The Big School Question

It’s that time of year again!  School is on the brain.  School uniforms can be seen in every shop, little tents can be seen on the sidewalks selling school supplies at a discount. Here we goooooooo!

School is about to start and the Johnson family has (yet again) the big question looming over our heads: “What will we do about school???” I gotta tell you, I’m am SO OVER asking that question.  I’m over it! I have to admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who stays in one place and without much thought or debate knows exactly where their children will go to school each year.  I’ll admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who knows what to expect and what supplies to buy how to communicate with the teachers and what is expected of them and their children.  But, pity party over.  I realize that we will never be those people.  Time to suck it up and move on.  🙂 

Uniform shopping!


There are several variables that make schooling a big challenge here.  First of all, we seem to be the only foreigners with kids around here.  If there are others they must be hiding because no one knows about them and no one has ever seen them.  Because our kids are, seemingly, the only foreigners and are not fluent in Ukrainian the schools have no idea what to do with them.  ESL type programs are nonexistent here, because everyone is from here! I know that kids learn quickly, and will eventually catch up, but it’s not like Addy can just enter 6th grade here and on day 1 write an essay in Ukrainain.  There’s just no way!  Addy and Ez will absolutely need help and assignment modification, but if schools have never done that or considered that before, then their answer is usually just to put the kids in first grade over and over so that they don’t fail.  Hava will be fine because she’ll do first grade, and Seth will be fine in preschool/kinder, but we are pretty adamant this time around that the schools find some way for Addy and Ez to be with their peers.  

There are four schooling options available to us:

1.  Local Public School.  PROS: Free, great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to go to school with neighbors. CONS: Big class sizes, no ability to modify assignments for our kids, our kids would go to the village school which does not have a good reputation, a public school would not accept Vladik. 

We sent Addy and Ezra to our neighborhood public school for a semester in 2014.  It was a fine experience.  They both did first grade and all went fine.  It wasn’t amazing, but it was okay.  I would be very hesitant to send them to public school in the upper grades. They are just not equipped to work with us.

2.  Local Christian School. PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to get to know other Christian families, smaller class sizes.  CONS: No desire to modify assignments for our kids, unsure if they would accept Vladik, they have a waiting list right now, so most likely we wouldn’t get in anyway. 

We sent Addy and Ezra to this school for a semester in 2014 and it was just okay.  They wanted them to continue to repeat first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian…so yeah, probably that’s not the best option for us.  NO WAY are we making them repeat first grade again.  NOPE. 

3.  Home School. PROS: We know how to do it.  🙂 No language barrier or cultural barriers, they will not fall behind in study content and English reading and writing, more time together as a family, more time to be involved in ministry as a family.  CONS: Social isolation (NO ONE homeschools here), far less exposure to Ukrainian language.

My heart longs for this option.  I love homeschooling my kids and and I believe in homeschooling 100%.  It is cozy and wonderful and would be BY FAR the easiest option for us.  But, we know that we know that is not the option God has for us. If we call Ukraine our home, then we must give our children opportunities to be a part of Ukraine.  They will be absolutely isolated if we homeschool, and in a very closed culture we must provide them with opportunities to be with other children and develop language skills. We are already the oddity everywhere we go.  We can’t just keep our kids at home.  We just know we can’t.

3.  Local Ukrainian Private School.  PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, smaller class sizes, a desire to integrate our kids and modify assignments for them, open to Vladik.  CONS: We don’t really know anyone there so it’s starting all over.  

This is the obvious choice for us at this point.  🙂

We met with the director of the private school this last week and the meeting was super positive.  She was full of energy, and right away it was obvious that the director and the teachers were excited to have our kids.  It was like they were excited to accept the challenge, which is a huge blessing to us.  We don’t want to feel like our kids are a burden to the school.  They are open to putting Addy and Ezra with their peers which is a HUGE blessing to us!  Maybe the most miraculous moment in the meeting was their reaction to Vladik.  There was not one moment when they debated if they would accept Vladik into the school.  They looked at him and were like “Okay, now let’s  decide where we should place Vladik.”  Not “if”, but “where”.  Miraculous.  We were almost positive that by bringing Vladik back to Ukraine that we were basically deciding he would never get more education at a school, because Special Ed does not exist here. What a big surprise and blessing that they are willing to take him, and WANT to take him.  YAY!!!  


