Schooling Our Newly Adopted Teen

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One of the biggest questions I get about my adoption journey is, “What did you do about school?

We brought our daughter home at the age of 16 and she had recently completed 9th grade in her home country of Latvia.  She was conversationally fluent in English, did not want to be placed in a lower grade, and definitely wanted to attend public school.  

We began our journey to figure out where she was academically and what gaps needed to be filled to allow her to continue moving forward began immediately.

  • Reading: I encouraged her to read - anything - books, magazines, online gossip pages.  Anything that would be immersing her in written English.  Sometimes this included bribery (paying her to read a book and write a small summary).  She started with smaller books to increase her comprehension, but with time, her stamina and, dare I say, her enjoyment of reading, began to grow. 
  • Math:  Nadia was a weak math student before and she had come to the conclusion that she would never do well in math.  Considering math is my love and favorite subject, I was determined to not only help her succeed but to share some of my love of math.  We started with the basics.  Sure, she knew how to do basics, but even the math vocabulary and notation was different for her, so we started at the beginning and flew through topics until we found ones she was less proficient in.  I credit her patience, understanding, and perseverance for her success in math.  She truly had so much to learn in English -- names of shapes (2D and 3D), geometry terms, basic math terms such as sum, product, perimeter, etc. And then the topics she’d struggled with through the years.  She became a pro at fractions and percent and even got a high “A” in Algebra class.  It was truly incredible to watch!
  • Writing: I was encouraging her to write - anything.  Much like our approach with reading, we just asked her to develop habits to write every day.  We started with this journal.  Sure, it wasn’t writing, but it developed the routine of opening a journal every day and completing an entry.  Then we moved onto this.  At first, ANY writing was a win.  And slowly, we started correcting things like punctuation, mechanics, and grammar.  Her stamina improved and as the days became weeks and those became months, her writing had more flow, structure, and depth to it.
  • English Language: English is a tricky language and this book allowed us to assess some of her strengths and struggles.  For example, determining which sound the letter “g” makes in different words:  giraffe, gigantic (!!!), girl --- not so easy coming from a language that is 100% phonetic!  It also allowed me to dig into reading comprehension at a higher level and work on some vocabulary support.  She would read the passage and highlight any word she wasn’t 100% sure of and we could strengthen from that.
  • Science:  Another one we had to go way back to develop some academic English.  She could understand more complex texts, but didn’t know words such as hypothesis, etc.  So I rewound and she completed this 3rd grade book and then this 8th grade one.  The 8th grade one also helped support reading comprehension, so I love things that do dual work!  She could do these fairly quickly because of the lower grade nature and simply needing to learn the material in a new language.  But it gave a degree of success while still learning something new as well!
  • History:  This was the easy one for us.  There are SO many resources out there and ways to immerse people in history.  She did several project-based units on US history and we worked a LOT on geography.  I incorporated a license plate game/hunt into it -- She would keep an eye out for different states and then color them in on a map and do a small write-up about the state as she had new ones.  It was a fun way to pay attention while out and about and to learn about the states one-by-one.  Also, trips to museums help augment this - in both Latvia and the USA.

By the second semester of this first school year at home, she had made incredible strides.  Our adoption process was close to finishing (in March) and she had the opportunity to finally enroll in school.  We had visited a few and had some options about her pathway.  In the end, she opted to finish the school year homeschooled and re-evaluate for the following year.  

That summer, she decided that she felt it would be best for her to finish her high schooling at home.  She recognized the support she was getting one-on-one and was thriving with her newfound academic success.  

She graduated high school in 2019 and immediately enrolled at our local community college.  She had some high anxiety about the placement tests, but did well and was able to enroll in classes to pursue her associate degree.  

She’s now in her 4th semester and will be transferring to a university in the fall.  She has been on the Dean’s List with a 4.0 GPA for 2 semesters and the Honors List with a 3.95 the other.  She loves to read and I have watched her become increasingly curious about so many topics.  The love of learning is a true gift - and in her case, I believe the success she found helped bolster this!

She sometimes wishes she knew what the American High School experience was like, but she has also shined with having such a strong academic base tailored to her needs for those 3 years.  

In the end, there are many academic pathways to make for children -- and every child, family, and school will vary in what makes sense for each of you.  This was our story and what worked for us.  

I’m happy to share more about our experience if you have any questions:  tracim@p143.org

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Traci Mai


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