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Owner/Operator: Learning Heroine LLC
How do you find yourself in the position/ job that you are in today? What led you here?
I began homeschooling my eldest daughter Josie at age 3, after someone in her preschool IEP team said, “Mrs. Blunkosky, you just need to adjust your expectations.”
I looked at my husband and said, “If I have the highest expectations for this child, then it’s time to homeschool.” I never planned that for us, but it came to that out of need. Additionally, I am incredibly rebellious and vocal in needing justice; therefore, I view learning in a non-traditional sense where the resources and choices should serve and be custom for each learner, within each family. Institutions should serve learners, not dictate policy. With friends, family, and clients, I advise that we should look for the best fit for the learner and family, for the current situation. That can be home, that can be public or private school, that could be online, etc. The idea is that we access the best resources and look for the ideal fit, or the best combination.
I wear numerous hats! I am an education consultant, independent research historian, professional advocate (Special Needs and Exceptional), teacher, and writer (my scholarship is a Master’s thesis on Slavery in Fredericksburg). Additionally, I teach yoga working towards my advanced studies to become a certified yoga therapist. I believe that movement integration is key to building a successful learning life and the future for integrated learning strategies for reading and math challenges. We have to nurture the sensory and nervous systems in learners for optimum possibilities.
During my pre-mom life, I taught Social Studies and numerous electives at Open High School in Richmond, Virginia from 2002-2004. The following year, I enjoyed working as a graduate teaching assistant while completing my Master’s degree in History at Virginia Commonwealth University.
I’ve seen and assisted learners in all ages and stages! Sharing the learning journey with my own children is the most rewarding (and challenging) journey. Homeschooling styles, educational theory, brain development, genetics, bioethics, and epigenetics are all topics of deep research for me. My eldest, Josie, has Down’s syndrome and autism. She has taught me much about what works and what doesn’t work! My younger children, Zivia and Tiernan, are more neuro-typical but they also have strong ideas and teach me considerable lessons on adapting and tweaking learning lives. I learn so much from my own children.
Because of my passion for education, I enjoy sharing resources and ideas to help families and friends make informed choices based on their own values and thoughts. I created my education consultancy out of a need. No one else offered custom consulting and portfolio evaluation services that adapt to a family’s own value system. Often former teachers or professionals impose their own pedagogy and paradigm onto a family. I abhor this for many reasons. I do not test other people’s children out of principle. It is not my place to superimpose my own agenda or ideas onto a family; I assist. I provide research-based interventions and resources, so families and clients can make their own learning decisions. I construct learning plans with a focus on whole life learning skills- far more encompassing than a mere “academic” focus. I serve all learning lifestyles from those who do school at home to those who radically unschool. Additionally, I assist families who need help or information on college planning, career planning, and religious exemptions, an option here in Virginia.
I enjoy volunteering with my local and state secular homeschooling groups – Fredericksburg Area Homeschoolers and Organization of VaHomeschoolers. I help coordinate field trips for my local group and help monitor state legislation, speak at conferences, and write informative articles to assist others in their journey. We may feel alone in our learning lives, but there are wonderful communities that you can connect to at the local, state, even national levels. There are also wonderful family owned business learning communities that can give great support, such as Open Tent Academy.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
I’m inspired by challenge and love. Examples are witnessing my children’s learning journeys and building a nurturing family life grounds me to Earth and nurture’s my life’s work. Whether I’m sharing a helpful tidbit, a good website, or giving encouragement- that inspires me. In addition, I need to admit that exercise and an almond milk latte also gives me that bit of bounce to hop out of bed!
How do you feel you are helping to improve the image of homeschooling and/or education?
I advocate an expansive, consumer directed homeschooling education. In the disability community, consumer-driven services are those services that serve the consumer; therefore, there should not be one standard of care for every person with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some individuals might like a choice or need choices —the key is recognizing that there are many ways to find success. I am actively trying to assist families access services guaranteed under ADA and IDEA legislation- services such as reading therapy, vision therapy, occupational therapy- if it is a needed support for their academic life, then we should be able to find a cooperative arrangement where services can be accessed locally through the public-school system and families can also be supported in their home education journeys. Folks pay taxes and children with learning needs are guaranteed legal access to services. Those services should come in any setting-public, private, or home. I love what open source learning opportunities create. Learning access is expansive and the power of a free library card and access to databases- it blows me away!
What software/apps/tools can you not live without?
