I'm willing to acknowledge that I may be in a honeymoon period.
(Warning: long post)
I just can't stop talking about this school. It's really something special. And it's true, I'm comparing it to the school we were in before, which is pretty much bottom tier by any way you measure it. Other foreign parents are comparing it to school back in their home countries, which is maybe different. But for our family it has just been perfect.
After the second or third day of school, E's teacher called me. That's always a bad feeling, by the way. Anyway, he called and said that he had noticed that she can't read very well in the language (understatement) but that her English is really good (also an understatement), so would I mind if he pulled her out of English class to tutor her in their phonetic alphabet? I nearly choked. No I don't mind. Please do that. By the way you're the best teacher ever. I was just floored. In the school we were in before, if you can't read the teacher suggests you drop out and find a job as a farmer. Literally. And I couldn't help but wonder, is this standard here? Or is it just this school? Well, I've asked around a bunch of local moms since then. And no, it is not standard here. I mean, I get the impression it's not quite as harsh as I just mentioned our old school was, but everyone I've asked has said that this kind of attention is a hallmark of our school.
That's not the only thing either. M's teacher told her, without any prompting or anything from me, that she didn't mind if M just kept using the old phonetic alphabet she had learned before. She didn't need to bother with learning the new one, the teacher would just grade her work in the other system. And not just that, when I've looked back at her work, I've noticed that her teacher hasn't marked it incorrect when she accidentally writes something even in the non-phonetic alphabet that's in the old system she learned instead of the system they use here. Talk about individualized attention! I couldn't believe M had gotten someone who was willing to ease her into the new system so gently.
(Two writing systems for those of you who are confused-- there's a phonetic alphabet used only in elementary school to help kids memorize pronunciation and then a non-phonetic alphabet that just has to be memorized. Both are different between here and where we used to live.)
And then there are the activities! Everyone here is super cautious about COVID, so I think a solid half of the girls' activities got cancelled, but even with that it was just so many. I'm pretty sure it was every other week that at least one of them had something going on. A field trip, or an all day at-school special activity or a sports competition or an English spelling bee (M got second place) or who knows what. And when I mention that to other moms, it's also really unique about this school. I mean, if you look at the elementary school that we're zoned to here, we're talking 30 kids per class and 10 classes per grade level, that's 2,000 kids. In an elementary school! No wonder they can't do activities! But this school has 20 kids per class and three classes per grade level. You really have a lot more flexibility that way!
Actually, you know this school is in the mountains, it's not convenient to get to. I knew most of the kids came from outside of the zone (like we do), but I thought you'd still get a lot of kids whose parents are maybe not so concerned about their education. In fact, I've found it to be the opposite. Many, many of the parents of the girls' classmates are highly educated. M has three classmates with doctor parents. Three out of twenty! For a school in the middle of nowhere! And the parent involvement rate is very high, whether it's helping out with activities or going as a chaperone on field trips or helping in the kitchen when one of the lunch ladies catches COVID. What I've realized is that it's a lot of parents who want their kids to have more than just the high pressure, test-driven education that comes standard here. It's parents who really care about their kids' education.
And you can see that in the kids: they're not afraid to try new things and have fun at school. This year, there were singing competitions and talent shows and sports competitions and kids participated in all of them. Even M played in the basketball competition. (Her team won that too by the way, I think she has a height advantage. We all really enjoyed the mental image we got when she explained how she blocked multiple shots.) Anyway, the point is that the kids aren't afraid to try out something that they might not be good at. Nobody was saying, "Hey M, you're not that athletic are you sure you want to play basketball?" She wanted to play and they all had fun. Nobody seemed that concerned about the competition.
Even talking to the other moms of the kids in the girls' classes, who have a much better feel for what you would get in a standard elementary school here, everyone is really clear that it's a good place to just be a kid. All over Asia, high pressure education systems are a real problem, and it was always something we assumed we'd have to just take as part of the cost of learning language and culture. But this school has really showed us that that's not the case. I never thought my kids could get this kind of experience while learning this language. I just feel so blessed. M feels it too. She remembers her old school, and hardly a day goes by that she doesn't show how much she appreciates the differences here. For E it's not so obvious, she had only gone to kindergarten in our old home, and kindergarten is more fun you know. But it's really obvious for M. I'm just so grateful to be here right now. Who knows how long we'll be here or where we'll go next (COVID has broken me of the habit of planning long term...) but right now, this is a great place to be.