The kids have been in school here in Luxembourg for three months now. They are settling in pretty well at the European Union school considering how different things are here. I will break them down.
I feel that learning additional languages is one of the perks of being in Europe. It is also very hard. There is not one person you meet who doesn’t know/ speak at least two and usually three to five languages. I am in awe every time I meet someone new and hear their story.
I feel embarrassed that I can only speak English, un petit peu Francais and un pequito Espanol. And I was lucky enough to at least be introduced to another language in school – German and Spanish in high school and French and Spanish in university. I can remember the German alphabet and count to 10. I have picked up a little bit of French over the years with my French husband. Most American’s do not learn anything but English; seems a little backward to me now that I am here.
There is no such thing as a second or third language in the US. “Foreign languages” are electives. We were lucky in Virginia that the kids were able to attend a French immersion class for 2-3 years when they were younger. It was a lottery system and we were lucky. Fairfax County is one of the largest school districts in the country and was able to give some kids a second language. Were were in Washington the last three years so no second language. In Washington, Juliana would have had the option to take Spanish or French this year (8th grade). In order for her to take the French class she would have had to take the high school bus (one hour earlier) to the high school, take the class and then take a bus back to the junior high school to start her regular school day. This is not exactly something kids want to do in order to learn a language. She would not have been able to take French during the regular school day until she was in 10th grade.
Children here attend a creche (day care) and there are at least three languages spoken (Luxembourgish, German, French). Then they move on to maternelle (pre-school) and continue with multiple languages and then in primary school they start actively studying a second language: usually French, English, German or a language of their parents if they attend the European School.
Since my kids did not start school here until secondary school (Luca is first year secondary and Juliana is third year secondary) they are quite behind in their second language and a third for Juliana.
Both kids have to catch up with their French quickly, but Juliana in particular. She is taking her French classes four periods a week, her Social Science (geography) and Morals classes in French four periods a week and her German class three periods a week – 11 periods. On top of that she is attending make up periods to catch up. She is taking two extra periods of French and one of German. That makes a grand total of 14 periods of French and German in one week. She is not happy about the extra classes but realizes that it is necessary for her to pass her classes. I am very proud of her. She stays late on Thursday afternoons and is quite excited when I pick her up to share her new words as she quizzes me.
Luca needs to catch up in French too. He takes French classes five periods a week and has a catch up class during his short day on Tuesday. I pick him up early two days a week and we can share his school day. He is just starting his third language, German, which is twice a week. For Luca it is a grand total of 8 periods of French and German in one week. He had a hard time with French at the beginning. It is frustrating when you don’t understand. But now he is more excited to learn. Both kids spend time with Papa (who is French) in the evenings doing homework, which helps greatly.
The school schedule, now that it has been finalized, is much different than the US. It was amazing to me that the first three weeks the kids did not have an even remotely finished schedule. I came to find out that a math teacher (yes, one person) was in charge of putting together the schedules for the entire school. Apparently this teacher was not able to get it done before school started, unbeknownst to the administration. This is a school with 2,400 students and seven different language sections with each secondary student having 45 periods a week. Now let’s have one math teacher take care of scheduling during their free time. I was told that any changes to administration procedure must go though the European Union system so it is very hard to change things.
So, when school started, the kids were given schedules that were changed multiple times the first month. Finally after six weeks they had a final schedule on paper. It makes me dizzy just trying to read it because the type is so small. Their final ID cards and schedules were sent home two weeks ago (mid-November).
It took more than two months for us to get additional French and German support for the kids though. We even met with the director of the school and it still took four more weeks to get them the support they need to catch up in their second and third languages.
The first thing I noticed about the schedules was that Juliana had four free periods built into her schedule. Luca had one. First year secondary students have early release days on Tuesday and Thursday while third year students have an early day on Thursday. Ironically, Juliana had only three periods scheduled on Thursday, her early day, and two free periods. Of course that has changed now with additional French and German help. Luca has one free period, Wednesday, at the end of the day so I pick him up early.