I love my library card and local library system. If I cannot research it, then I take comfort that librarians can solve the mystery! I work with many Google Apps business apps- Gmail, Drive, Docs, etc. My iPhone and our family iPads share a huge collection of games and apps- my kids love DragonBox apps, Minecraft, and many more. Additionally, I’m a fan of YouTube for how to-videos. For my eldest, we love social stories and hygiene apps, as she can watch an instructive video several times on how to take a shower or do a task without having to listen to me on rote. Finally, I like empowering choices in screen time, although I do monitor where and what my kids explore so we can share the journey together.
What is your greatest strength?
My greatest strength is a rebellious creativity and a refusal to see a child’s challenge as a weakness. Children are individuals with agency that are growing into independent beings, worthy and needy for respect. When we negate them, talk down to them– (many endear negative hierarchies in institutional settings), we create havoc in them and in our society overall. I see that every “challenged” person I have ever met also has incredible super powers–whether it be high emotional intelligence or highly developed empathy. Gifted-ness is in each individual. I have an expansive outlook.
How do you see education changing?
I see education becoming more consumer-directed – in a positive way. Additionally, I see some institutions embracing negative corporate partnerships for funding trade-offs that are detrimental to many. Once, I pondered a PhD to evaluate the Virginia Standards of Learning Tests (SOLS) and their historic viewpoints and shaping of curriculum; however, later, I decided that it would depress me to focus on the incredible deficits and lack of minorities and women in the public-school curriculum. I couldn’t do it. I enjoy helping shape policy and access to resources much better!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who homeschools?
I advise families that there are many ways to succeed. Your best friend might love her curriculum and recommend it to you, but it might turn out to be a horrid fit for your child and family. It is crucial for us to cheer others in their successes but find the successes that works for each of our individual children. It is crucial to tweak as necessary and adapt when illness and life situations arise. Most of us eventually find our groove. If you don’t, ask for help. Remember, “Aim for good enough, not perfect.” Everyone burns out. You will burn out. Plan for it. Self-care is pivotal, whether it is your weekly board game night out at the coffee shop or your Saturday morning friend walk- take care of you. I burn out slightly each October for a variety of reasons so each year I prepare for it, bring awareness to my needs, and plan for time to exercise, eat nourishing things, and do fun and nurturing activities.
What is the biggest struggle you have when it comes to educating your children / helping other people educate their children?
I struggle with loneliness when my children are sick, and we haven’t been to an activity or event for weeks. Keeping my kids healthy and alive is a big struggle. My eldest almost died a few times in her twelve years of life so I try to keep everything else in perspective. That can make me feel isolated and a little sad. Weekly, I teach yoga, which helps fill my cup up. My kids have changing sibling relationships so that is always something that needs attention and tweaking. Life is a challenging journey!
What’s your smartest shortcut or productivity hack in any part of your life?
I try to keep meals easy or if I go beyond easy, try to keep meal prep and cook time around thirty minutes.
FlyLady.net saved my chaotic life years ago when my eldest was barely sleeping and my house always felt out of order. I highly recommend it if you need a place to start.
Also, I reprogram patterns that don’t serve me so I’m trying to create better routines for myself and try to do anything right away before I forget about it. I use an online calendar for every task. I like the Google Calendar but find whatever can serve you.
What is the one book you would recommend someone to read?
How to Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Talk and Raising a Sensory Smart Kid are two of my favorites. They changed my life for all of my kids!
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Respect boundaries. Also, when you hug someone, let them leave the hug first. This is wonderful with my kids and family. For others, I think offering a hug or a high five is other great advice- when we respect boundaries but offer a nurturing gesture, the invitation is loving in itself, in addition to the action they might choose.
How do you prepare for your day?
If I’m going out, I like to prep and pack what I can the night before, lay out my clothes, set my mapping app with the address, etc. Also, I try not to schedule anything before 10:00 am as it allows me time to adjust to everyone’s moods without rush. Rushing stressed out people rarely goes well. Finally, I try to exercise or find time to meditate before the day moves-even if it’s for a few minutes.
Tag the one person in the education and/or homeschooling world that you would love to meet and interview.
I would love to meet John Taylor Gatto!
Eva Goldstein-Meola is not only co-founder of Open Tent Academy, but an instructor as well as a former homeschooling mother. She has lived in New Jersey, Florida, Western Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and now resides just outside of Jerusalem. Eva holds a Master’s Degree as a Consulting Teacher of Reading and Writing, IEW certification and a Bachelor’s Degree as an Elementary Teacher. She has also been involved in education since 1986 as a Private Tutor, Teacher, Reading Specialist, Homeschooling Mother, Homeschooling Teacher and Business Owner of an Online Education Consortium.