Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ryan's Turn

First day homeschooling.  Iglersreuth, Germany,early October.
There's kids that shine.  You know'em.  Bright as stars, fast as a comet.  They light up a room.  They are easy to love, a joy to teach, and you know they'll go far.

And then there's Ryan.

God bless her, the kid's got class.

Unfortunately class isn't something that's appreciated in a 10 year old.  Or even noticed.  Not when there's a couple comets flying about and a star brother eclipsing her.

And here's another reason I love Lawnton State School and all the teachers and parents there.

They give Ryan room to shine.

Treasure-hunting at Playmobilland. 

Ryan got another Value Award two weeks ago.  This one 'for consistently completing her classwork with effort."  Every Friday morning the entire school - and more than a handful of addicted parents - gathers to sing the national anthem, discuss the week's successes and celebrate individual effort.  How fantastic to watch individual children, some of who have been struggling with behaviour and/or academic problems, be rewarded for their efforts. 

Everyone leaves with heads held high.  Proud to be Australian, proud to be at Lawnton State School, and proud of who they are individually.
The most amazing thing is that this isn't at all fake.  I still cry when I hear those kids singing.  And I clap loudly for each and every one of them.

Ryan is valued here in a way she never could be in Germany.  She is valued for being herself, for being a good kid, for doing her best.  Her best was never good enough at her previous school.  She was too slow.  She was too quiet.  She day-dreamed. 

Here she is being given a chance to shine.

And she is. 

In the kitchen in Iglersreuth.

"Ryan loves to read." said her teacher to us on parents' night.  "Come again?" asked Damon.  "She's got a book open every minute of her spare time." 

And she's reading LITERATURE.  The Wizard of Oz, borrowed from the school library.

Could it be that, number one, there IS a school library and that number two, the classroom is better managed than her previous classroom so that she can feel comfortable opening up a book?

Ryan's in a class of 25.  17 of them are boys.  Just like her previous four years.  Her teacher said she felt bad for her, and her two best girlfriends, who are always sitting in a row, books opened, listening and ready for the lesson while the boys jump around the classroom. 

Uh.  No sweat there.  Ryan's been slumming it among spoiled little princes up to this point.

Really.  Ryan spent FOUR years among a class of boys who were bright and quick but also unruly and unmanageable.  Or in a system that refused to manage them.

CONSEQUENT?  That's a big German word for 'are you following through on your discipline at home?'   But there was NO discipline in school.  (Not much at homes either, from the behaviour the children- and spoiled parents - showed.  Even teachers agreed with me on this.)  The teachers spent four years yelling at these children, trying to get them to behave.  But there was no attempt at discipline.  Oh.  That red mark next to your name on the board.  Like that bothers anyone. 

Parents would have whined and screamed worse than the kids if the school had told them their children were less than perfect. 

HORSES!  At Playmobilland.

Here, every class follows a set of rules for discipline.  Even the twins know it already. 
1.  First you get the look.
2.  Then the teacher asks you to stop your disruptive behaviour.
3.  Next you are asked to sit on the 'reflection chair' and think about why your behaviour is inappropriate.  Was it safe?  Was it respectful?  Was it learning? 
4.  If that doesn't work you need to go see the principal and sit in the reflection room.  (Some classes have an 'exit chair' before this step, I believe.)
5.  Physical contact goes straight to the principal. 
6.  Parents are informed.

And the thing is, they really DO this!  So that sure, kids still misbehave, but they are held to the consequences of their actions.  And the teacher doesn't spend all of her time screaming and yelling at a class that never really has the incentive to settle down. 

And, whatever it is, it works.  The kids we have met here, at Lawnton State School and all around the Brisbane area, are respectful, polite and helpful.  It is unbelievable. It is such a joy.

So that the ADULTS here are respectful, polite and helpful.

So that I still don't know if the education system represents the values of the society or the values of the society reflect what is taught in the education system, but I strongly suspect the former.  (Can you even IMAGINE a German school where physical contact was punished with a trip to the principal?!  My God, the kids are told to work it out themselves.  And they do.  Punching and kicking and ganging up on eachother.  The principal would be WAY too important to get involved with the students.  And anyway, kids will be kids.  Fighting is normal, isn't it?)

And I don't care.  This is about Ryan.  This is about having room to shine, about having space to grow and about the RIGHT to feel safe being yourself.  Even proud to be yourself. 

How was she ever going to get anywhere sitting quietly in a corner, her needs unmet, her every effort marked as unsatisfactory?

Everything here is geared towards helping every child reach their full potential.  Not labelling them and sorting them.  I don't know.  Maybe the German system DOES get better in the fifth grade.  Do the smart kids get a library and computers?  Do the smart kids finally learn some manners?  (Big sighs here from the international community!!!)

Bike-riding in Iglersreuth. 

Ryan is reading.  Ryan is remembering her multiplication tables.  She has volunteered to mentor younger children in the morning reading program.  She's joined the Glee Club.  And wants to play the flute.  A child who was withering away before my eyes is now a child who matters, someone who WANTS to contribute and be a part of her school, because her school values her.

When the child psychologist I took her to in Germany said he thought it was all that traveling that was affecting her (even though we'd lived at the same address for six out of her ten years!) I thought back on when I had really lost her.

I began to lose her when we moved to Germany.  The kindergarten was wild.  And, in retrospect, the system doesn't reinforce the values that we personally have at home.

Respect for others.  Sharing with others.  Being kind to others.

They are a recipe for disaster in system that really only emphasizes taking care of yourself. 

I am not strong enough, and neither was Ryan, to live in a society so at odds with my personal beliefs.

But I am strong enough to fight for my children.  ALL of them.

And lucky enough to be somewhere where I don't have to anymore.
Ryan, with her two best friends,  receiving awards for consistently showing the school values of safety, respect and learning.  How can I not love a country that loves my daughter?

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