Monday, November 14, 2005

School Days

One aspect of our move to the US that has been stress free and straight forward is sending the children to school. When we were deciding where to live, we initially looked at two things -- how good the public schools were and the crime rates. If an area had bad schools or a high crime rate, we ruled out the possibility of living there. Our research in this matter did not go unrewarded. We find ourselves living in a lovely neighbourhood close to the school where the crime rate is well below the national average.

(As an aside, this is another example of differences in our "common language". In the UK, a public school is a school that is owned by the public (i.e. not owned by the state); whereas in the US, a public school is one that is publicly owned (i.e. belongs to the public / is run by the state).)

Our decision to buy the house we bought was based mainly on the fact that the school had a good record. The allocation of places in schools here is very strongly based on catchment areas (or Attendance Zones).

We simply arranged an appointment with the school, registered the children and they started school the very next day. The children love going to school. They made friends quickly and seem very happy there. I like it because the school very much encourages parent involvement, so I can help out in the classroom. The school also encourages parents to meet their children for lunch, which we all enjoy now and then.

When we were still living in hotels, the girls used to be "carpoolers". The school has a very well organised system whereby parents can drop off and pick up their children by car. It is a well-oiled machine. When we were waiting in the car pool, my husband used to roll down the windows of the car just to listen to the children talking in their American accents. It sounds like English children playing make-believe.

I think I'd better elaborate further on that last sentence. In England, we have a large infusion of influences from the US by way of TV programmes, films and pop music. As a result, one sometimes witnesses a phenomenon wherein one hears children, who are playing games that involve role play, playing their characters or singing pop songs in American accents.

Anyway -- back to the topic at hand. We now live only 5 minutes walk from the school, so the children are "walkers".

Here's my list of how schools in the USA differ from UK schools:

  1. The grades are slightly different (although I'm led to understand that this varies from state to state). Lauren had just finished year 3 and Emily year 5 in the UK, but are now in grades 3 and 5 respectively in the US.
  2. US schools don't have uniforms (although I dare say there might be exceptions).
  3. US schools have short Christmas and Spring (not necessarily Easter) breaks and a long summer break.
  4. In US schools, each classroom has an American flag in it. Children start each day by standing, placing their right hand on their heart and saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
  5. US schools have catch-up days for unscheduled school closures. For example, if the school has to close for unexpected reasons (eg. a burst pipe or excess snow/ice), in the UK all the kids and teachers alike shout "hooray" and have a lovely day at home. In the US, however, they replace the lost day with one out of the holidays. In our girls' school, for example, the entire Spring break consists of catch-up days. This means that, potentially, they could go right through from Christmas to Summer without a decent break. There are, however, alternatives to the Traditional school calendar (eg. year-round schools) that you could investigate if you'd rather. For us, we're going to disappear off to the UK for a good long holiday in the summer.
  6. In the US, there are lots of different types of schools, for example, montessori, magnet (a bit like centres of excellence in the UK), year round, home school and a whole array of private schools with religious affiliations. Although there are a lot of different types of schools in the UK as well, it may be worth getting to know what the USA has to offer before making any decisions.
I know this is by no means an exhaustive list, so let me know if there are any more that you can think of.


crystal said...

Hi - welcome to both blog world and the US :-)

Michael Pahl said...

Viola, my wife and I are enjoying your blog. We appreciated your note here about Mark listening to the children talking and how it sounded like English children playing make believe. Before we moved from Canada to the UK, our children would play princesses and knights with put-on English accents, and now that we're here we love to listen to English children talk. There's just something about children speaking with an "accent" that makes it seem more authentic, more innocent, yet more playful. You realise that it's not something learned through processes of education, but something just picked up naturally. Yet because it's children speaking, it somehow still seems like a game, like innocent make believe.