Saturday, November 13, 2010

Koalas in the Courtyard; Part One/Introduction

Of the top three awe-inspiring things we saw in our first week in Australia, the mighty surf of the South Pacific Ocean and our first glimpse of a koala in the neighborhood don't compare to the wonders of the school system.

 You can get what you ask for.  Just not in Germany.

We wandered into the local state school on Thursday to pick up registration packets and possibly get a bit of information on testing the kids and starting classes in January after the summer holidays. We figured we'd get grilled on if the kids even belong here, if we had the proper documentation, the correct street address etc. etc. etc. Next we expected the run-around with Medi-Care and health insurance since Damon had already been told school registration would help facilitate that process as it signalled our intention to stay. (We'd be leaving WHY?!)

''Easily handled.'' the lady at Medicare had told him. Turns out we are all covered retroactively from the moment the plane touched ground. I won't even go there – health care is another issue – but imagine Damon's delight at hearing ''easily handled'' from a government office!

What with the half hour greetings and the general willingness of Australians to do anything in their power to help you out we should have expected what followed at the school.

But, as I told the other parents at the parents' coffee yesterday morning after Friday assembly, the school meets every single criteria I mentioned in my unsent letter to the school board in Germany.

Every single criteria.

Other parents at the WEEKLY parents' coffee following the WEEKLY general school assembly.

I had to apologize to the lady sitting next to me for crying during the national anthem. There were two of my kids, dressed in school uniform, sitting next to new friends, watching the school vice-principal handing out awards for excellence in learning, respect and safety.

Excellence in learning included improvement for kids that were struggling as well as at the top of the class.

One kid got an award for ''using a high-five in a difficult situation.''

Another for ''helping others to achieve their potential.'' Because we really value helping others.

There's a gifted and talented program as well as special education. Class sizes are small. Ryan's fourth grade class is bursting at the seams with 22 kids. Andrew's 2/3 class looked to have about 12. Not more than twenty anyway. So that the teachers and teachers' aides are able to focus on individual childrens' needs. Teachers' aides. Multiple learning levels within one classroom. With students from higher grades coming in to help younger students as well.

And a weekly newsletter for parents.

Homework is used to supplement learning in the classroom and instill good work habits for later. NOT to teach what they didn't properly learn at school. (And since the school day goes from 8:50 to 3PM, they have in a WEEK what German kids have in a DAY.)

Then there's the list of responsibilities the children have as students, the parents have to assist the students and the school has towards both students and parents.

Printed out in hard copy. Clear expectations. Which I was always made to feel like an idiot for having in Germany.

Oh and the steps to formal complaint procedures, beginning with teacher, on to principal all the way up to the Queensland school authorities. Look at that. Democracy in action.

I don't expect to ever use them. In fact, I strongly suspect the German system – where we do need to use them - keeps parents in the dark so that we can't.

There's more. Lots more. Things that the Australian parents look at me kinda funny for when I point them out with glee. As in, well of course there's a school crossing guard. And of course we're allowed on the school grounds to pick up our children. They're our children aren't they?

And why is that crazy American lady so happy to be seeing the school vice-principal reminding the kids in the courtyard to show respect and behave appropriately? You don't suppose any school system anywhere would just let the kids act like animals and work it out themselves do you?

I've often heard it said that the most ardent American is a new American, an immigrant who knows how good they have it, who doesn't take for granted that which the average American expects as normal.

So that maybe it's normal for this new Australian to be crying to words she's never heard before.

''Australians let us all rejoice. For we are young and free.''

The vice-principal was crying too as she reminded the students why they'd had a moment of silence the day before. “We honor the soldiers who died to keep Australia free and democratic. '' she said. ''And we are lucky to be living in the best country in the world.''

Guess they do know how good they have it.

Not everyone can live in Australia. (As hard as it is for ''us'' Aussies to believe, not everyone even WANTS to!)

But every child deserves the right to reach their full potential. Every child. In every country.

Take a hard look Germany. Look south and to the east.

We may be young. Just what Germany needs to get its archaic and decrepit school system out from behind its walker!

1 comment:

  1. So glad to hear you have finally found something that has made you happy. You deserve to be happy after all the stress of packing and moving!