all the miscellaneous photos captured on my camera and phone.

Here is the latest and greatest news at Patchwork Farm:

Tyler continues to receive extra reading help as he works to address the struggles associated with his diagnoses of Dyslexia. Currently he is receiving extra reading tutoring two times a week at the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania in New Castle, and Barton tutoring every Monday in Wexford. I have been amazed at his progress now that we are using a program created to address the way a dyslexic brain learns. With the help of Miss Jan, his Barton tutor, he just passed level 4 in the Barton program. We are so proud of his efforts and are thrilled to be seeing the fruits of his efforts!

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Ozzie is now 15. I’m not sure how that is possible, but he insists that it is true. Because his birthday occurred while we were on our trip, and because there wasn’t a spare inch of room in the car to pack the birthday gifts that arrived in the mail from extended family, he enjoyed birthday celebration #2 when we arrived home. He was spoiled rotten by family that love him and know him so well. He couldn’t have been more thrilled with his surprises!

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Rusty received the exciting news, upon returning home from vacation, that his application for National Honor Society had been received, considered and approved for membership. He is very excited and we are excited for him. We will be traveling out to Downingtown (on the eastern side of the state) in a few weeks for his induction ceremony. This news is made all the more special by the fact that 21st Century’s NHS president is his own sister. Just as Molly was able to be inducted into National Honor Society by Grace, who was serving as the president of NHS at that time, Rusty will be welcomed into this academic society by Molly who is serving as president this year.

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This has been an exciting year for Miss Molly who finds herself in the home stretch of her high school journey. This has been a great year for Molly, who has kept busy juggling the multitude of activities and responsibilities associated with senior year. She continues to work part time at Subway with Grace, co-runs the school’s American Sign Language club, participates in debate club and the school’s literary magazine, and is president of NHS. She does this while continuing with her commitment to Ready Yourself Youth Ranch where she volunteers two mornings a week with Grace and Rusty, as well as participating in church activities and early morning seminary.

This year has definitely given her a taste of adulthood and the juggling act that accompanies the privileges of all that freedom. We are happy to say she is balancing it all with great grace.

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This year has been one of great introspection and exploration as Molly has visited and applied to many colleges and prayed about where Heavenly Father would have her go upon the completion of high school. A decision has been made and we will devote our next blog post to that exciting news!

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Grace has served as a great example to Molly, as well as Brandon and Rusty (who will be entering their senior year) on how to navigate the transition into adulthood. She is very happy and we are happy for her, despite the fact we only see her in passing. Grace’s schedule is packed to the max with her American Sign Language classes, part time work, church activities and callings, as well as being a rock of stability for our family.

Currently in her ASL classes she is learning protactile interpreting. This form of sign language is used to interpret for individuals who are both deaf and blind. It utilizes a variety of methods to communicate a message and the surrounding atmosphere to a deaf client who is visually impaired.  The methods taught vary, based on the specific needs of the clients. To put this teaching into practice, Gracie’s professor had each of the students bring in an old pair of sunglasses that were altered to mimic different forms and degrees of blindness. The students donned those altered glasses to practice protactile interpreting. This is one of Gracie’s favorite forms of interpreting and she had really enjoyed strengthening this skill. It is neat to see her so engaged and loving this program.

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In addition to being so happy with her educational pursuits, much of the reason behind her beautiful smile has to do with this young man:

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Grace and Zach have known each other for more than a decade, having grown up together at church and having spent much time with the Zach’s sisters who are besties with my girls. It wasn’t until recently that they saw each other through fresh eyes. It didn’t take more than a few dates before they knew they wanted to see more of each other and they have been wearing these sunshiny smiles ever since. We couldn’t be happier. It is always a blessing to see your children happy, and all the more blessed when they find happiness with someone so kind.

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This Saturday we celebrate the happiness Grace so freely shares with the world as we reflect back on the last two decades and celebrate Gracie’s 21st birthday!

I have no idea where the time has gone but what a joyful journey it has been!

Last Saturday we got a jump on her birthday celebration when Zach joined our family (minus Molly who was working that night) for an escape room adventure. In December a deal popped up on Toby’s Groupon feed for an out-of-this-world deal on an escape room in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. He jumped on the deal while it was offered, knowing we would be able to use it for an upcoming birthday celebration. The plan was to make reservations for Grace’s actual birthday, which falls on a Saturday this year, but when we went to book it we discovered it expired the weekend before. Being experts at “Plan B” adventures, we quickly adjusted schedules and headed there last Friday with Zach, to celebrate part 1 of Gracie’s birthday…a week early.

The hours leading up to our escape room date were fraught with high emotions and angsts, and I wasn’t sure if our whole crew was going to make it to the adventure. The heightened anxiety associated with fears that Braden’s adoption day won’t come to fruition have left everyone on edge and extra sensitive. Blow-ups and melt-downs are a regular occurrence and an expected reaction to the anticipation associated with adoption day. Having done this twice before, we are well familiar with the heightened emotions and extreme challenges that accompany the news of an upcoming adoption, so we brace ourselves for the storm. We’ve learned the best strategy is to tighten our life vests, pull the sails taut, and ride the waves till we see land.

