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By Gabrielle. Photos from Back to School photo shoots in France.

I’ve been getting lots of emails on how we’re handling Ralph’s schooling while he’s in England and France, which is a really good question and has taken some figuring out. The whole thing is so new to us, I’m not even sure how I feel about it. For the first half of this school year (his junior year of high school), he’ll be attending the online school called K12. Then, when he returns to the U.S., he can either reenroll at our public high school, or continue on with K12 for the rest of the year.

We decided on this for several reasons. When we were in France, we had two different nieces come and stay with us. In both cases, they would attend class at our local school, but wouldn’t get graded or do French assignments — neither one knew much French so it wasn’t realistic to really fully participate. Instead, they continued with their American schoolwork using their laptops, and would spend some class periods in the school library doing their U.S. homework.

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Then, when our French exchange students, Charles and Victor, came from France to stay with us this last Spring, the same thing happened. They attended class with Ralph at our local high school, but they didn’t participate in class or get graded. Instead they would work on their French homework. (The exception was French class, where the teacher would sometimes want to involve them to model pronunciation or phrases or talk about culture to the American students.)

What to Wear to 9th Grade

We concluded that this worked out well in both countries. The visiting kids don’t burden the teachers and there is no interruption of school work. And the visiting kids get to experience a foreign school and meet tons of people and dive way deeper into the culture than they could do as tourists.

So this is what Ralph is doing. He’s in England now. He attends school with his friend Chris but uses K12 for his coursework. When he goes to France at the end of the month, he’ll attend school with Charles and continue his K12 work.

We considered talking to his teachers here in Oakland and asking them to prepare work for him while he was abroad, but concluded immediately that it was too big of a favor to ask. And though we’ve never used K12 for our kids, we know all about it because Ben worked there for several years. In fact, it’s always been in our back pocket in case we needed another educational choice.

What to Wear to 9th Grade

For those of you who homeschool, I’m sure this is no big deal at all. But having a student enrolled in an online school is new to us! And we feel so lucky it’s an option. Since the State of California has a contract with K12 (most states do, but not all), there is no cost to us, and the coursework aligns with state standards. Which means that if/when Ralph enrolls in our public high school in January, he can step into the school work seamlessly.

One of our hopes is that this will simplify his transcript, versus trying to figure out how to give him school credit for one month in England and 3 months in France, which would be super complicated and not very realistic.

We are crossing our fingers the whole thing works as smoothly as possible. Who knows? We may decide it’s not working at all and have to figure out something else. But so far, so good!

The experience has me thinking about schedule flexibility. Over the weekend, I was with my brothers and sisters celebrating my Mom’s birthday. Pretty much all of us have built careers for ourselves that allow for a really flexible schedule. We love the idea of using that flexibility and being able to take roadtrips with the kids, or work on awesome family projects together (like Olive Us), but being bound by school attendance tends to negate much of the flexibility our jobs offer.

What to Wear to 9th Grade

My siblings and myself are all big supporters of public schools (no doubt partly because our dad was a public school teacher), but we find ourselves being drawn to options like K12 or other online schools because they match the flexibility of our work schedules. Sometimes I feel like all my kids should enroll in K12 — if for no other reason than to avoid the crazy mornings!

One more quick note: Olive isn’t using K12 while she’s in France. She will be attending the local French school that she attended before we moved, and will participate fully as a student. Since she’s not in high school yet, her transcript can have breaks in it and we don’t mind.

I understand this arrangement/exchange would feel too messy for some families. I’m betting some of you are reading this and thinking that it’s too complicated! I totally get that. International adventures never do seem simple. But we feel like it’s worth it. Ben and I really value these types of experiences and couldn’t be happier that our kids are into this sort of thing.

What’s your take? How strict are you on school attendance? Are you as strict with your younger kids as you are with your high schoolers? Perhaps you’re casual about it up through Middle School before transcripts count? Have you ever felt like you had to skip an opportunity because your kids would miss too many school days? Or have your kids ever gotten really involved in a sport or other extra curricular activity that cut into vacation time? Would you ever consider online school? And for any of you that homeschool, was part of the decision about schedule flexibility?

P.S. — Several readers have asked what exchange program we used, but we didn’t use an official program. Before we moved from France, Charles and Victor, both friends from Ralph’s school, asked if it was possible to do an exchange with our family. They would come and stay with us, and then Ralph would go and stay with them. We loved the idea, and connected with Charles’ and Victor’s families before we moved away so we could formalize the arrangement.

Victor came to our house for 3 weeks. Charles came for 3 months. An English friend, Chris, made arrangements with Ralph for an exchange as well, and Chris came to our house for a month. Now, Ralph is spending a month at Chris’s house in England, and then 3 months at Charles’ house in France — and perhaps a weekend or two with Victor as well.