What We’re Doing this Year: TechTrep Academy

We’ve homeschooled our kids from the very beginning. It’s been an adventure figuring out what works and doesn’t work for us. One thing I was VERY adamant about from the very beginning was that I did NOT want to be involved in a homeschool charter or parent partnership program through the public schools. The way those systems generally work (details vary by district, state, and entity) is that in return for a certain level of oversight and/or testing the program provides you with curriculum and materials to use in your homeschool. These programs are good for those who DON’T have money for curriculum and don’t have any idea what they’re doing or how to get started, or who are just more comfortable with “getting the box” and doing school that way. But I did NOT feel they were a good fit for our family, and refused to look into them AT ALL.

So what happened? It’s a long story. First, last summer, at the LDSHE West conference, there was a vendor table for MyTech High (an online charter school available for those in the state of Utah). I smiled as I went up to get my stamp (because if you got every vendor to stamp your “passport” you got entered into a drawing to attend the next year’s conference FREE) because I KNEW MyTech was ONLY in Utah and I was in Idaho. Much to my chagrin the marketer told me that he COULD still help me, since MyTech was expanding into Idaho under the entity name TechTrep Academy. And so I listened to his spiel, and told him I’d share with people up my way who might be interested but I was not. And honestly, I can’t remember a single thing he tried to tell me because I was SO against the idea of it at all!

Fast forward to March, this year. I attended another homeschool conference, this one MUCH closer to me, in SE Idaho. And there was a table for TechTrep Academy there. Because it appeared that EVERYONE was actively avoiding this vendor (and I KNOW how hard it is to be a vendor at these type of events) I went over and let her give me the spiel again. Except this time I really listened. And it sounded MUCH too good to be true honestly, and made me extremely skeptical. $1700 reimburseable curriculum allowance PER STUDENT in grades 1-8, and $850 for kindergarten. Simple weekly reporting online, no daily check-in for attendance, and the end of year state testing is required. I asked about special education services and IEPs, since I have two children diagnosed with autism and if they would be required to do the testing, I’d want accommodations for them. And honestly her response almost made me throw away everything she’d given me as soon as I left. “We don’t think children need to be labeled that way. You’re already doing IEPs for them as a homeschool mom, why would you need anything else?” Even when I specifically stated I would want that in place FOR TESTING ACCOMMODATIONS she gave the impression that it was HIGHLY discouraged to use them, but that there is a SPED department for the program to make sure those testing accommodations are in place should we NEED to disclose them.

Now that might sound great for most parents, but I am not most parents. I personally feel like diagnoses such as autism and ADHD are just as relevant to life experience as having a diagnosis of anisomelia (leg length discrepancy) or diabetes. They don’t make you more or less of a person, but they DO describe your experience in life, generally one that is somewhat different from the “normal” world. And to have those differences minimized, in a way that could negatively affect my children’s educational experience should I choose to go through the program or refer anyone else to it, is a BIG deal for me! So that interaction ALONE made me decide I was NOT going to consider their program AT ALL and that I’d just continue to do what I’d been doing and make it work.

Except I couldn’t get it out of my head. I honestly felt like I had something pricking me with a pin the entire drive home (over an hour, plus time to stop and nurse the 2 week old baby), telling me to look into the school. I DID NOT WANT TO!!! I tried to ignore it, I really did! And I managed to ignore it for an entire 8 hours, until I could NOT get back to sleep after another nursing session. I finally decided to look and see what I could find online about this program. Sadly what was available was very much lacking, especially from independent sources.

The website was relatively clear: $200 for each “core” course, consisting of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. $200 each for two elective courses, one of which was required to be a technology or entrepreneurship class (hence the name TechTrep). And $500 for technology (such as computers or tablets) and additional flex funds. All the money was available as reimbursement at certain periods throughout the year, when receipts were submitted properly and the items were approved (because it’s offered through the public school system NO religious material OF ANY SORT is allowed to be reimbursed, which is rather obvious to me). They offer a bunch of those Tech/Trep classes directly through the program too, so you didn’t have to work hard to get them if you didn’t want to.

Aside from that, there was information on their Facebook group (which I joined while at the table BEFORE the vendor made the SPED comments), which includes many parents looking into the program as well as ones who did it the pilot year last year (the year that I blew off the vendor at the previous homeschool conference). And there was literally NOTHING else. I checked YouTube. I searched Google. NOTHING came up that wasn’t directly from the school or sponsored by the school (which the Facebook group is). I honestly couldn’t decide if that was a good sign or a bad sign, given how new the program was and how busy homeschoolers can be.