We managed to get everyone to the activity, and by the end of the escape room challenge everyone was in a better place emotionally.

It was fun having Zach join our crazy crew as we tried to unlock the mysteries of the space ship we were trapped in, and make our way back to Earth in the 60 minute time frame.

We escaped with time to spare and had a “blast!”  *hee hee*

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So, there you go. Consider yourself up to date and “in the know” with all the news to be told at Patchwork Farm.

Gracie’s Graduation Gift

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Once Gracie had received her diploma it was time to present her with her graduation gift.

I knew I wanted to do something special and personal for Gracie’s graduation gift. She isn’t a girl who puts a lot of value in material possessions. Gifts are not her love language. The love languages that speak to her heart are quality time and words of affirmation. She is much more affected and moved by gifts that are homemade, personal, and sentimental. She would much rather receive a heartfelt letter or framed photo than a new outfit or gadget.

Knowing that her primary love language is quality time, and knowing that because many of the people who mean the most to her wouldn’t be able to actually be with her on her graduation day, I thought a scrapbook of letters would be the next best thing.

The words penned by loved ones would serve as a meaningful testament of their love for her.

The last time I created a gift like this was for my grandfather’s 90th birthday when we presented him with a collection of love letters from friends and family. In those letters we all shared with him the great impact he had on all of our lives, how he had touched us and molded us into who we are today, and shared stories of our favorite memories.

He was moved to tears.

When I became young women’s president at church I stepped into a long standing tradition of the presidency gathering letters written to our graduating seniors (by their friends, teachers and family) that were compiled into a book that they could take with them to college.

Since that time that tradition has died away, but I knew that I wanted Grace to receive her “senior book,” so I decided to resurrect the tradition personally for each of my kids when they graduate high school. Grace was my first recipient.

A few months ago I sent out form letters with self-addressed return envelopes to all our family, family friends, previous school/co-op/church teachers, tutors, coaches and church leaders, asking them to write Grace a letter sharing their memories of her and words of advice that she could take with her as she ventures into her future.

The response was amazing and full of love. Dozens of special people from her life took the time to sit and write Grace a personal letter.

As the envelopes began trickling into my mailbox I was able to sit and read your words of love. I secured each note into a scrapbook to preserve these special words for Grace to treasure into the future.

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Each letter was placed with love and adorned with papers, stickers and photos, reflective of the letter and the author of the letter.

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Each note was so different and so perfect.

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On Saturday night, following graduation, we took Grace out for dinner and presented her with her graduation gift from us…and from all of you.

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And she too was touched by the great outpouring of love and care.

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This humble book is worth more than the greatest of treasures, containing priceless words of advice, sweet memories to reflect back on, and words of love from the people who have helped mold her into the young lady she is today.

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Thank you for your gift to Grace…

Thank you for loving my baby girl.

Graduation Day!

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

It was the day my first born walked on stage, dressed in a cap and gown, and graduated high school.

It was an action-packed day that began at 10:15 am and stretched to 3:00 pm, packed full of graduation day activities.

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Unlike a local high school that might spread graduation preparation over a weeks’ 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 the Hudaks for breakfast. We knew better than to dress everyone before we ate, so it was breakfast first, followed by everyone getting dolled up in their Sunday best.

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

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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. Toby had Gracie’s school laptop and was sent in one direction to get in line to return it. Grace and Olivia were sent to get in line to receive their senior gift bags which contained a complimentary yearbook and a 21CCCS alumni t-shirt.

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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.

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While we were eating and visiting, Olivia and Grace were kept busy behind the scenes.

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First, they got fitted for their caps and gowns. Lana and I stepped in to watch the process and that is when the emotions fully hit. Watching our babies have their graduation caps pinned to their heads made it all real. Lana expressed my emotions best when she said, “How can this be? I just brought her home from the hospital yesterday.”

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Then Grace and Olivia donned their National Honor Society medallions for being members of the NHS presidency.

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After hugs and a few tears, 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.

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 with the photo booth,

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Playing games on Toby’s phone,

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Napping,

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Playing card games,

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And visiting with their teachers.

Each of the kids wanted to get a photo with their learning coach.

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Ozzie and Mrs. Scarpignato

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Molly and Mr. Winterode (Coach)

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Rusty and Ms. Heleniak

We have been blessed with such awesome learning coaches over the years at this school, so perfectly fitted to each of my kids’ personalities and exactly what each has needed to find success.

In fact, Gracie really credits her first learning coach, Mr. Dolan, who has since moved away, as the catalyst for her success in high school and the reason she wants to be a special education teacher. She has personally experienced the impact an invested, caring teacher who believes in you, can have on the life of a student with a learning disability, and wants to pay it forward and have that same impact on another student like herself.

When Mr. Dolan moved away Grace was crushed. But God knew what he was doing and He sent what Grace needed next in the form of Mrs. McGuire, her learning coach for her remaining two years in the school. Mr. Dolan helped Grace see the ability within her disability and helped her believe in her capabilities…just what 9th grade Grace needed. Mrs. McGuire stepped in and was the catalyst for dreaming big dreams and showing Grace that she could do anything she wants with those abilities. Both were powerful influences in Gracie’s life when she most needed to learn those lessons.

