New School for All!

So we said from the beginning we wanted the kids to try 3-months in the public school and then we’d look into different options. Frequent readers know that Charlie was the most unhappy so we tackled her first (not literally…). She tried out the International School of Siena and really liked it, so starting January 7th (the first day after break) she was enrolled as a full time student.

Ian was doing fine. He wasn’t 100% present in the class, but he was picking up Italian phrases and making a few friends (sort of) and mostly content. Until his jacket got stolen a few days before Christmas. REALLY bummed him out. He had to walk home in the cold, but he picked out that jacket. Probably one of the first “big” articles of clothing that wasn’t a hand-me-down for him. We asked around the school and they didn’t know anything about it, so Christine went in and looked around and it was hidden around the corner from Ian’s locker. We also emailed the “moms” in the class.

(They’re all moms. A few dads drop off kids at school but they don’t talk with the moms in Italy, only with each other.)

Apparently Ian wasn’t the only one getting bullied. Apparently, there’s a little gang of 4 kids who would throw out his work, or crinkle it and walk ALL THE WAY around the room on the way to the teachers desks to pinch him… and he wasn’t the only one. Other kids were hitting hit. One girl found her hat in a toilet, other kids had clothing stolen or thrown in the mud. The “ringleader” is an 8-year-old who was abandoned by his parents about a year ago and lives in an orphanage. There are 3 teachers… it seems like in Italy teachers get a LOT less face-time and a lot more prep time, but there aren’t any aides… so Ian’s class of 20 kids had one kid that didn’t speak english and a HUGE behaviorally challenged orphan and the teachers just tackled it one at a time.

When teacher conferences came around basically 4-5 teachers sat in a semicircle with Christine in the middle and told her why our kids were bad. They also asked us NOT to send an aide with Ian to class because it distracted from the classroom.

Not that the teachers did anything when Ian complained about bullying and Valentina reported it, but once she left it got worse. If Ian said anything (including “ouch”) they would bang the desk and yell at him in Italian, or grab his arm and drag him into the corner to yell at him privately.

According to the “moms” the two main teachers are also the worst teachers in the school. They’re super old-school and ready to retire (although they look a lot younger than US retirement age, I’m guessing late 40’s).

Max had been enjoying his school. He’s a in different district (it seems like all schools in Italy are *basically* public charter schools). His “principal” is the principal of his middle school as well as a high school and an elementary school, all on the same block. They got a special aide to teach Italian to Max and another student from Kosovo… which really helped. Max has a basic understanding of Italian and can chat with shopkeepers and people we meet on the street. His special Italian lessons have now ended, and while he enjoyed getting homework and could understand about 40% of what goes on in his classes I suggested he try out Charlie’s school.

He asked why and I explained that he’s NEVER learned anything academically in school and it might be worth him seeing what it’s like. He also liked the idea of meeting people who spoke english so he could make friends (other than Charlotte from his old school). The International School teaches in English and is AWESOME. He did a half-day trial day and on the way home was telling me about what he learned. I asked if he learned more in that half day than ANY full day in the US and he said “yeah probably”… and that was just an average day. He came home with homework to research Pete Seeger since they’re doing a lesson on protest songs right now.

After half a day he was hooked. As of last Thursday he’s also enrolled!

Ian was  bit more of a problem.

He has been asking us to home school since school is so boring since the middle of last year, and so this winter we shifted him to home school. He made his own agenda and schedule. For instance one day was:

  • Khan Academy – I love doing math!
  • – He totally geeks out here.
  • Writing a report on Siena from Grandma’s tour book (thanks Gram for the great idea)
  • Writing a book.
  • Practicing his cursive letters (I hate cursive, but he likes it for some reason, so whatever).
  • And then we added exercise.

We don’t really count reading as homeschool because… well he wouldn’t do ANYTHING else. He just started a new series a week ago and has read over 100,000 words over the past week… not counting any comics he’s ready (Calvin and Garfield).

He did a couple of days of this with mixed results. He wants to be on the screen all day and being home doesn’t give him enough structure (or peer interaction), so we pushed him to try the International school.

We were VERY upfront with some of his challenges in school and Erik’s comment that “If you don’t challenge Ian he’ll challenge you”. The principal was also concerned because Ian’s report cards weren’t great. He’s off the charts in some academic subjects but socially he ended last year with MORE problems than he started with… so she asked him to do 4 trial days.

He was sea-sawing the entire time.

Today was awesome.

I told mommy last week I don’t want to go to this school.

But yesterday we got the green light from the principal! I think it’s going to be really good for him because (hopefully) with an 8-person class they’ll be able to challenge him some, but also because he needs social interactions and they’re really helping him focus on those things. I honestly think that we let him read too much Calvin and Hobbes before he was ready for it. It’s been the “most banned book” in our house because he was acting like Calvin in Kindergarten, and it’s not appropriate. Sure there are other things but he DEFINITELY models that behavior, so we need to work on that the the school is excited to help.

So as of this morning all 3 kids are in the International School of Siena. We had to cancel our trip to England so they have a chance to settle into school without taking their 3rd week off, but it was worth it.

It’s odd on many levels. Paying almost $20,000 for half a year of school is odd/scary. It definitely makes me question a lot about the US… where 95% of the population can’t afford to send their kids to public schools. Massachusetts is always ranked “the best public schools in the US” and there’s a lot of room for growth. I can’t imaging how underserved kid are in places like Mississippi or Georgia or something (right Ben?).

I guess I’m thinking something has to change. I wish politicians would give the same attention to public education (which directly affects everyone in the US regardless of if you’re a parent, or trying to hire someone or just trying to interact with a cashier at Starbucks) that they give to terrorism (which personally affects .01% of the US and could solved more with education than with guns anyway). Why are we even talking/arguing about guns anyway? Ignorance kills more people every year in the US than guns.

OK end of soapbox. I’ll end with a fun story.

Christine was frustrated about some of the kids behaviors. I forget the details, but we talked some and were focusing on solutions and Charlie said:

Why don’t we measure what we do. Like how much sleep we get, and how well we eat and see what actually causes those behaviors, instead of just setting down rules.

I love that girl and wish even 10% of the people I interview could think that way, but so yeah we started tracking how our days were and on her third day of school Charlie added this note: “I had a fun day at scoole”


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