Thursday, May 14, 2015

What to do about school?

Here's what's running around in my mind right now: what to do about school for the girls this fall.

Our options, in summary:

1. Enroll them in an all-Finnish school. This would be the neighborhood school closest to our house where all the kids in our area would be attending. They could probably walk or ride their bikes. The system there will give them mother-tongue support for the first year, but it will still be a very difficult transition for them and for us. But this option is probably the fast-track to assimilation, if the slightly rougher one.

2. Enroll them in a bilingual school. Turku happens to have a language magnet school, and there are tracks in English/Finnish, German/Finnish, and Russian/Finnish (we'd go for the English/Finnish for the girls, but maybe we'd get creative with Sterling in a few years, mwahahahaha). As a linguist with interest and MA experience in bilingual education programs, this school is like a magical wonderland to me. However, the application period is long past, and even if they did let us apply now, the assessment interview for the girls would be in Finnish. Which they do not speak yet. But they DO speak English, which seems like an asset for the program. I'm in contact with the principal to see if I can woo her to my side, though it's not looking good.

3. Enroll them in the international school. We are lucky to have this option even if it is currently not my favorite. The international school is an English-medium public school but has plenty of (mostly?) Finnish students, plus random foreigners like us. It is reportedly a very good school, but my main concern is that my kids would not learn Finnish very quickly. However, this would be a much gentler landing for them. This is also the hands-down winner should we only be in Turku for a year - but we won't know if that's the case or not until said year is almost over. Does anyone have a crystal ball? Also, this school is located in an area of town where we will probably not be living, which means they couldn't walk or ride bikes there.

The good thing is that the girls are guaranteed a spot at option 1 or 3. My favorite choice is 2, though. We could do a compromise - the international school for the first year for a softer landing and to hedge our bets against leaving after a year, and then try to get them in to option 2 for the next year if we're staying.


Crys said...

So as obsessed as I am with number one from just a curiosity standpoint I think I'd probably end up with your final option. I'm a hedge betting kind of girl. If you just stay a year it will be best and if you stay forever like you said the girls will probably learn enough Finnish at church, the neighborhood, and maybe you can get them a tutor to make two a great option next year like you mentioned. Let me know if you'd like to talk to my mom. I know you studied this stuff for school but she's been teaching bilingual for 25+ years. I'm sure you dealt with this in the UAE but she's dealt with lots of kids in situation 1. She might have some helpful hints. Anyway why can't we have crystal would make life/parenting so much easier ;). Oh and I saw that comment about Duolingo and got the app...having so much fun with it.

karina said...

Tough choice! I'd probably enroll them in the International School the first year and revisit if you decide to stay longer. I also like Crys's idea of a tutor. I know Finnish is supposed to be the hardest language to learn, so it seems like immediate immersion might be really tough. And if you only stay a year, kind of pointless. Because the chances of them remembering Finnish after being re-immersed in Arabic seems low.

Liz Johnson said...

I think I'd go with the international school and then re-visit in one year (unless you can get them into Option 2). Do they have any classes entirely in Finnish at the school?? I admit that I didn't learn Spanish as quickly as I could've at an international school, but we still all picked it up quickly (especially with a live-in maid, and I like the tutor option, too).

Amira said...

The way I look at it is that we can drop our children into school in a new language and they'd come out of the first year knowing a lot of the new language, but that's *all* they would learn that year. I'm not willing to focus an entire school year solely on one language (not even Spanish or Russian, much less Finnish, unless we were permanently moving and the children were in elementary school). I'd definitely choose the international school and apply for option two and decide about making the switch if that's a possibility the second year.

I get all kinds of worked up about decisions like these. :)

Jen and Joe. said...

I'd go with Option #3, for sure, if I were in the same situation. I'm all for gentle transitions. They're the best sort of transitions, I think. =)

Bridget said...

Crys, give me your mom's email!

I'm so sad that there is no Duolingo Finnish. :(

Amira, you're right, and that is my thought, too - it will have been a waste of a year (school-wise) if we only stay for one year. However, I also try to recognize that learning another language is not only valuable because of the practical uses for that language, but because of the cognitive benefits it provides. That's as true for Finnish (a lesser used foreign language) as it would be for Mandarin.