At this point it looks like Addy will be in 5th class, Ezra will be in 4th class, Hava will be in 1st class, Seth will be in kindergarten, and Vladik…we’re still up in the air about him.  He will need a one-on-one who will help him in the classroom, and then take him out part of the time for individual instruction.  The school needs to find and hire a teacher for him, and then they will need to figure out which classroom is the best fit for him.  If you could pray that they find the best person for him that would be great!  It needs to be someone who will treasure Vladik and love him for who he is, yet not be afraid to push him to meet his full potential.  

They are basically having us fill out a form that says Addy and Ezra have special needs, as well as Vladik.  This will enable the school to legally modify their assignments and give them their grades based on modified work.  We explained to the staff that our desire for our kids is language acquisition and social integration.  We don’t really care about their grades.  Seriously, grades are the least of our worries!  It is a battle to get educators here to realize that for Addy and Ezra this is not a problem of intellect, but completely a problem of language.  They are smart!  They do amazing at school!  They just don’t have the level of Ukrainian they need to be able to function like the other students. They don’t need to be in second grade at 10 and 12 years of age, they need to be with their peers where they are socially motivated to reach their potential. 

I have no idea how it will all pan out, but at least for now we have a plan and a school that is welcoming us with open arms. The learning curve will be outrageously steep, especially for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah.  We’ll also need to figure out how they can get content and practice in English language stuff without burning them out…yikes. I’m super nervous for them, well for all of us, but trusting God that He will give them everything they need.  

I’ll keep you posted as we go! 

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Johnson Kids Meet American School

So I’m sitting here in a coffee shop ALL ALONE. I’m not sure the last time this has ever happened to me. Wait, has this ever happened to me before? It feels very strange and even a bit wrong. I feel like I’m forgetting something….or four somethings. 🙂 

The Johnson kids are in school. Wow. 

You know, I think I must be a slow learner, because God keeps telling us to do stuff I said we would never do. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut a little more often. Hehe. We are a homeschooling family. I love homeschool. It just works for us. It clicks with us. Why would my kids ever need to go to school when I can teach them just fine at home? Well, enter moving across the world and then one year of Ukrainian school then international adoption then temporarily relocating back to the other side of the world and a multitude of doctor’s offices and surgeries to come and you get the idea: school must happen and I’m not going to have the time to do it myself. 

Jed and Vladik are still in Ukraine waiting on documents to be able to leave the country; meanwhile the kids and I are here in Oregon getting settled and prepared for their arrival. And the kids started school on Tuesday. Eeeeeek! 

We are so blessed to have an amazing Christian school in our city with teachers that know our family and have been praying for us for years. In fact, my mom, my brother, and one of my dearest friends are three of them!  The school is giving us some financial aid, so praise God for that. We still haven worked out exactly how we’re going to pay for the rest of it, but God knows and He will provide. 

Jed and I felt really strongly that it wouldn’t be the best idea to put our kids straight from Ukraine into public school where we knew no one. We also knew that I won’t be able to cart them to all Vladik’s upcoming medical appointments, so this school is a huge answer to our prayers. Already, after the first week, I know it was the right choice. The kids are happy and loving it, the teachers are wonderful, and I know they are safe and loved. 

Hava and Seth are both in kindergarten.

  
Ezra is in fourth grade and Grams is his teacher! 

  
And Addy is doing fifth grade. 

  
This world of American school is like another foreign country, but so far we seem to be navigating it okay (minus being late on the FIRST DAY…oops). It’s a breeze compared to navigating Ukrainian school…I mean, for starters, everyone speaks English! Ha! 

So, that’s where we stand now. On another note, if you could pray for our adoption process we would super appreciate it. We are hitting delay after delay after delay and we are so tired and ready to be together as a family. Vladik and Jed still wait for documents and the kids are missing Daddy like crazy. Praise God they have done amazingly well during all this transition, but we are soooo ready to be done!!! Thanks 🙂 

   
 

The Hard Stuff.

Hello!…gasp…choke…sputter…(that’s me coming up for air)

We’re alive! Oh my, it’s been a doozy of a summer. Awesome? YES. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the dooziness of it. Wow.

Now we’re here in September, coming up for air, hoping you still remember us and will forgive us for being absent in this space. You will? Thanks!

Addy and Ezra started school last Monday and I’ll be honest, it’s been rough. We transfered them to a Ukrainian Christian school here in town and the school itself couldn’t be kinder and more caring. It’s just all around extremely difficult. There’s no way around it. We are in the trenches and it stinks. BIG TIME.

