What do you look for in a school?
How many did you look at before deciding which one was the one for your child/ren?
Do all your kids go to the same school?
Did where you buy your house (or rent) factor into which school catchment area you were in?
How important is the school community to you and your family, or is it simply a place where your child/ren go?
Does it matter if you are/aren't involved in school community?
As an expat sometimes there is no decision to be made about school cos your choice is limited to one school. Other times, you may have a few schools to choose from. The first thing you do is google the city and the word 'international school' to see what pops up, and go from there. If you've expated before, you ask your network if they can recommend schools where you are headed, or if they know someone who's been there.
The French speakers usually have a French International School; there's the Amercian International School, British International School, German International School and others; some IGS are accredited, while others are not; the local population as a percentage of the school varies, as does the curriculum.
If you're child has special needs of any description, an expat life becomes nigh on impossible as finding the right support in your language can be stressful if not impossible. Two friends in Yokohama made the decision to leave because they could not find the appropriate support for their kids.
So, it's not as easy as catchment area. Or finding the right private (independant, fee paying) school.
When we moved to Dublin, we placed MissM in a Montessori and it was lovely. We didn't understand Montessori when we started, and it took a while to win us over, but eventually it did. MissM thrived. There was so much love and care shown to the children, there was creativity and imagination evidence on the walls, there was learning to be done in such a fun way that learning ABC's and 123's was easy. There were songs, rhymes, and plays. There was sports too, despite the small size of the premises and lack of outdoor space.
Yokohama was completely different. Our company has a strong relationship with YIS, so that's where we went. What could have been a difficult or stressful choice was made for us. (There is much more choice in Tokyo) Lucky for us, YIS had great teachers, excellent Head of School, and MissM thrived. We didn't understand Regio Emilio, or the Early Years Program .... but learned to accept it; we didn't understand Primary Years Program (all part of International Baccalaureate, but we do now and rather like it)
Parents were invited into the classroom many times a year for all sorts of reasons, and it was a happy and inclusive environment. The High School kids naturally didn't have or need parental involvement at school like the elementary kids, but when ever parents were included in events, the participation was high.
There was also something else.
There was a thriving school community which gave me, as a non working, expat woman something to get involved with. The PTSA (Parents Teachers Students Association) was a hive of activity and friendships waiting to happen. I joined the PTSA and co ordinated the monthly coffee mornings, then become the VP Events, and co-chaired the role of President. I was on the Executive Committee that met with the Head of School and other senior administrators once a month.
School here in the UK was different again. State schools (aka public in Australia) work on catchment area alone. So no address, no catchment area, no school. Finding the right house in the right area for the right school was impossible when we arrived, so we had no choice but to send MissM to a fee paying (aka private, or independent school). We arrived just before the October mid-term break, and there were very few places left. We accepted the first school we interviewed with.
The opportuntity to ask questions, and 'feel' the schools potential fit really wasn't there and in hindsight, if it was I'm not sure MissM would have gone where she did if we'd had time/choice on our side. It's been an OK experience. We can see why it has the amazing reputation it has, but we still feel, even after all this time that we are all square pegs in round holes. If we were staying longer, we were seriously considering moving house and therefore school for the remainder of any contract, but we don't have to do that now PHEW.
This afternoon we fly to Dublin to look at two schools. MissM is old enough to be part of the decision making process, and to that end we asked her what she would like in her new school, and what she wouldn't. It was fascinating .........
- Mummy to make my lunch. Don't like school lunches. (OMG I Love you having school lunches)
- No more school uniform. I hate wearing the same thing every day. It's boring. (but you look lovely in it) I might look lovely but it feels boring.
- Liked YIS where we worked and talked. Here you have to sit at the desk and listen all day long.
- Really like having different teachers for science, art, drama, music, Japanese, French. (Maybe that's cos you were in younger grades. I think from year 2 and 3 onwards there's more desk work where ever you go)
- Don't like having such long subjects. Why can't they all go together in a project? Just math for 40 minutes or just geography is too much of one thing in one go. (She is referring to her time table)
- Everyone at school is from England. I want to go back to a school where people are from everywhere, so we can try different food, do different festivals, learn languages. (know what you mean)
- Can I please go to a school where people are like me (what do you mean, like you?) like, I've lived in lots of places, and we're moving again .... so people like me who move around a lot so it's not a big deal (how interesting is that comment?????????????)
- I'd love a new school where you can come too. You aren't allowed to come to (her school) very often, are you? (I'd like that too)
- Will you join the PTSA at my new school? (maybe, we'll see) I hope you do.
- Can my new school have a pool and can we use iPads? (who knows? maybe)
- Not sure if I want boys in my class - they can be so noisy. (Oh, i think it would be sad not to have boys around)
- Definitely do no want to board. I want to come home to you and daddy every night. (who said anything about boarding)
So, with her list of requirements, and ours, the next two days will be very interesting.
Once we have decided on school, we'll be able to start Phase 5: House Hunting.