There are nine periods in the day. School starts at 8:40 and each period is 50 minutes. There is a 20 minute break in the morning and lunch is one of their middles periods. School ends at 4:30 and the kids get home at 5:20. On Thursday Luca gets home at 1:40.
I get tired just looking at their schedules…
Monday – French (2 periods), English, ICT (Information Technology), lunch, Art (two periods), Gym, Math
Tuesday – German, Music, Science, English, French, lunch, Extra French class
Wednesday – Human Science (History), Science, Morals, Math, lunch, English (two periods), French, free period (go home early)
Thursday – Science, Math, German, Gym (two periods) – Early release
Friday – Human Science, Science, English, Math, lunch, Morals, French, Music
I pick up Luca from school two times a week – after his extra French class on Tuesday and because of his free 9th period on Wednesday.
Monday – Gym (two periods), Science (two periods), Math, lunch, French, German, English
Tuesday – Art (two periods), French, Music, ICT (Information Technology), lunch, Human Science (Geography), Morals, English
Wednesday – German, free period, Human Science, Gym, French, lunch, English, Science, Math
Thursday – Extra French, German, Morals, free period, Math, lunch, Extra French, Extra German – free period to go home early
Friday – French, free period, ICT, Human Science, Science, lunch, Music, English, Math
Teachers are very different here. First of all, think of the stories you hear about Catholic schools and nuns – strict, non-encouraging, calling kids out on mistakes – you are close. No rulers on the hands though. It is definitely old school here. The teachers come from many countries since it is an international school. Our kids are in the English language section and have teachers from Ireland, England, Scotland and of course France and Germany for second and third languages as well as art, gym and ICT (information technology). There are no American teachers here. The teachers almost seem to enjoy calling the students out. Juliana comes home with stories about teachers chastizing kids in front of the class and making them do things over in gym class in front of the entire class. There are no warm, fuzzy teachers here, at least that I have heard of. I have met some encouraging ones though. It is even more difficult for Luca since he was in an elementary school setting where you have a homeroom teacher and stay in the classroom most of the time. Now he is in a school with 11 to 18 year olds all together switching periods nine times throughout the day.
And if you have special needs, you won’t find it here. There are no pull out classes or special education classes. If there is a problem they simply send the kids to the nurses office or the director’s office. Teachers are not really trained to work with this sort of thing. Thankfully we have only had a few episodes this year with Luca and the teachers and concierge (counselor) where able to help. I wrote a letter to each teacher explaining his PANDAS and possible anxieties in case they come up again. I have to say that all of the teachers were wonderful and understanding. But they are definitely not familiar with “issues” like the US teachers are. Perhaps because there are not that many kids with problems like ADHD and autism in this school system. That I will address another day.
One of the things that drives me crazy the most is that when a teacher is absent there is rarely a substitute. The first three weeks of school Juliana had four teachers out for multiple days with no substitute. She didn’t have her first Art class for three weeks. What happens when a teacher is out? There is a digital reader board at the secondary school building entrance that reports what teachers are out for the day. I think there was only one week so far that there was NOT a teacher out in the classroom at least once. So, what do the students do? For first year students like Luca, they go to a study room and check in and study – pretty loud and chaotic I’ve been told. For third year students like Juliana, they go check in at the study room and then can wander the campus. This usually means going to the cafeteria with their friends to get a snack and chat. The school does not seem to even try to get substitute teachers, despite what they said at Orientation Night. Luca’s math teacher was out for more than a week and no one filled in for him despite it being his vacation days and the administration knowing about it. If there are teacher training or absences for illness – no substitutes. So, some kids use it as an advantage to study or some, like my daughter, use it to buy snacks (i.e. Mars bars) from the snack machine or pastries from the cafeteria. Her payment key runs dry way too often because of snacks throughout the day. So much for me keeping her on a healthy diet with the vending machines.