That said, the bilingual school seems to work on the model of learning some of the same subjects in both languages. That overlap could mitigate some of the overall education loss they'd experience with option 1.

Anna said...

Chris and I are still so excited you guys are going to Finland! Good luck with your decision about schools. This information may lend you some comfort if you choose, or are forced to choose, the international school.

In elementary school I went to two different international schools. The first was all native Honduran students and then me and my brothers. It was in English but...the playground was Spanish, group projects were done in Spanish, sometimes if the teachers were lazy they'd use Spanish. It felt more bilingual than English.

The other international school was truly international with kids from everywhere. We only spoke English to each other except for Spanish class.

So, what I am saying is that if you end up with the international school and it's mostly Finnish students, they may be getting a LOT more Finnish than you think.

Also, I think a good blog post (if you ever need ideas) would be a list of all the benefits of learning foreign languages OTHER than learning a foreign language.

Amira said...

I'd ask the international school how strict they are about enforcing English language use by the students and adults. My son's elementary school is technically English but he only hears English from his teacher- nearly everyone else speaks Spanish all the time and he's learned a lot of Spanish in two years. I feel like it has been a really good balance because it spread the intensive language learning over two years. He still is in a separate Spanish class a couple days a week, but he's totally fine with Spanish social activities and church and can read and write in Spanish at close to grade level.

But I hear a different story from kids at the American School in Mexico City (and Liz's comment might confirm this) where they enforce English-only a lot more strictly.

Ali, Joe, Reef & Jacob said...

Oooh, just the thing I like to have an opinion on. But I'll save it in person. I thought you might to know that Qatar now has a Finnish international school and I have heard that they are looking to export their curriculum across the ME.

The cognitive benifits would be fantastic. I'd ask myself, is my idea of a good curriculum, content driven or have a skills based delivery? Do I want my kids to able to spurt information that makes them sound smart, in English? or, do I want to increase my child's capacity to learn? Without knowing the curriculum on offer at the international school, options FINLAND begin to look somewhat more attractive to me, when I ask those questions.

The U.K. curriculum is a content driven curriculum though. So if you plan to return then perhaps you might want to stay in a similar setting. Having said that, in no way do I think your children would be penalised by a year "off." I'm sure they would fit seamlessly back in and still excel.

Eevi said...

Oh man, you do know that I will be living vigorously through you. I think option 3 would be the best as Finnish is very hard to learn. I know it sounds crazy but even though Finnish is my first language, I have a hard time speaking it to my kids as we are surrounded by English all the time. So my kids are not fluent in Finnish...but you have inspired me to start speaking it more so WHEN we come and see you, our kids can speak Finnish and English to each other:)

Liz Johnson said...

When I was at the American school in Mexico City, all of the elementary classes were bilingual - you did many of the same subjects in both English and Spanish. My siblings did that program and picked up Spanish really quickly. I got there in 7th grade, when kids were already choosing a university path (US v. Mexico v. Europe) so the classes were either mostly in English or mostly in Spanish, depending on the path you chose. Since I was on the U.S. path, my classes were all English (except my Spanish class, obviously). But I was around a lot of Spanish speakers and watched a lot of movies with Spanish subtitles and still picked it up, just not as quickly as my siblings. I have no idea if the international school in Turku is similar, but that gives a bit more background on my comment/experience.

Caitlin Carroll said...

I bet they would do fine with option 1. They have already been learning another language so it should be easier for them to learn Finnish, no? Aren't Finnish public schools the best in the world, too? I don't know their personalities though, and maybe they would hate it. Personally, I'd probably do it.

Also -- we are going to be in Denmark next summer. We will be there four months and their summer vacation I think is like 6 weeks (?) and I'm hoping to put my kids in school for a bit.

Bridget said...

Caitlin, so cool! I hope you can get them in school for a while, too.

Thanks, Liz and others, for additional insights into international schools. I'm in contact with the principal at the one in Turku to find out more about their program.


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