Originally published in West Jordan Journal – November 3, 2017
Zoe Hazlett has been leaving a trail of colorful rocks around the country as part of her art class assignment. She has been studying the color wheel and has been experimenting with cool colors, warm colors and complimentary colors on her rocks. Zoe often has homework assignments that utilize her love of crafts, math and performance and she does her work anywhere because she doesn’t go to a brick and mortar school.
The Hazlett family left their Riverton home to spend a year traveling the United States and Canada. Zoe, a third-grader, and her sister Hannah, an eighth-grader, are attending Utah’s K-12 online school, Utah Virtual Academy, to accommodate their unique situation.
“They are probably more engaged than they would be in a normal classroom in terms of the time,” said their mother, Tina.
Hours spent touring museums instead of sitting at a desk count toward school credit. The girls earn P.E. credits as they ride bikes through historical battlefields or turn cartwheels on a log over the Mississippi River.
Because of the flexibility of learning, the family can make it fun and personalized.
Brian, Tina, Hannah and Zoe Hazlett live in a motor home and have an open traveling schedule—if they like a place, they stay longer. Each week, they look at the upcoming school curriculum and find ways to apply it to the area they in which they are traveling.
Sometimes the curriculum matches up with their location. When Hannah’s history curriculum started to cover the Civil War, she had just visited some of the sites she was learning about.
Brian, a history buff, took the girls through a play-by-play of the action at sites like Little Big Horn and Gettysburg.
“We are definitely hitting the history hard because of his passion,” said Tina. “He gives them the details of the Civil War and of exactly how it unfolded.”
Next, the family is headed to the New England area.
“We’re definitely going to tackle all the Revolutionary War details and let them get a visual,” said Tina. “That’s how they learn. They are sponges, so that’s been a huge benefit.”
In addition to visiting historic sites, the girls are experiencing a variety of climates and scenery. These ties in with Zoe’s science curriculum. She observed and collected weather data and then recorded a weather report.
“She is definitely my visual, high-energy kid, so we thought it’d be fun to turn it into a weather girl activity and make it more practical,” said Tina.
Tina is Zoe’s learning coach.
“You’re basically attached at the hip from anywhere from three to six hours a day, depending on what she needs that day,” said Tina.
Zoe said her favorite place she’s been so far was Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania where she got to create her own candy bar and eat a lot of chocolate.
Zoe loves math and is excited to be learning multiplication this year.
“Now you can figure out how much all that chocolate’s going to cost you really fast with your multiplication,” Tina told her.
The girls miss their extra-curricular activities and family and friends back home. But Hannah said she has made many friends in her online Class Connect sessions, where students work in groups to solve math equations or discuss reading topics for language arts. They even have assemblies.
Hannah is learning self-sufficiency, managing her online classes and projects. Their unique learning environment has also given Zoe an opportunity to learn focus and self discipline.
“She’s got to be proactive on her own when she typically doesn’t need to be with a brick and mortar school,” said Tina.
Where they park their motor home is based on where they can find the best Wi-Fi connection, so the girls can do their schoolwork. UTVA provided laptop computers and a printer, textbooks and instructional materials—like CDs, videos and tools like magnifying glasses and a bag of rocks, said UTVA Head of School, Meghan Merideth.
Tina has been a working mom, and this opportunity to be so involved with her girls is one of the biggest benefits of their adventure, she said. They spend a lot of time as a family that being back home wouldn’t allow.
Tina said despite the close quarters and sacrifices, she has no regrets.
“It’s just been a really different and cool experience, and to have this flexibility with their education is just priceless,” she said.