Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to School!

The kids started school last week. It seemed like a short summer for us, but we get five weeks off for Winter Break. Back in Austin, my kids just go to the neighborhood public school (Go Comets!), so I've never had to really evaluate and select a school before. If the amount of over-thinking that went into this decision is any indication, I am in for a bear of a time when shopping for a college rolls around.

We love our new school.

Our primary criteria were that a) the classes are taught in English; and b) all three kids can attend the same school. Criteria B ended up delaying our move by a semester, but it was for the best since that gave my eldest a chance to graduate from elementary school in Texas. It provided a more natural break in his education journey. Thank goodness that hubby's company was so supportive and let him wait months for the whole family to move before starting his new position.

Of course, I expected this school to be different than our last one. Even in Austin, I've noticed that my neighborhood school has its own culture compared to my friends' children's schools. The number one best difference about our new school is ......drumroll, please..... the kids don't have to be there until 8:20 a.m. Yes, I know it's silly to be so excited about that, but every stinkin' minute helps. You might have thought that the best difference is the view from the dining patio.

FYI, there's a fence between the kids and the beach.

Wouldn't you say that this is nicer than a windowless cafetorium? However, Clark tells me that the kids don't notice it at all. There's no clamoring to get a seat near the beach or even one looking out at the view. Kids these days! Perhaps you have to be old enough to sip margaritas while noshing on chips and salsa to appreciate it.

Before the school year began, we headed over to buy uniforms. They were about US$18 per outfit. How can you beat that price?! We put moola in the lunch account, too. Unlike our old school, this one asks students to sign up for an entire semester of meals instead of just debitting their account each time the kids make a purchase. They also provide a midday snack for the elementary school. Every day's lunch offers a choice of a Western Meal (e.g. Spaghetti), an Asian Meal (e.g. Nasi Kandar), a sandwich bar, a salad bar and dessert. Since my typical mom-packed lunch is a sandwich, I decided the kids could just as easily slap together their own sandwich at school. Between not making lunch and not having to decide on clothes, my school day prep has become much easier.

Americans make up about a third of the student body which encompasses everything from 3-year-old preschoolers to high school seniors. Ten percent are well-heeled locals, and the rest come from all over the world. Our former school back in Texas had a very multicultural group of students, so my kids don't seem to find this mix strange at all. One interesting difference is that the students here are permitted to converse in only English during school hours. You can actually get written up for speaking another language.

The school is a Christian one, and all students do Bible Study and Chapel plus memorize a bible verse each week -- even the first graders. My kiddos have always attended Religious Education classes at our Catholic church back in Austin, but I guess Catholics are more into memorizing prayers than particular verses. So, this is kind of new for us. Since I'm helping all three kids with their verses, I figure I'll have the entire Bible down in no time at all.  Non-Christians also participate, but they don't have to actually profess a belief in what they're learning.

The Middle School (5th-8th grades) had an off-campus retreat at a local resort hotel the first Friday of school. It's on an even smaller island than the one we live on and accessible only by ferry. The older kids spent the night, but my boy is in the grades that just made it a day trip. In addition to some free time on the beach and in the pool, they did a lot of team building and getting acquainted exercises.

The New Parent Breakfast was at another local hotel.  I'm accustomed to something along the lines of muffins and styrofoam cups of coffee in the public school library, so this was new to me. Eventually, I realized that nice breakfasts and hotel retreats must be some of what private school tuition pays for.

My kids like their teachers so far, and I'm hoping for a good school year. Before we moved, I was worried that my kids might fall behind academically and have trouble reintegrating into our highly rated neighborhood schools when we return to Austin. The boys had been in the Talented and Gifted classes, and there's not an equivalent program here. During orientation, the middle school counselor met me wandering around the campus and said, unprompted, "Our curriculum is challenging. Some students who were considered gifted at home find themselves to be average here." Perhaps there's a picture of me up in the Staff Lounge with a sign reading, "AWAS! This woman thinks her kids are special."

Brad's former 2nd grade teacher gave me a good piece of advice based on her experiences as both a teacher and a mom who spent years overseas with her young kids. She said that even if their education takes a bit of a hit, it's all worth it. The knowledge that they'll gain from living abroad will be priceless.

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