Maturity/Behaviour of Kids
I know we came from a very nice, sheltered neighborhood in Kenmore, Wash. But, kids here have potty mouths (to say it nicely or “worse than a drunken sailor”) like I have never heard. Almost every day Luca or Juliana come home with stories. I know I was quite the swearer in my time (as an adult of course) but the words that come out of some of these 11-year-old’s mouths is downright horrible. Many sexual comments and the F-word is quite commonplace. I guess it’s cool to swear in English here. There is one boy in particular that is outrageously obnoxious and a bully. Luca seems to deal with him pretty well. He tries to rationalize with the bully he says. He calls him out on comments and asks him to “prove it.”
Despite that, the kids are quite nice overall. And everyone dresses quite nice. I haven’t seen any pants hanging from hineys or sweat pants. The kids are not as welcoming as Washington, but it is middle/high school so we cannot expect them to have open arms during adolescence. And, the kids are from all over the world and speak many different languages and have different cultures. Luca has been having a hard time making friends. In class and during lunch the boys only want to talk about Futbol (soccer). He also doesn’t like that the kids are constantly talking in class and he can’t concentrate because of it. I am not sure if that is any different than the US.
Juliana has landed into a group of friends that is full of drama. She is NOT happy to hear about the drama all the time. Two of her friends are Romanian and one is Korean. Romanian kids are picked on at the school so it is hard for Juliana to see it. I am trying to get her to branch out but she is very shy and doesn’t know how to initiate a new friendship. There are no Americans.
I was so excited when I saw the menu for lunch at the school. No more processed, nasty non-food items. Although in the US, my kids brought their lunch from home and were not subjected to it. The menu lists soups, bio (organic), entrees, vegetarian, cuisine de monde (cuisine of hte world), chef’s plate of the day, pasta bar, vegetables and desserts. But, the menu is deceiving. Many times Juliana, who has the second lunch period, is not able to get the plate of the day because it is already gone or there are too many people in line. Plus many kids elbow their way in front and join their friends. So kids like mine, who are quiet and not obnoxious line-cutters, are left to the end of the line.
Most days she ends up at the pasta bar and simple gets plain pasta and some cheese sauce. No veggie, no other side, just pasta. So where are the vegetables and soups and other tasty options? That is something both kids are trying to find. The daily soup seems to be missing. The plate of the day is often already gone and nothing new to serve except pasta. Luca usually has first period lunch and can get it. He tries almost everything, fish included, and enjoys it.
So, Juliana, anticipating not getting a great hot lunch by fighting the crowds only to be turned away when she finally gets to the front of the line, gets a pastry during the morning break. She gets a tresse – a twisted pastry with creme in the middle and chocolate chips on top. I’m drooling just thinking about it. At lunch she usually gets a heaping plate of pasta which they charge €5 for. And then in the afternoon she goes to the vending machine to get a Mars bar and occasionally a fruit drink. I really wish her American appetite would change into a European palate like her brother. Luca tries everything. The gluten and sugar monster has taken over my daughter.
Here is the menu for Monday. I hope Juliana gets the Raviolis.
Potage (soup) Potage haricort beurre – butter bean soup
Entrees bio – Salade composee au tomate et coeur d’artichaud – salad with tomatoes and artichoke hearts or coleslaw or tartare de choux fleur (cauliflower tartar)
Plat vegeterien – Poelee de legumes au basilic et tofu (fried vegetables and tofu with basil)
Clin d’oeil du chef (chef’s choice) – Supreme de volaille aux fruits exotiques (chicken supreme with exotic fruits
Cuisine de Monde (world cuisine) – Raviole ricotta epinard sauce poires et gorgonzola (Spinach and ricotta ravioli with gorgonzola and pears)
Feculents (Pasta) – Fusilli, Riz au curry (Curry rice), Pommes de terre aux herbes (Herb mashed potatos)
Legumes (Vegetables)- Carottes Vichy, Salsifis tomatees (Salsa tomatoes), Fenouil Roti (Fennel sauteed)
Desserts – Yaourt aux fruits bios (Organic fruit yogurt), Tiramitsu maison, fromage blanc aux clementines (White cheese with clementines), Ananas caramelise au sesame (Carmelized pineapple with sesame)