Jaden Shirley was ready to go when the camera started rolling. It was a lovely spring day when iLearn interviewed this beautiful, energetic eight year old. You would never guess Jaden suffers from Idiopathic Rheumatoid Arthritis (IRA), an autoimmune disease that causes crippling pain in her joints.
Jaden was three years old when her parents started to notice the swelling, but more than two years went by before doctors were able to diagnose it as IRA. Kris, Jaden’s mom, described the pain her daughter endured: “She would come in from the front yard crying. She was a little girl; she wanted to run and play, but she would be in so much pain. At five years old I was still pushing her around in a stroller at the mall.”
The Shirley’s knew their daughter would have special needs in school. Because of the joints stiffening, she has to move around regularly. Not only would this be difficult for Jaden, it could be distracting for other students.
Kris started researching their schooling options, found an online public school, and decided to give it a try. More than three years later they have no plans of switching.
“I’ve looked into other options since then, and I keep coming back to this,” Kris said, “It’s the right fit for us.”
Online school was a particularly good fit when another hardship befell the family. In 2008, Kris was diagnosed with 3a clear cell carcinoma, a rare ovarian cancer.
“She was able to be with me. We took school with us when I had treatments and did it from Swedish [Hospital],” Kris related. “It was wonderful to have her there. She has become a very compassionate child. And she’s always happy.”
Jaden added, “She had more blood work than me!”
Thankfully, Kris is now fully recovered.
Last year Jaden’s doctors decided to treat her IRA with weekly Methotrexate injections, commonly used in chemotherapy treatment. The injections weakened Jaden’s immune system dramatically, making it very important that she be exposed to as few illnesses as possible.
Once again, the Shirley’s were very grateful for online learning.
“A cold that takes a regular child three days to get over will take Jaden six. If a normal round of antibiotics would be 10 days, Jaden will need it for 21.”
Even while at home and separated from the germs that get passed around in classrooms, Jaden contracted Mono and then strep throat. She was ill for six weeks–six weeks she would have had to make up in a traditional public school. Instead, she was able to continue her schoolwork, taking breaks to sleep and take care of her health.
“We would never have been able to do that if she were in traditional public school. She didn’t miss a day.”
Jaden couldn’t say enough about the merits of online public schooling. Aside from accommodating Jaden’s condition better than any other possibility, Kris pointed out several other benefits.
First, she was consistently impressed with the quality of their provider’s curriculum. “I’m having to study to keep up with my second grader,” Kris said, “particularly in history.”
“We have a lot of plans,” Kris laughed.
Kris also praised the combination of structure and flexibility there is in online public schooling “We have to get our hours in every week. But we can do them where and when we want.”
The Shirley’s are also grateful for the extra time in their schedule. A recurring theme in conversations with onlinepublic school families is the amount of free time students have without compromising their studies—or being busy to the bone.
This allows Jaden to pursue musical theatre, drama, and jazz dancing—all of which she loves. She has appeared in commercials and done modeling for billboards. She even got called back for a part in amovie.
When it comes to socialization, Kris couldn’t be more pleased. “She’s probably more
social your average eight year old.” Each morning Jaden goes with her mom to the pediatrician’s office where she works part-time. Then the two go home to do school. Jaden participates in social groups, dance, the many fieldtrips offered by her online school provider, and more. “The socialization is great. It’s not a problem at all,” said Kris.
Jaden’s Methotrexate treatment had ended a month before our interview, so it’s anybody’s guess when her next flare up will be. As long as public online learning is available in Washington, though, the Shirley’s are confident Jaden will get the excellent education she deserves while caring for her health and pursuing the life she loves so much: a life of dance, art, fun, and giggles.