After letting this whole concept smash my head for an entire week, doing all the research I could, and praying A LOT, I decided that I would actually be willing to do the weekly reports and have my children do the state testing in exchange for the funds. But I still couldn’t decide what to do. At that point I finally involved my husband in the process. We have an agreement that since I am the one implementing the homeschool I have final say in what happens as long as the children are learning (this took a bit of coordination for us to get to this point). So I presented everything to my husband. I told him my concerns (the way the SPED services were talked about in a negative light, the testing and weekly reporting requirements, and doing their school calendar) and the benefits of the program from my viewpoint, and gave him the website and Facebook group information for him to look at.

And here’s where we see the difference between my husband and me. 🙂 Two hours later (remember, it took me a full week of research!) my husband came back to me. He basically said, “It looks like what you told me. Do you think you can do it?” I told him I wouldn’t have even told him about it if I didn’t think I could handle it. His response was, “Well, I think it sounds like it could be a good thing for us right now. We can always try it for one year, and if we don’t like it just NOT enroll again next year, right?”

So that’s where we’re at. We registered Sariah, 5th grade, Kent and Erik, 2nd grade, and Samantha, kindergarten, in TechTrep Academy for the 2018-2019 school year. As it gets closer to starting, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being nervous about the entire thing, but I am also excited. Joining TechTrep has allowed me to get curriculum I’ve purposely NOT looked at while at homeschool conventions because I KNEW it was out of our price range. It has allowed me to look at what I REALLY wanted my homeschool to look like without having a “but we can’t afford that” outlook on things. And it’s been really nice the more I talk to the “front” ladies at TechTrep how accommodating and helpful they are. (I’ve since forgiven the first lady for her unknowingly insensitive comments.)

One of my favorite things about TechTrep is that they DO NOT tell you what curriculum to use, nor do they have specific worksheets or assignments for your children to do every week to verify that you’re actually teaching them. The weekly logs consist of blanks where you put what you covered each week for each subject, and they are entirely open-ended. They encourage you to snap pictures of written work or do video-clip responses to show learning, but it’s not required. This year there are “power learning goals” that each student has to cover sometime in the year, but in looking over them, they’re VERY basic stuff we’d be covering anyway so it’s not going to be a big deal to me.

As for the curriculum choices, especially for a new homeschooler, that can be VERY overwhelming to say “you can use anything”. They actually have a curriculum specialist, an AWESOME homeschool mom who just joined the team for this year after enrolling in the program last year for some of her kids. She has probably tried everything over the years with 10 children (she’s got a newborn also), and she’s really knowledgeable about what might work for different situations. She’s totally willing to sit down and help you choose what will work best for your situation, and that is awesome!

Here’s the most surprising thing I discovered about TechTrep. While they are NOT allowed to reimburse religious curriculum, they could not care less if you choose to use it. If you love My Father’s World, USE IT! If you love The Good and the Beautiful, USE IT! They can’t reimburse your expenses on those religious materials (anything that includes scripture or regular reference to God in the work), but if the curriculum teaches the intended core material and you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket for it, it’s entirely your choice to use it. The money available for reimbursement can be spent on printing, binding, art supplies for core learning response sheets, science experiments, math manipulatives, books (books, books, and more books), maps, materials for kinesthetic learning such as play dough, basically ANYTHING you can imagine as long as it’s not food, clothing, furniture, or religious in nature. And if you’re not sure if something “counts” for reimbursement, they will tell you straight up if you send them an email, BEFORE you spend your money on it, HOPING it will be reimburseable. They make it so easy!

Because the school year hasn’t started yet (first calendar day is August 20, with the first official weekly report not due until September 10th!) I can’t give an accounting for how much I like the program in practice yet. I plan to give reports about every quarter (or maybe halfway through) on how I feel about the program once I’m really into it. But I wanted to write this and get it out there in case anyone else has stumbled upon the idea of TechTrep Academy, and, like me, wants an “outside” view of it, instead of just what the school offers in their own sites.

If you have any questions, PLEASE ask them! I want to help others the way I wish I could have had others to ask, without needing to be on Facebook to do it.

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