Grace received the thrill of her life on Saturday when both of her learning coaches came to graduation. Mr. Dolan, who now lives out of state, surprised his graduating students by showing up for their special day.

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Grace was moved to tears to have both of these important people there to celebrate her achievement. She never thought she would see Mr. Dolan again and now Mrs. McGuire will be leaving the school to follow her husband across the country to California. What a gift Grace received in being able to share this moment with them before they all go their separate ways!

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It was soon time to head to the auditorium for the commencement exercises. Tatum, Lucas and Molly were asked (as members of National Honor Society) to stand at the doors and hand out programs.

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

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The students walked in and the tears began.

The girls looked so grown up and pretty.

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They were seated on stage and the School principal stood up to welcome the families and introduce the speakers. Grace was the first of three students who were chosen to speak at graduation.

Here is what she had to say:

“In 1986 a man by the name of Robert Fulghum published a piece of prose titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” This humorous, yet insightful, piece of literature revealed that the most important life lessons do not happen at graduate school but in the sandbox of our childhood. Following Mr. Fulghum’s example I would like to summarize the lessons I have learned these last four years in a piece I call, “All I really need to know I learned at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.”

Here are some of the life lessons I have learned:

·         I learned that the teachers want to be your friend. From your very first orientation day they wanted to get to know you. They wanted to know your likes and dislikes. They didn’t just want to be your teacher but also your ally. In life, we all need allies.

·         From Ms. Cloetingh I have learned that sometimes you just have to sit down and paint. Einstein said, “Creativity is contagious.” At 21st Century it is a downright epidemic! Between mural club, the art and literary magazine, and a variety of music and drawing classes, creativity flows through the veins of this school, teaching students how to share their soul with the world.

·         I learned that having one person believe in you and your ability can change you. Mr. Dolan was that one person for me. Mr. Dolan used to be a teacher in this school. He believed in me and my abilities, which helped me believe in myself.

·         I learned that there is a leader within all of us. As a student with a learning disability I never thought I would be accepted as a member of National Honor Society, much less serve as president of National Honor Society my senior year. It is through the support of great teachers and the belief I had in my own abilities that I discovered a leader within me that I didn’t realize existed. There is a leader within all of us.

·         I learned that raising your hand, multiple times in a row, while in the VO won’t help you get help any faster. I bet many teachers can attest that they can often hear the sweet music of the many hands of students being raised. As students, we had to learn how to be patient, but we also learned we would always get the help we needed. We must find the right balance of patience and self-advocacy as we seek out the right people to support us in our journey.

·         I learned that untraditional friendships can often be the best kinds of friendships. I find it funny when people have the misconception that cyber school students are backwards or unsocial just because they don’t interact with their peers face to face in a traditional classroom. The friendships I have made with fellow students and teachers are not only authentic but deep and meaningful. It may not be a traditional way of making friends, but the friendships I have made at 21st Century mean the world to me.

·         (Signed in American Sign Language) I learned that it takes courage to pursue your passion. Mrs. McGuire really helped me learn this. She helped me have the courage to pursue my own passion for American Sign Language. This fall I plan to begin school to become an American Sign Language interpreter.

I started attending 21st Century Cyber Charter School in 9th grade. I have been in this school for four years and have loved every moment of it. Some might look at this day as the end of a journey when in reality it is simply the start of the next great journey. By taking the lessons we’ve learned within the cyber walls of this school we are equipped with the life lessons needed to go forth and make an impact on the world. Today we celebrate where you have been and where you are going. Happy Graduation Day!”

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

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Next it was time for the presentation of scholarships.

At 21st Century Cyber Charter School the teachers have a long-standing tradition of presenting four 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 inservice/training days, which they will use to raise money to help fund these scholarships, in addition to cash donations by the teachers. They try to raise $500.00 for four chosen students but this year were even more generous and raised $750.00 for four students.

The teachers of this school are incredible and are at the heart of why this school shines brighter than the rest.

 

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Mr. Winterode, a favorite teacher at the school!

 

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Ms. Cloetingh, Grace and Olivia’s mural club teacher.

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Mr. Dolan, Gracie’s 1st learning coach.

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Mrs. McGuire, Gracie’s 2nd learning coach.

There are four scholarships given to four students that best exemplify the four pillars of National Honor Society. One scholarship for academics, one for leadership, one for service, and one for character.

We watched as they handed out the three scholarships for greatest academic excellence, 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 Gracie’s name!

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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 right these last 19 years. I remember holding her as a baby and speaking to God during one of our middle of the night gatherings between Grace, God and I. I remember praying over that  little bundle I held 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.” And God has been merciful. He has answered my prayers. How blessed we are by this sweet girl! God is good.

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

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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.

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And it was done.

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 the 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.

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A diploma hard earned by both student and teacher! 🙂

It was time to celebrate:

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She did it.

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Olivia did it.

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We did it!

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Congratulations, ladies. We are so proud of you.

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What a beautiful journey it has been!

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