We have started a new Instagram project called The Traveling Academy. We have folks posting regularly who are schooling kids from toddlers to high school while living abroad. Please come on a follow along and tag your friends who may be interested, too.
When we were in the States last fall we did the unexpected and enrolled our children (grades K, 2nd, and 3rd) into public school. We did tons of research, spoke to teachers and friends that had kids in the school they would attend, prayed and decided to take the leap. We even allowed them to do the whole bus thing. I was more nervous about that than my son flying today for the first time without me or my husband. But they survived and with the new baby, I was happy not to have to pick them up in the afternoon.
Before I dive into all my observances (27!?) let me set the stage for you:
We are an American expat family who lives overseas in a city with two other foreign families…in the whole province of 5 million people. We have dabbled a little in local preschool, though we never finished a semester for reasons I could write about in another post. I homeschool with a Charlotte Mason-ish mindset and we do not do a formal pre-school. We live a very transient lifestyle where every day can be different. We travel a lot and are used to tons of flexibility. (We have to remain flexible to survive).
My children attended a public school in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. It is known for being a great school with above average test scores. The school was way more diverse than I expected. Also, this school was large. There were 1200 students in grades K-5!
This is a totally-absolutely-positively subjective post. My experience and worldview are that of an expat on a slow, tropical island and therefore, may seem to be a little harsh against the American public school system. This is just my experience.
27 Observances from Our Public School Experience
(Seen through the eyes of an Expat)
- All the rumors about the testing are true. Our first meeting with my son’s third grade teacher focused on the big state test they would take at the end of the year. They also had to put their answers into a computer. And she only had one computer in her class to teach them. Thankfully, my 3rd grader didn’t have to be tested because we left to move back to overseas after the first semester.
- My kids had to take an ESL test because I marked on their registration forms that they were bilingual. They all passed….thankfully.
- My kindergartner was put in early intervention for reading after being tested the 3rd week of school. Kindergarten. I was told she didn’t identify sounds and letters quick enough. Her teacher was amazing and was willing to talk through whether my daughter would go to the intervention class during reading time. We decided that a smaller group setting never hurt and she attended. She excelled, as I suspected she would, and within weeks was up to the speed that the system said she needed to be.
- My kids really enjoyed school. Their favorite subjects were recess, art and lunch. Go figure.
- We had the hardest time keeping the children well and free from sickness.
- My kindergartner missed seven days of school (see No. 5) and we got a letter home with her report card that if she missed any more days we would be turned in to Child Protective Services. True story.
- The stack of worksheets that were sent home each week was outrageous. I wonder how many trees the public school system kills a year.
- My son’s best friend was Hindu and a child of Indian immigrants. I was encouraged to see my child being very comfortable with those who do not look like him or share the same first culture, even in his home culture.
- Keeping up with the papers, schedules, homework assignments, school conferences, meetings, parties, etc, etc. was way more time consuming than I originally anticipated.
- The school bus comes way too early in the morning but it is a wonderful invention. I am so thankful that free transportation to school is an American value. My kids loved to ride the bus.
- It was nice to be able to eat lunch with my kids whenever I wanted.
- Homework for a kindergartner? We actually stopped doing it after a month. It was too much for her. When was she supposed to play?
- My other children could fly through their homework in just a few minutes. Busy work, in my opinion, and it really wasn’t necessary.
- My kids were ahead in most things, except Spelling as I had already suspected.
- Writing stories and book reports were really important in the classes of my 2nd grader. Every week she wrote a report.
- The fundraisers were out of this world. I started throwing away catalogs the first week of school.
- We weren’t members of the PTA. (Please keep my dirty little secret to yourself.)
- We really enjoyed the 3rd graders musical show. It was really wonderful to see my son participate in a group performance.
- The school day was way too long for my kindergartner. Her falling asleep on the floor or having a meltdown were common occurrences on school days. Nap/rest time in kindergarten is still needed.
- I had the opportunity to be the first secret reader for my kindergartner’s class. She didn’t know I was coming and to see her expression and her excitement was a priceless moment.
- The Daddy-Daughter Dance was the semester highlight for my daughters.
- We weekly received papers trying to enroll my kids in every type of class: knitting, karate, basketball, you name it. It was all being peddled to us in the kid’s Friday folders.
- The teachers were awesome. They were very knowledgeable and communication was easy and always timely. Though they seemed bogged down with administration stuff.
- The free public school system was more expensive than we planned for. Clothes, lunches, lunch boxes, school supplies, school parties, fund raisers (we only participated in one) added up to $$$$. Homeschool would have been cheaper even after buying the materials.
- My son’s third grade teacher didn’t use any of the textbooks. She said she found them confusing and the students made lap books for every subject.
- Kids love their principals, teachers and even their bus drivers at young ages.
- My children really enjoyed time with their peers and made friends easily.
It may not sound like it, but overall, our public school experience was a positive one. Would we do it again? Probably not. (But crazier things have happened). I think the biggest take-away from our semester was that we are indeed a homeschool family. I never knew if we homeschooled out of necessity or conviction. Now I do.
I would love to hear different opinions. Have you put your kids in public school straight from living abroad? What are your experiences? Please share!