Monday, January 17, 2011

(Literal) School shopping, round 2

Here are the results of my school visits, as promised in 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)?



Sarah Familia said...

So I, um, blogged about you today. Nothing bad, I promise. I just think you're cool.

Matthew said...

I feel your pain sister. We have had to change schools several times to get the variables balanced ideally. Good luck!

Kathy Haynie said...

Bridget, you are asking thoughtful questions. They don't have easy answers, but as you and Jeremy consider your questions and the implications of their answers--as best as you can figure out--you will find your way to some useful insights.

I teach in a public high school in Oregon. Certainly public education in our state is taking a major hit these days, but even so, reading your post helped me to be more aware of the many things I take for granted about public education in North America.

I wish you well in your search for Miriam's school, and I look forward to more posts on the topic.

Shannan said...

Even halfway across the world I see that you, too, face the same decisions that I face. I am also looking at potential preschools in my area to send my almost 3 year old. And funny - even though cost is a factor -it's more of the reputation I'm looking at. Most of the moms rave about a particular preschool that happens to be very close to where I live and has the 2nd highest tution. But for some reason that totally turns me off - I dont' want my child to attend the snobby high strung preschool. I always pause a second when well-dressed, busybody moms think a school "is the answer" to all schools and would not consider anything else. But then, I'm also the mom who put her child in a district-run Head Start type preschool because I wanted my child to be exposed to diversity.(side note: it was a good experience, but I changed his preschool the following year).

I found a small baptist preschool that is farther away and costs about $100 less a month and the class size is very small. It doesn't have the glossy reputation that the other school has. And I'm much more attracted to that one.Being a former preschool teacher, I know what to look for, and so far this smaller and more "rough" school has all the elements of a really good school. My only thought is: why hasn't everyone else jumped on this bandwagon? Oh well - it's definitely the forerunner in my search.

Susanne said...

Good to read the update about your impressions of the various schools. I also would be concerned if your child were the odd one (e.g., only blonde; only non-Muslim; only American). She may be treated like a celebrity and I know Miriam doesn't really come across as one who likes a lot of attention. The family introvert on the other hand might find that fun.

Miriam might enjoy the fact that everyone is different or she may long for people who look similar to her. I don't know as I've never been the only X in a school of Y. But in high school I did have all white kids except a lone black student. I sometimes wondered what Kim thought of her unique position among us or how I would feel if the situation were reversed.

I hope you will find the right mixture and the best place for Miriam so she will have a great school experience.

Katie said...

Perhaps school I can be accessed by stepping up to a certain train platform between #9 and #10?

Okay, okay. Sorry. We've been watching a little bit too much Harry Potter around here lately.

Anyway, this is both interesting and helpful to read about. I don't think we'll face the same problem in looking for a preschool for Olivia (since we'll be in Ohio), but I certainly have been thinking a lot lately about what exactly it is I look for in a school. And I can certainly say that being ritzy is not on my list of pros, necessarily.

I worked at a so-called classy school and I can say from experience that it was TERRIBLE. And now as a general reflex I tend to look down on preschools with uniforms. Not that I have any particular problems with uniforms in and of themselves (Who cares? Not me.), but around here it tends to be a sign that the school caters toward making parents feel like their kid is in a nice school rather than actually putting forth the effort to BE a nice school.

By the way, at the ritzy school I worked for? I was the only one with a college degree of any kind. Including my boss (principal, owner, etc.). And including the teachers who taught kindergarten and upper grades. Super sketch? Yes. So it may or may not be an issue with the schools your looking into, but it might be worth checking out the credentials of their teaching staff. I can say it's definitely an issue that never would have crossed my mind had I not worked for a school that, outwardly, looked so great, but, inwardly, was seriously lacking on so many fronts.

Best of luck to you!

And this is totally just me being nosy and curious, but has Miriam expressed any particular interest in any of the schools?

Anna said...

So here is my two cents: From the age of six to the age of nine I went to an American school in Honduras filled mostly with wealthy Honduran children. I was a super-blonde little girl. There were generally about three American children in my class each year and I didn't think I was treated differently until all the Americans in my grade (except me)left the same year. Then things got weird. I remember being really confused at how I became an outsider so suddenly. I wasn't bullied, but I wasn't particularly welcome. Recess was lonely. There were some mean jokes. This was also the first year I had a Honduran teacher instead of an ex-pat.
It was fourth grade when this all happened, and I it could be an age thing, or maybe i just became really uncool in fourth grade; however, we moved to Argentina and were enrolled in another private school where a third of the students were expats and I was super welcome. No weirdness. Also, no one tried to touch my hair there, which was a constant problem in Honduras (I totally sympathize with your girls. I hated to go to church because all the people felt free to touch my hair--even old men and teen age boys which was super scary to me.)

So..good luck. maybe you should move to Argentina.

Bridget said...

Thanks for all these thoughtful comments. The only inclination Miriam has shown toward a particular school is School V, because two of her friends from KG2 will be going there. I am pretty sure she'll have friends from KG2 at School S, too.

I should mention that all of these schools require uniforms and they are all British curriculum, so there's no big differences there.

Liz Johnson said...

I have no idea. I went to junior high/high school at a private school where 20% of the student body were average Americans whose parents worked for a church, the government, or some random company. Fifteen percent were rich international kids of various ethnicities (members of the Saudi royal family, for example). The other 65% were insanely rich Mexican kids whose parents owned half of the country. I admit - it was slightly weird going to school with kids who had bodyguards and bulletproof cars and who did their back-to-school shopping in Milan. But honestly, it just became my normal, knowing that some kids came from ridiculous wealth but they were still pretty normal kids. That said, it did create a certain pressure on my parents for us to keep up... why couldn't we go on the class field trip to Moscow?! And so we ended up going on the "lesser" trip to Boston. I know. Poor me, right??

So I have no clue. Good luck!!

Julie said...

Funny how we can be going through such similar experiences across the world from one another.

We're also school shopping. Derek has had a good experience at our neighborhood school this year, but they have really left us with no choice but to send him to 2nd grade next year.

There is a new charter school being built down the street that offers ability grouping, so he could stay in first grade and be grouped with kids more on his level.

One the one hand, I like the idea of the charter school and all it has to offer (charter schools have great reputations around here). On the other hand, they haven't even hired the staff yet and there hasn't been a groundbreaking for the building.

I'm going to the charter school board meeting in the morning. Maybe sending him to 2nd grade wouldn't be so bad....?

Good luck deciding! It is sure a tough choice.


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