Writing a letter to your confirmation candidate

It seems that one of the biggest events in confirmation preparation in this country is the letters of support to be given to the confirmation candidates during their mandatory retreats.

I have three such letters saved on this blog:

Confirmation letter to my daughterConfirmation letter to my fourth sonConfirmation letter to to my third son
I've asked my children what they remember about the letter they got from me and their dad, and also what they remembered about the letters they received. 
The answer was not much, or at least nothing specific. In general they were happy to have gotten a bag full of letters and there was a sense of feeling loved and supported. I guess that's the main thing - for them to have a sense that this is an important step in their spiritual growth, and that people they know, love and respect have taken the time out of their lives to let them know that! So here are some tips on procuring and writing letters for young confirmation candidates. Start thinkin…

When God Closes a Door

Some might remember the struggle my husband and I have had with our local school board in allowing our son to participate on the public school swim team. I'll give a little history and then the stunning up date.

My state has allowed public monies to create charter schools. There a number of them in my state, but the most popular among my friends and acquaintances are ODHELA and William Bennett's K-12.

Our oldest boy Calvin, had been home schooled since he was 5. I blogged in the past about his reading problems and how we solved them. But despite that, by the end of 7th grade I knew that he needed someone else to be accountable to for his academics, besides me. I also felt that I wanted him to be able to work in a quiet environment where he wouldn't be over stimulated, but could focus on his work. When our school districted opened its own digital academy, it seemed to be the perfect solution to our needs.

My school board created its own digital academy a few years ago. It wasn't because they saw the value of a 21st century education via the internet, or because they wanted to offer another option to their students... it was strictly because they were losing too many students to the other charter schools and they wanted to plug the drain! And it turned out to be a smart move financially. Last year the digital academy gave $500,000 BACK to the school board which went to the general public school accounts!

OK, so far so good.

When this digital academy recruited us for its program, we, as naive parents looking at the regular public school stationery, were under the impression that the digital academy was considered part of the public school system! When we asked at the beginning of the 8th grade if our son would be able to participate in sports we were told, "probably," which changed by midyear to "maybe" and then finally by the end of 8th grade, "probably not."

Over the summer I contacted the athletic director about our son participating on the soccer team. I called, I waited, I made other calls. By September the athletic director said no, and then went on a diatribe about how inferior the charter schools were. I guess he missed the part when I told him this was HIS CHARTER SCHOOL that we were talking about. No matter.

Soccer season came and went. Calvin didn't play on a team, although he did make some extra money reffing for CYO.

With swimming season approaching we became more pro-active. I contacted the superintendent and we had a meeting with him. While he was very kind, he told us that the school board already had a policy about homeschoolers and they would not likely change it. OK, but this ISN'T Homeschooling! This is a student attending the district's digital academy!!! The only option he gave us, was that we could address the school board before the next meeting. All we had to do was send a letter of intent to the treasurer before the deadline for the next meeting.

I'm just guessing now, but I imagine most parents drop out at that point. Who has time to draft a letter, get it down to the school board treasurer, and then prepare to stand and orally address the board!! Is this process meant to be intimidating or what?!

But Mr. Pete and I prepared ourselves. I sent drafted a letter, Mr. Pete personally delivered it. I wrote a speech with our concerns, and Mr. Pete practiced and gave it. You can read about Mr. Pete going before the school board here.

Now that was a nerve wracking experience. He only had 5 minutes to give the speech, and Mr. Pete, not being a professional public speaker got a little flustered and lost some time. And let me tell you, when the 5 minutes were gone... they weren't shy about asking you to wrap it up in the next 30 seconds!! Mr. Pete did, they thanked him and told him he would be getting a letter from the Superintendent, and that was that.

A couple of weeks later, a reporter from the local paper wanted to do a story on Calvin and his quest to get onto the swim team. We didn't automatically say yes. Mr. Pete called the superintendent's office for guidance, but as he was out of town, the secretary referred him to the athletic director who said something like, "Ya gotta do what ya gotta do." So - we did it.

You can read about that article here! It was a great experience and I thought presented our case fairly.

In the meantime we did NOT hear from a single, solitary member of the school board. Not one word. No one asked questions about how this would affect Calvin, or about what our other options were, no one invited him to maybe take a class at the local high school as a condition for joining the team, nothing... na da... zip! Dead silence.

A week later our paper did a very favorable editorial that concluded that it could be a very positive thing for the school district and the students to allow digital academy students to participate on sports and extra curriculars.