After the first couple of days I emailed a few of my homeschooling Mommy friends from back in the US and basically bawled my eyes out over email. “Please tell me I’m not ruining my kids’ lives by making them do something this hard.” “Please tell me this will get better.” “Please send me multiple boxes of chocolate and can you somehow figure a way to get a DQ Blizzard here intact?” (kidding…)

I was teary-eyed dropping them off the first day, I prayed all throughout the day at home, and then cried to their teacher (I know, humiliating…I couldn’t help it! Poor thing didn’t see that coming ON THE FIRST DAY) when I picked them up in the afternoon. Oy.

They want friends. They want to understand. They want to speak. It’s just so stinkin’ hard. They’re in first class again because they don’t speak enough Ukrainian, but the Director said if they begin to speak more, that after Christmas break there’s a chance of them moving up to second class. I know in the US they would be put at their grade level according to age, but that’s not really how it works here. There aren’t other foreigners, so the school is just deciding what to do with us on a minute by minute basis. They are so gracious to take on the Johnsons. It takes a village! Hahahaha….waaaaaaahhhhhhh.

The school system and inner-workings are just SO different here. Know one knows what we don’t know (everything) so we often don’t know what’s going on…or we don’t even know that we don’t know what’s going on. From school supply lists to parent communication to bathroom rules to class schedules- it’s all different.

We realized about two days in to the school year that it is absolutely necessary for us to get the kids a tutor. We avoided it last school year because our family was just so much in survival mode, the thought of someone else coming to our house and the thought of making the kids study more after getting their brains fried at school seemed like family abuse. 🙂 But, we are determined to not just survive anymore and we’re feeling like we can start to really dig in in some ways that we hadn’t earlier. It’s time for the tutor.

We had one name referred to us by a good friend, so we contacted that girl and found out she is willing to teach the kids! She will hopefully be able to come to our house after school Monday through Thursday for an hour each day to help Addy and Ez with their homework and get them speaking more. The kids are less than excited, because when they get home they just want to play (I don’t blame them!), but we are trying to explain to them how much this will help them in the long run.

That tutor can’t start until the end”ish” of October and we had no idea what to do in the meantime. We really felt the kids need help ASAP. Well, guess what? On Monday the kids’ teacher at school asked if she could keep them for an hour after school each day to work with them on their Ukrainian!! Oh my word. When she offered I almost cried again (but decided it would be best to get a grip). I am so extremely thankful that she cares and wants to help them. Praise God for such a loving teacher!!!! So, she will help them until the tutor can start and we’ll see what happens then. We’re bitin’ the bullet baby. Please pray with us for miraculous results! I’m hoping that this extra time alone with their teacher will really help them get more comfortable to speak out at school.

I started doing some homeschool Kindergarten with Havalah and Seth last week too. Hava is super eager to learn to read, so we’re focusing on that. Later this month they’ll start going to a little private preschool for 1.5 hours twice a week. I think that’s just enought to get them some language exposure and time with other little kiddos. So, they’re pretty excited about starting that! It’s literally a 2 minute walk from our house, so I’m pretty excited about THAT! 🙂

I’ll tell you what; this parenting-in-another-culture thing is not for the faint of heart. It has shown me, and is showing me daily, hourly how much control I like to hold in my own two hands. I like to be in charge. I like to fix things. I like to make people happy. I put my trust in myself and my ability to make things better.

Well guess what? I can’t control my kids’ happiness. I can’t make kids at school like them and seek them out. I can’t make Ezra bold. I can’t make Addy not lonely for a girlfriend. I can’t demand the school put them with kids their own age. I can’t fix the fact that they want real friendships and have almost zero ability to make them right now. I can’t make them happy that they are here in Ukraine instead of with their cousins in the US. I can’t snap my fingers and make things all better. Things are just hard right now and all I can do is trust.

All I can do is trust that the God who spoke so clearly to us to move our family to Ukraine has not forgotten our children now that we are here.

All I can do is trust that God loves my kids more than I ever could and He knows their deepest needs- and He will meet those needs. I get focused on their wants- but God is able to meet their needs.

He knows them. He created them. He knew when He was forming them in the womb that they would live here in this culture, with these people. He is able to give them everything they need to THRIVE here.

I get so focused on ensuring their happiness that I lose sight of what’s really important.

What is the most important? Sleepovers and sports and theater and homeschool co-op and too many friends to count? No. Those things are awesome, and not wrong, and I miss them more than I can say. But those are not the most important things.

What is the most important thing? The most important thing is to say Yes to Jesus. The most important thing is to listen to the voice of the Father and walk with Him. The most important thing is seek first His Kingdom. The most important thing is go where He says to go, to do what He says to do- to know HIM. The rest is gravy.

