Nobody said being in the Sandwich Generation would be easy. As I adapted to the responsibilities of taking care of my mom, Rose Beebe, 88, who suffers from Alzheimer's, my daughter, Jazlyn, 17, was enduring struggles of her own that warranted my attention.
Not long after she started her freshman year in high school, I began to notice distinct changes: nail biting, insomnia, lack of motivation, anxiety and slipping grades. I initially chalked much of it up to adjusting to the rigors of high school, but she never settled in.
Jazlyn had always been a fast learner, curious and thirsty for knowledge. She excelled in elementary and middle school, so having to prod her about grades was new territory. Instead of loving academics as she always had, she dreaded school.
A highly sensitive and creative child, Jazlyn had poured those attributes into dancing, singing and acting since she was a tot. Her interest in school briefly was rekindled when she made the varsity dance team during her sophomore year and was required to take daily technique classes.
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But a week later, that elation turned to sadness when the principal announced the dance program would be eliminated due to budget cuts.
Jazlyn struggled through honors and Advanced Placement classes she felt pressure to take to get into college. No matter how much I helped her study or how much tutoring she had, she foundered. She had lost her natural love of learning. Her stress level rose while her self-esteem nosedived.
What happened to my once outgoing and carefree daughter?
It was about this time that I came across the documentary "Race to Nowhere" and realized it wasn't just my child who was suffering but millions of others as well.
The film features the heart-wrenching stories of kids across the country who have been pushed to the edge by education policies focused on "high-stakes tests and competitive college admissions."
"Childhood has become indentured to test scores, performance and competition. We face an epidemic of unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared kids trying to manage as best they can," said director Vicki Abeles, who was inspired to make the film after her 12-year-old experienced a stress-related illness. Depression, eating disorders, binge drinking, drug abuse and cheating are now commonplace among our youth.
The film notes that children are taught to rely on memorizing facts to pass tests and not expected to become creative thinkers or problem-solvers. Research indicates the push to excel may not be worth the damage to children.
A USA Today analysis found that the number of students who take Advanced Placement tests has hit a record high, but the percentage of students that fail the exams is rising. In 2009, 41.5 percent of students who took AP tests in the U.S. received a failing score, according to a 2010 study.
A survey of 18,000 college students enrolled in introductory biology, chemistry and physics found little evidence that high school AP courses significantly boost college performance in the sciences..
I realized that school had become a one-size-fits-all system, and my daughter wasn't fitting in.
"I get so overwhelmed at school with the work and tests and pressure of being good enough to go to college," said Jazlyn. "Then I come home and stress about the school day and what I need to do and can't sleep. Whoever said high school would be the best years of my life was definitely wrong." Three months into her junior year, Jazlyn and I made the mutual decision to home-school.
As legally required, I sent a Notice of Intent to Operate a Home School to the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education, along with a copy of my high school diploma. I must operate my school on a regular schedule at least nine calendar months of the year.
A nationally standardized achievement test is to be administered annually covering English grammar, reading, spelling and mathematics.
Jazlyn and I explored our options for curriculum that would work best for us. We learned there are complete home-school curriculums that provide the teacher guides, books, study sheets and tests for each grade.
Faith-based home schooling teaches the fundamentals of education while weaving religious principles into each lesson.
Online schools can be customized to a student's interests and abilities.
Unschooling is a relaxed method that lets children learn through their natural life experiences.
At home-school coops, parents combine their efforts to teach various subjects.
Numerous home-school support groups in the area provide outings, activities and socialization opportunities.
Jazlyn has started with some self-paced online classes and now is feeling more in control of her education and her life.
"I feel less pressure and am happy that I can do things at my own pace," she said. "I am more confident about my future now that I'm not stressing out about my performance."
Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.