Up until now, it hasn't seemed all that different. All four of the grocery cart wheels swivel, which makes it more difficult to control, and it's impossible to tell whether you're buying heavy cream or sour cream because they call it different names, and tomato sauce is ketchup...or the other way around. Anyway, minor things that have made this a little adventure. But school started on Monday, and it is so...different. And I'm having a hard time with it.
The Odyssey School, the amazing and beloved charter school that my older boys attend back home. The dedicated, groundbreaking teachers coupled with the supportive staff and community doesn't happen everywhere--this school exudes warmth and light, and my children and I had the privilege of soaking in it each day for three and a half years. To go from that to anything would be hard, and again, I know it rationally...but it doesn't make it any easier when I feel it.
In New South Wales (and perhaps in Australia as a whole?), schools only open one day before students begin. We dutifully showed up the Friday before school started to register the boys, and waited as the secretary thumbed through her 176 (true!) unread emails in an unsuccessful attempt to find the email I had sent from back home with our temporary resident visa information and application. After first being told that the boys couldn't start school yet, a couple of phone calls later we were told to go ahead and show up. Other parents were there registering their children, and I couldn't help wonder why the school didn't use a couple of extra days to get their work in order before school started. But then I chided myself; clearly they were used to this system and it works fine. Just because we do it that way in America doesn't mean everyone should.
The kids and I were in great spirits the first day of school; the boys excitedly put on their uniforms. I have always wanted to be able to walk the boys to school, so I was psyched as I headed out the door with my boys in their cute little uniforms, with Kenyon as their eager little mascot.
The kids were then separated into two large groups where someone began reading names of each student off a list to further separate them into classrooms. Of course, because we had just come in on Friday (and the secretary had 176 emails to get through), our kids hadn't been designated a classroom and waited with the other new kids until everyone else had gone before being assigned. Not a great way to welcome the new students, but I saw Jackson chatting with a boy animatedly and comparing each other's watches, so he seemed to be doing just fine. When two staffmembers began deciding where to put Jackson, I explained to them how Jackson had finished half of third grade back home, and what his teacher back home thought, and how his birthday falls on the cusp between being in third grade or fourth grade here...at least, I tried to convey this information but was brusquely told by a man that he'd handle it. Ah. Ok. I just thought that would be helpful.
**On a side note, it is now Thursday evening, and I still don't know whether Jackson has been placed in third or fourth grade (he's in a 3/4 composite class), whether they plan on assessing him and then deciding...there hasn't been any communication with me. I have heard that parents aren't as involved in school matters here, so maybe it's just something they take care of and don't pass it along?**
I made sure both boys were successfully placed into a class and then headed to the canteen, where they were firing up the espresso machine to make coffees for the parents. An espresso machine at the school? Score one for Wollongong Public School!
Jackson has been jazzed about school and immediately made friends. He has a cute, young teacher that he says is nice but he said she often tells the class 'SSSSHHHHHHH' very loudly and that his teacher back home would never do that. He signed himself up for and competed in all 5 events in the swimming carnival; I admire him for jumping right in and having the confidence to put himself out there like that.
Alex, my little Al Pal, is having a rough time. He doesn't talk to anyone, no one talks to him, and he says they don't really do anything in class. He always hangs back a bit with new things, but usually that's where he is comfortable so he's happy and then dives in when he's ready. But he's not comfortable right now; he expresses dislike for school. I assured him that the first few days were going to be settling in, but I have to admit that the dowdy, middle-aged woman teacher he was assigned to didn't look particularly caring or welcoming. The bright spot of his day is that he and Jackson have their hour-long recess together, so they are able to play together along with Jackson's new friends.
There is no email communication with teachers here--honestly, in a lot of ways, it reminds me of what education was like 25 years ago when I was in elementary school. That is fine--I'm at school anyway, so I checked in with Alex's teacher in person this morning about school supplies (Jackson had brought home a list but I hadn't seen one from Alex), and I also told her that Alex was having a hard time getting used to school and making friends, that we were new in the country...she interrupted me and coldly said that a lot of her students are new, and new to the country as well.
Um...well, all the more reason that it might be nice to do some get-to-know-you, icebreaker-type exercises? A little rapport-building isn't a bad idea...but instead of a reassuring 'Oh, I'll make sure to have so-and-so look after him' (which is exactly how Jackson made his first friend), or saying that she had plans to do some introductions, or ANYTHING kind, that was it. Discussion over. My hopes of setting up a pen pal exchange between Alex's class back home at Odyssey and this class dissipated in a dowdy cloud of smoke right then and there.
Do Americans baby their kids or something? Should a 7-year old that is new to a country not expect to have a little help getting integrated into a classroom? Please tell me if I'm being a wimp. I can't tell if it's part of Australian culture to just tough it out and suck it up, and learn to adapt (which I'll admit can be a good trait), or if I shouldn't generalize about a whole culture from one dowdy, grumpy woman. But I am terribly bummed that this one grumpy woman is going to be in charge of my sensitive son's educational experience for the year, especially when he's coming off of having a year and a half with his teacher back home, the incredibly warm teacher with high standards but who has the ability to see the best in each child and stretch their thinking in wonderful ways.
When I picked Alex up this afternoon, he said the day went better than yesterday. I asked why, and happily waited to hear how he made a new friend or learned something cool, but he only told me that he colored a dinosaur and pasted it on a piece of paper. Shortly thereafter, in incredibly poor timing for my fragile state, I read that his class back in Denver had gone on an outing to the nature preserve and had conversations about how and why animals migrate, hibernate, etc. They watched as a peregrine falcon hunted its prey. Sigh.
I hear you, my Al Pal--I don't like this school much either so far. A bath, a cup of hot cocoa, and homemade potato, cheese and leek soup to warm me up from the two days of rain (and 2.5 hours standing in it while timing races at the swimming carnival) offered some perspective. We're only here for a year, so we (currently, Alex and I) need to focus on all the millions of wonderful benefits of being here, and be more patient with the hard things. I am hoping Alex is able to find his niche at school, and if for some reason he doesn't I hope it won't taint his experience with all the other truly awesome things about this year.
|one of the amazing benefits--seeing cockatoos right up in the trees on the walk to school!|