Again nothing, na da, zip from the school board.

Monday, I got a call from the local reporter who told us that they WERE going to discuss this at the meeting and wondering if we were going to be there. That's how we heard about it. No one from the school board or the superintendent's office invited us to attend. But we went anyway.

The whole experience was surreal. This board, who heard Mr. Pete speak for 5 minutes weeks ago, and who hadn't questioned or spoken to either of us since, started talking about our situation, right in front of us as if we weren't even there. They asked no questions, we weren't allowed to speak. It was just weird.

It was also insulting. One board member said participating in the sports program was a privilege, and not a right. I was wondering how come paying property taxes to the city for almost 20 years and having a business that pays taxes to the city for the past 10, as well as enrolling my student into their sponsored digital school didn't bestow on me some privileges. I guess it gives me the continued privilege of watching that house payment money go into escrow to pay the property taxes every year.

Another board member, who I don't remember even being there when Mr. Pete gave his 5- minute speech, opined that if the digital students didn't want to sit next to her students in a regular classroom, then they certainly didn't want to run with them across a soccer field. For the record most of the kids I have met in the digital academy are going there because they weren't cutting it in the regular class room setting. One of Calvin's classmates was in class one day and out the next, because she had given birth the night in between. Calvin has walked to the bus stop with some of his buddies after school, because the free bus pass is the only way they have of getting back and forth. I gave one of Calvin's friends rides to his public housing apartment on more than one occasion because it was too wet or cold to wait for the bus. Clearly these aren't students with a superiority complex, but kids with other problems that this academy helps them address.

She also said that there were other opportunities for kids to play in the community. Well that's true until 8th grade. After that most of the community opportunities dry up because they believe the high schoolers will play for their high school teams. While there are other opportunities for elite players outside the public schools, those are costly. Her suggestion that the kids play for those was akin to Marie Antoinette saying, "Let them eat cake!"

Lastly, the Digital Academy liaison, had a 4 page paper that she had obviously worked on for a while, with 100 different reasons why the digital academy kids should remain second class citizens. I was stunned. Somehow I had the idea that a liaison was supposed to be an advocate. All she was advocating was keeping the kids separate and unequal. I wonder if she held her nose when that $500,000 was given back to the school board from the digital academy last spring. It makes me wonder.

You can read the paper's report of the meeting here. Bottom line was it appeared if they voted it would be 4 to 3 against us. They didn't vote but instead decided to send this issue to the policy committee, which unfortunately is chaired by the same woman who is the digital academy liaison. The chances of that ever making it out committee in my natural life time are slim to none, and I swear by her little smile of accomplishment when this came to pass, she thought so too!

After the meeting, Mr. Pete and I sat around and gave some comments to the local papers and then headed home to process what had just happened to us. The system had played us like a fiddle, but at least we had played by the rules and kept our integrity... or so I kept telling myself.

The truth was they won, we lost, and we just went through this charade of a process to make it look fair. There was really nothing fair about it. It almost might have felt better if they had told Mr. Pete after his talk in October, "Fat chance buddy!"

The next day we were in the paper again. A radio station called me for a short interview, and then I thought we were done. It was over. We had put up a good fight.

In the early afternoon, I got a call from State Senator Coughlin. It appears that he shared our view, that it was crazy for a school district to sponsor a digital academy, benefit from it monetarily, and then treat the students like the red-haired step children of the district!! So, he's sponsoring a bill to require school districts that sponsor digital academies to allow those students the same access to extra-curriculars and sports that all the other kids in the district have.

From his web site:
The move comes in light of a recent decision by the Akron Board of Education, that, in effect, barred student Calvin LaVictoire, an Akron Digital Academy student, from participating on the Firestone Akron Swim Team even though the Akron Public School System sponsors the Akron Digital Academy.

"In sponsoring a charter school, the Akron Public School System is offering families and students an additional option in terms of learning method, style and environment. Those who choose this option should not be expected to forfeit the opportunity to participate in sports or extracurricular activities that would otherwise be readily available to them," Coughlin said. "I support the LaVictoire's decision to enroll Calvin in the Akron Digital Academy, yet I don't believe they should be asked to weigh the advantages of enrolling him in the digital academy against the costs of losing his ability to participate in extra curricular activities."

Coughlin is working to have legislation added to a bill scheduled for a vote in the Senate State and Local Government Committee next week.


Now that's a twist I never would have come up with on my own. An answer to prayer that I certainly never expected or saw coming!

So the saga continues... I'll keep you posted.


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