Anna Aquino’s daughters both began their education at a public charter school in Central Florida. Aquino, a published author and guest minister, “never expected the charter school to be a Christian school,” but she also didn’t expect her daughter to be bullied for her faith – especially not by teachers. It was “the fabric of parent horror stories,” she says.

As if 7th grade social circles weren’t brutal enough, Anna’s oldest daughter, Isabella, had plenty of unnecessary drama during the school year – which ended up being her last year in a brick-and-mortar public school.

It started with a male teacher who made her and other girls uncomfortable with inappropriate looks. (He was later “terminated without explanation.”) It continued with a lockdown that was never explained to parents, though Anna’s daughters were told about a man on school property with a gun. Then, Isabella’s science teacher began teaching evolution.

“While I personally may not agree with the theory, that was not my issue,” Anna says. “The teacher started to belittle Christianity and became adamant at any child who questioned him. It felt aimed at Isabella, and he seemed to bully her in the classroom.”

Anna met with the teacher, principal and vice principal, but the teacher denied it. Finally, after three months of tension, Anna encouraged her daughter to respectfully speak up for herself. That landed the whole family in another meeting with the teacher and the administration.

“The teacher called me a bad parent for encouraging my daughter to find her own voice. I was shocked.”

“We walked out of that meeting and my husband said, ‘This is why parents homeschool.’”

Non-traditional solution

When the Aquino family moved back to Ohio after 13 years in Florida, Anna wasn’t sold on the idea of homeschooling. But she was desperate to find a way to educate her daughters without personal drama.

Isabella & Trinity Aquino

Isabella & Trinity Aquino

She found it in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), when she enrolled Isabella in 8th grade and Trinity in 3rd.

“It made sense for our family,” she says. “There are always things we may not agree with, faith-wise, that come through our public education system. I get that. I never want to shelter my children, and I don’t feel like I’m doing that by sending them to ECOT. I feel like it’s more about education and less about all this other stuff.”

Now in their second year at ECOT, Isabella (14, in 9th grade) and Trinity (almost 10, in 4th grade) are thriving in the e-learning environment. Both girls also take classes through Faith Life Home Educators, their church’s homeschool co-op. Isabella, meanwhile, takes full advantage of the flexibility this education offers.

“Now as a freshman in high school, she is part of the College Credit Plus program. She goes to high school part-time and college part-time in a classroom setting,” Anna says.

“If she stays on track, by the time she graduates from high school, she’ll have an associate’s degree. It has helped her time management, and it has helped her say, ‘Who am I? Where am I going?’”

And where is that? Anywhere she wants, at this rate.

“She wants to be a lawyer to fight for religious freedom in the Supreme Court,” Anna says. “That’s her passion now, especially with everything we went through. She’s also writing two different books, but I’m not allowed to read them yet.”

Experiences beyond the classroom

For now, the flexibility of ECOT gives Isabella the opportunity to experience life beyond classroom walls. Sometimes, she gets to shadow her mom at book signings to get a taste of what a writer’s life is like.

Anna & Isabella Aquino

Anna & Isabella Aquino

“This week I’m filming a 15-minute program with TBN. My daughter is going to college first, and then she’s coming with me,” Anna says. “I find those things very educational – especially compared to being stuck in a class all day. She came with me last time I filmed a TBN program and she has said a dozen times, ‘That was so cool that I got to be behind the set of a TV show!’ I love that I have the ability to take my children to those kinds of things.”

Some well-meaning individuals were apprehensive about the girls’ move to ECOT, seeing their time outside the classroom as idle time. They wondered: How can Trinity be done with school after just a couple hours of live sessions and just a couple hours of homework?

“Well, because she doesn’t have to waste her time in study hall,” Anna says. “People think they’re not in school, therefore, they must not be getting a quality education. My response to that is, ‘Look at them. Yes, they are.’ They’re not lacking in their education. They’re experiencing things that most kids aren’t.”

For example, last year Anna and her husband ran a Mud Run 5-K with their oldest daughter. This year, the youngest wants to run the kid’s version. That’s something they likely wouldn’t have time for in public school – nor would they be able to spend much time with their father, who works second shift. Now, the family can enjoy walks together before he leaves for work – without sacrificing class time.

“Time is a valuable currency, and I don’t think that kids’ best education is to shove them in a room for eight hours a day.”

“The education system in the United States is changing, and I think parents are narrow-minded if they don’t realize that. Twenty years from now, ECOT is going to be a no-brainer. ECOT gives me a chance to be more of a parent, instead of just trusting the state with that job. We’ve been able to be more of a family; if the kids were in a traditional school setting, we wouldn’t have this.”

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