Our joy is to be found in Him. Oh my, not that we can’t enjoy the fun things available in life! I’m a fun girl. I love to have fun, to do fun things, to be with fun people. God knows that about me and He knows that about my children. He’s a loving Father- He loves to love His kids. But seeking happiness for my kids instead of seeking Jesus with them is second best.

So, I tell myself these things all day while they’re gone at school. I tell myself these things after I tuck them in at night. Saying yes to Jesus is worth it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it can be fairly painful, but it is worth it.

I see how our kids are absolutely in love with the Boys at Romaniv and I get a glimpse of how it is worth it. They adore the Boys and think they are wonderful and beautiful and special. They know little things about them- their likes and dislikes, their habits. When they see a person with special needs out and about in town they get almost giddy, so great is their love for that population. Their eyes have been opened to brokenness in the world and they have felt the joy of being used by Jesus to bring about healing. All of that shapes them and forms them, and I am thankful.

Thank you for loving our kids and praying for them. May no thing stand in the way of them fully becoming who God has made them to be. So be it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Bell: Ukrainian School

SCHOOL’S OUT!!!!!

Praise the Lord.  I honestly don’t know who’s happier, the parents or the kids.  🙂  I am VERY VERY VERY happy.  I feel like our whole family just graduated from first class.  Addy and Ezra’s transition in to Ukrainian public school has been very much a whole family endeavor, and we are all happy and relieved that summer break has arrived.

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The last day of school in Ukraine is traditionally called “Last Bell”.  All school lessons in Ukraine, every day, begin and end with the bell.  So, the first day of school is called “First Bell”, and the last day every year is the “Last Bell”.  It’s a very important day in Ukraine!  There is ceremony and tradition and celebrating.  I like it very much.

Yesterday was Last Bell at Addy and Ezra’s school and it was such a cool experience!  I love how much we are learning about Ukrainian culture by having our kids in school.  It’s a whole new world.

Normally the program is outside, but it rained yesterday, so everyone gathered in the gym.  The first four classes (primary school) had their program together.  Everyone lined the edges of the gym, each class in a line with their teacher, and then parents behind them.  Our kids’ school is fairly small, so we could all fit.

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It started with a flag ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem, then the Director said a few words.  An older man spoke also, but I have no idea who he was or what he was saying.  Ha!  After he spoke a bunch of kids ran up and gave him flowers, so he must have been someone special.  🙂

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Notice the sea of big white bows? We call them “puffs”. It’s a cultural thing for special occasions. 🙂

 

Then the Director handed out special awards of achievement to a few children from each class.  After a few minutes of that, our kids’ teacher turned around to me to ask me if I had a camera.  I said yes, I did, and she motioned to me like I should be ready.  Then she said “Addy, Ezra- microphone”.  Oh!  Huh??  I promptly pulled my camera back out and waited for whatever was next.  The Assistant Director got up and started speaking. I heard her say the word for “Americans” and my ears perked up.  She called Addy and Ez up and gave them a special award for diligence and achievement for their work in learning Ukrainian language!  It was so special.  Then she leaned down and was talking to Addy.  I realized that she wanted Addy and Ezra to recite their poems in Ukrainian for the assembly!  Poor Addy didn’t understand what they wanted her to do, so her teacher went up and helped her understand.  They both said their poems for everyone and did awesome!  We were so proud of them!!!  Their teacher was positively beaming, she was so proud.  It was very sweet.  It feels like their whole school is cheering on their little Americans.  Haha!  We need all the cheering we can get!

After the awards were done, an older class got up and did a cool dance to celebrate summer break, there was more flag ceremony and the National Anthem was played again.  I’m totally not kidding when I say I’m pretty sure my kids have heard the Ukrainian National Anthem more times than they’ve ever heard the Star Spangled Banner- and we haven’t even lived here 7 months! When Seth hears the beginning of the song he says “Слава Україні!” (Glory to Ukraine!) Ha!  After the anthem, the program was finished!  The kids got to go to the cafeteria for a snack and then all the parents took a ginormous amount of pictures.  Their teacher also gave each child a diploma for finishing first class.

