The Alessandrini Family’s unexpected discovery of the joys of Homeschooling.
by Susan Alessandrini
“I am not going to homeschool! I am not ‘that’ kind of mom!”
When my husband originally suggested that we homeschool, I declared that the Blessed Mother herself would have to sit down across the table and say, “Susan, you are going to homeschool,” before I would try it. We are now finishing up our seventh year of homeschooling with Seton, and even though I haven’t seen the Blessed Mother sitting at the dinner table, I do believe she is with us and watching over us. After seven years, not only am I convinced that I am “that” kind of mom, but I am convinced that our family is better because of it!
We read every Seton Magazine that comes to our house. I enjoy the new Feature Family section, and feel a deep connection with those families that want something different for their children and their families. My children, on the other hand, were reading these monthly family stories and felt a strong need to tell our story. They kept saying, “Mom, you should tell them this,” and “Mom, you should tell them that.” I kept putting it off, but maybe the Blessed Mother is prompting me through my children!
It all began when my two girls were starting at the Catholic school. Ida was entering 2nd grade and Gabriella was starting Kindergarten. We had made payments towards the $5,000 tuition for that school year. I had quit my job to stay home with my children, so why was I paying strangers (teachers) to be with two of my children for most for the day? All summer, the dollar signs had been rolling around in my head. Why were Kindergarten and 2nd grade so expensive? As our plan then stood, all four children would be attending that school eventually, and what would that cost?
With this big decision weighing on my shoulders, I had been going to daily Mass and Adoration and had met the nicest families. There was something different about the way these families interacted with each other and something very attractive about these moms. Their children were the kind of children I wanted my children to be friends with. I wanted what they had, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
Now it was the week before school started. Uniforms were pressed and hung in the closet, book bags were tagged with “Alessandrini,” girls had met their new teachers, and…we decided to “bring them home”! That night, still in shock over what we had just done, I went online and pulled up Seton’s website. This was the curriculum my homeschooling friends talked about all the time when we stood around in the parking lot after Adoration. I punched in 2nd grade and Kindergarten on the Seton website, and since then I have never looked back.
I did fool myself for a year or two thinking that everything about our family was still the same; we just homeschooled. Ha! This experience has really been more like having a baby, where life is never the same but everything changes for the better. At the beginning, I worried if homeschooling was the best decision for our family. Then we found ourselves needing to prepare quickly for it. I wondered how it would affect us. I lay awake at night trying to figure out how this was actually going to work. Eventually though, without even knowing it, I couldn’t remember life before homeschooling. Now, so many years later, how could I ever give it up? It has changed us in ways we didn’t foresee.
I love to tell people that when you homeschool, you can love and discipline your kids all day. They need both, and they can’t get either in a traditional school setting. I also tell people that successful homeschooling is not just about what the kids are learning; successful homeschooling is about what the mom is learning about herself, as well. Through the years of homeschooling, I have called the Seton counselors many times for many reasons. Sometimes I called for academics, but most often for how to make homeschooling work for us. Sharon Hassett has been a beacon of light for me. Her encouragement and simple advice has grown through the years to give me a sense of independence and confidence. No matter what I was struggling with – book reports or night shifts- she always reminded me to keep going to daily Mass and weekly Adoration. She helped me find ways to make school more manageable and still have time for Mass. Very smart! The years of experience with academics that Seton has is so important to me, but perhaps more importantly, I have found a wealth of strong, committed Catholics at Seton who I can count on for support and prayers. As a result, I have become a stronger, more committed Catholic. Now there’s a benefit I didn’t expect!
As a homeschooling family, we are in a variety of extra-curricular activities. Some of them are: gymnastics, piano, art, choir, hockey, volleyball, soccer, and more! We do not participate in all of these because I’m trying to teach my children how to “socialize.” These activities grew naturally out of our family’s character. Even before we started homeschooling, we were a very sporty family, involved in our church, and had many friends. I believe homeschooling has only helped us to become the active family God wanted us to be.
We live on the Southside of Chicago and my husband of 16 years is a police officer in a neighboring suburb. Even with working midnight shifts, being called out to work at all hours of the day, and handling the stress of his job, he continues to be my biggest fan. When people ask if his wife works, he says, “Yes, harder than me.” They say, “Wow! What does she do?” The response is always a surprise to them! I think part of his motivation to homeschool, besides thinking I would do a great job, has been security. He loves his children like no other dad I’ve ever met, and his job and what he sees on a daily basis has an effect on how he wants to raise his kids. When he is at work and super busy, he has the peace of mind of knowing that his children are in the safest possible place and getting an education beyond what our local schools can provide.
I now have an 8th grader, 6th grader, 4th grader, and a 2nd grader. We started homeschooling for financial reasons, but seven years later, it has nothing to do with money. The reasons for homeschooling have changed from year to year. I have homeschooled for social reasons, religious reasons, academic reasons, and more recently medical reasons. My 6th grader, Gabriella, has a rare auto-immune disease of her eyes that was diagnosed 3 years ago. Her vision has to be closely monitored, but she is responding well to the infusions she receives once every 4 weeks and daily drops. Gabriella’s disease was another confirmation of the “rightness” of our decision to homeschool. Rather than take Gabriella away from school and make her struggle with life (as would have been the case if she had been in a regular school), this “cross” was something we knew we could carry as a family, and in fact, it has actually brought the whole family closer.
Gabriella is not missing all the days of school that she would have in a traditional school. Addressing her needs is a “normal” part of our school program and it makes us who we are. Gabriella has a rotating schedule for taking each sibling for doctor visits and we sometimes include a field trip when we go into the city. This has helped develop deeper friendships among my children. Not only have we had the privilege of meeting some of the best doctors in Chicago that are nationally recognized, but they have met a one-of-a-kind family. Even my 2nd grader, Matteo, is asking the doctor how Gabriella’s pressure is in her eyes this last visit! Her siblings care and they are involved!
More than anything else, I really just love being with my kids. Whether at church, the grocery store, or soccer practice, other people have remarked on how well-behaved, animated, spiritual, attentive, or affectionate my children are. We laugh, we pray, we sing, and we have our family inside jokes. And I thank God and the Blessed Mother every chance I get, that I have the opportunity to homeschool these four beautiful souls He entrusted to me and my husband.