Round 1. Again, I'm redacting the names of the schools (except one) for privacy reasons.
School S. The frontrunner. Even though this is the closest school, it turns out it isn't particularly convenient to get to. It's one of those situations where you can see it right there, but since left turns aren't allowed you have perform the funkiest series of U-turns imaginable (in a queue of other school parents doing the same thing, no less).
The facilities there are ok, but a bit faded. The tuition is sky-high compared to everywhere else (almost twice as much in some cases) but we don't pay it, so it's not a consideration. The surroundings are a bit blah - it's right on a main road surrounded by a lot of construction sites but that second part describes about three-fourths of Sharjah and Dubai, so.
Status: Application already submitted.
School V. The dark horse. This school is farther away on the way there (because of more weird left-turn restrictions) but on the way home it takes about the same amount of time as School S, amazingly. Their bus service is a possibility.
The facilities are amazing. I was really impressed. Wow. However, the surroundings are also a bit rough - it's a dirt road all the way around but there are other villas and schools in the area as well.
Status: Application ready to submit as soon as they begin accepting them.
School R. The Catholic school. Their facility is new, but poor. It's all pavement with no friendly open areas or grass. I'm going to break cover here and tell you that the name of this school is Rosary School. I tell you that because - and this may be my wonky Arabic skills at work - I swear that the Arabic translation of "Rosary" on the school sign was written as "وردية," which is "Rosy." Rosy School + no website = too strange for me.
Status: No thank you.
School I. I CANNOT FIND THIS SCHOOL. I've looked at their helpful location map a dozen times and it must be an invisible campus because I have yet to locate it. I'll keep you posted.
School W. Close by, with a very beautiful campus. Primary school is integrated but from Secondary school on it is single-sex. However, none of this matters because upon investigation I was told that Grade 1 and younger are hosted at a different campus, farther away. D'oh! I'm pretty sure that rules it out. I wasn't impressed enough with what I saw at the one campus to be willing to tough it out farther away and then transfer in a year. Petty, perhaps, but true.
Status: Not applying unless all other applications fall through.
School C. The Islamic-by-reputation school. WELL. Let me tell you about School C. I went there today with Magdalena and as soon as we walked on the campus everyone was staring at us. Inside the reception area, a woman in niqab - but not even the regular niqab; it was the kind where the eye cut-out is a slit instead of holes - asked me incredulously, "You have kids in this school??" Then an eight-year-old girl wearing hijab walked by. Yeah.
All the meaningful questions I was going to ask the receptionist flew right out the window. Instead I went back to the basics: I asked her if non-Muslims were allowed to attend that school. And you know what? She had to make a phone call to check. I knew that even if the answer was yes, School C was getting crossed off our list. It turns out that non-Muslims are welcome to attend the school, but there happen to be absolutely no non-Muslims there at this time. And Miriam will not be the first, sorry.
Status: No thank you.
All of these school visits raised some interesting and at times disturbing issues for me. Namely, what are the most important attributes of a school, beyond the obvious goal of fostering academic success? What matters and what doesn't?
Does it matter if none of the students look like Miriam? Does it matter if she's the only blonde girl? Will that impact her educational experience? I'm not trying to cause any offense here, but I also refuse to ignore the possibility of Miriam suffering from what I hereby dub the Al-Azhar Park Effect.
What about cost? Is the most expensive school automatically the best? How can I ensure a balanced, diverse school experience for Miriam if every single kid at the expensive school is rich or has parents whose jobs are good enough to foot the bill?
Does a school that has a reputation built up with certain ethnic groups (or religions) automatically shut out those who don't belong to said group, even if the rule is unwritten? What if it's shutting us out?
And how do I balance my desire for Miriam to attend school with members of the UAE community with my desire to NOT have her go to school with kids whose nannies fetch their pencils and notebooks out of their backpacks for them (true story)?