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Addy and her friend, Masha

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First Class 1-б

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Flowers for teacher

Then we were free!!!!  We practically floated home we were all so happy.  We celebrated by taking the kids to the movie theater.  It was our first time in a movie theater here and we had fun.  We saw Rio 2, in Ukrainian of course.  🙂

Now we have three months to decide what to do about school next year for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah.  For Addy and Ezra we have a couple options, one being continuing on in their current school.  Kids here stay with the same children all the way till graduation, and they keep their same teacher for the first four years, so that would be a nice, familiar place to return to in the fall.  We’ll see.  We need to pray and figure out what God’s best school plan is for this next year.   I don’t even want to think about it right now.  The homeschooler in me is just SO HAPPY to have all my children at home.  Sigh…bliss.

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What do with Hava next year is another mystery.  Children don’t start “official” school here until they are 6 or 7- usually closer to 7.  Before that, most children attend дитячий садок “sadik”.  It’s like daycare/preschool/kindergarten.  They do learn the kindergarten fundamentals there, and if your child doesn’t attend sadik they really won’t be ready for first class.  So, in order for first class to be easier on Havalah when she turns 6 or 7, it really does make sense to put her in a sadik, at least part time.  Parents can choose how often they send their kids, so it’s not mandatory that she go…we just feel like it would benefit Havalah to get more time each week for language acquisition, since she is pretty much always just home with us, hearing English.  BUT- I really, really don’t want her all alone in a class where she doesn’t understand anyone.  She’s so tiny!  AND, I really want her to learn to read and write in English first.

School has definitely been easier on Addy, because she already has such a great grasp on English reading and writing.  Ezra, on the other hand, doesn’t read or write in English super well, and now after 4 months of Ukrainian school and no English school he is on about the same level with both languages when it comes to reading and writing.  (Of course he has almost zero comprehension of Ukrainian reading)  I know this is normal and he will catch up, it’s just nice with Addy to know I don’t need to worry about building her English language skills- we can just work on Ukrainian.  Ez needs help with both.  Hence me wanting Hava to learn English skills WELL first.

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Oh my, all this bilingual stuff makes my brain hurt.  I wish there was a manual for all this.  🙂  Ah well, one day at a time.  The important thing is that they are learning and they are growing.  We have our whole lives to learn.  I don’t want to be in a rush on their behalf.  At this point we are leaning toward putting Havalah in a sadik two mornings a week, and doing home school kindergarten the other three days.

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Addy, Ez, and their super teacher

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Havalah has a little kid “teacher crush” 🙂

So far we’ve been really happy with our experience in Ukrainian public school.  Our kids’ teacher is so kind to them and she truly cares about their success.  Addy and Ezra feel comfortable at school and the kids are nice to them.  Never in a million years would I have imagined I would be a mom and my kids would be in a national school in a foreign country.  I mean, as long as I dreamed of being a missionary you’d think I would have thought this one through, but nope.  I guess I probably always thought they’d be homeschooled, or go to an international, English speaking school or something.  What an interesting road we travel.  For all it’s ups and downs and uncertainties I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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THREE CHEERS FOR SUMMER BREAK!  

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A Little Slice of Heaven

Yesterday was perfection. Yesterday was one of those days where you look around and wonder how in the world you got to where you are and try really, really hard to take in every single moment so you can treasure it forever.

Yesterday we, and the couple who are hosting us spent the day waaaaaay out in the boonies of Idaho at Tri and Nancy Robinson’s ranch, Timber Butte. Tri was the founding pastor of Boise Vineyard back in 1989, and he had Nancy are ranchers extraordinaire. Tri is also the founder of I-61 ministries, a part of Vineyard Missions.

Homemade ice cream!

The ministry of i-61 is a highway to do the ministry of Isaiah 61, fulfilling this commission to care for the broken, the oppressed, the captive and the extreme poor under the promised anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is an organized effort to train and send authentic disciples to those Jesus referred to as ‘the least of these’.”

Addy could have stayed in that little spot all day!

When I met Tri at the Vineyard Conference in Anaheim I quickly saw that I-61 is where Wide Awake International and the Johnson family fit within the Vineyard Missions family. These are our peeps. Tri and Nancy are all about justice, mercy, compassion, and going to the forgotten. Not only that, but they were homeschooling in California back in the day when some people didn’t even think it was legal, and started a homeschool co-op to try to help other parents, raised their kids an hour out of town with no electricity, packed their kids out on horses and homeschooled in tents. Oh man, I think I found my heroes. 🙂

We spent the day with great people, eating great food, and having great conversation. Not to mention my kids thought they’d died and gone to heaven. Thank you Tri, Nancy, Rand, Lori, Gary, and Lynette for such a perfect and special day! We will never forget our time together.

The Guest House

I big boy! I feed the sheep!