September, 2012: The kids started school the first week of September. I’ll tell you the good, bad and ugly about their school, but let me start off by saying that the kids get off the afternoon school bus and are smiling and happy. That is the most important thing! They have had great attitudes and we were sure to let them know that all we expected of them was to listen and try to learn Spanish. What an amazing and challenging experience it must be for them!
They are enrolled in a private school about 15 minutes away from where we live. A little yellow school bus comes to our house and picks them up in the morning to take them up the mountain to their school. You can see photos of the campus on the school’s website: http://www.santana.edu.ec
There are about 20 kids in each of their classrooms and there are two classes per grade. Alex’s class has an equal number of girls and boys, but Rachel’s has five other girls and 13 boys! We were worried about it at first, but it has actually worked out that the girls have become a tight little group. There is another new girl from Quito in her class, so she was not the only new girl and a boy from Italy, so she is not the only foreigner. Alex keeps more quiet about the composition of his class!
They are slowly getting used to the early morning starts and the uniforms. The school takes their uniforms seriously – down to the color of the socks and shoes! (we’re trying to buck it a little and are allowing Rachel to where her pink sneakers, which don’t match the blue, green, red or white that was prescribed!) We’ve had all of their school clothes embroidered with their names – hard to tell one from the other in the Lost and Found pile if you don’t!
We also spent the better part of a week buying their school supplies. We had to go to four or five different book and supply stores before we found everything on the two page list for each class. Made me really appreciate how our kids’ US schools buy in volume and save the parents all the shopping!
Alex has had a few rough days – bound to happen given that he can’t understand everything or say what he wants/needs. Because he has had some weepy moments at school, we have learned about and have been impressed by the system of counselors at the school. If a child cries or there is a conflict in class, the teacher calls the counselors and they work with the student or students involved. Lets the teacher focus on the rest of the students and not spend a lot of time on discipline.
I think we were pretty spoiled by our kids’ schools in the US. Both The Learning Community and Asheville Montessori have high academic standards and have really great systems for keeping parents involved and informed. My biggest criticism of Santana is that we are largely in the dark about what is going on. So far the academics seem to be pretty easy and behind what our kids were doing last year. Luckily we only want them to learn Spanish, so the review probably makes it easier. School is a time for language learning, friend making, socialization and cultural integration.
Santana is probably the most expensive school in Cuenca ($220 per month per kid with probably another $100 for the bus, common materials, food and after school activities). It is pretty cheap compared to the US, but there are plenty cheaper in Cuenca. So, the kids are surrounded by children from quite affluent families. Kids have cell phones, we’ve already been to two extravagant birthday parties and many of the children speak English (not what we want our kids to be speaking at school). In hindsight we wished we’d looked around some more, but Santana was the only school which would correspond with us from the US, they have experience with other foreign children and we were led to believe that the other good schools would not have any space by the time we got here.
So, Santana is not heaven, but it is providing our kids a fertile learning ground. Lisa is already a class representative on the board. Rachel and Alex are experiencing school in a new culture and Spanish is seeping in every day. We are building tolerance for diversity firsthand. We cannot imagine how challenging it must be for Rachel and Alex, but we are also looking forward to the sense of accomplishment they will have when they have mastered the ways of their new school. Stay tuned for that entry!!