Friday, June 21, 2019

Spanish Public School

We have officially made it through one full school year of the Peanut attending Spanish public school and I wanted to write about it all!  It was a lot to take in and learn over the year -- so sorry with all my ramblings but I really want to get it all down.
first day of school
First things first -- this is only our experience at our specific school, with our specific teacher and class.  Every American sending their children to Spanish school has different experiences but this is ours.

Schools in Spain don't look like schools in the states -- no big fancy building, no parking lot or kiss/drop zone or bus parking, no big playgrounds... They often look like a random building in the middle of a neighborhood.  The classrooms are much (MUCH) smaller than what you would find in the states.  Serafina's classroom is easily half the size of a classroom in an American school, but it still has tables with chairs for each kid, centers to play in and a circle area for group lessons.  And while the younger kids do have a separate playground, it is not fancy and not big.  The older kids have a large concrete courtyard to run and play in -- but they all seem to enjoy themselves and love recreo (recess) which is a lot longer than in the states.

Kids in Spain start school (like real true elementary school) when they are three years old (or the year they turn three).  I talk a lot about the details in this post and about the crazy registration process in this post.  We were placed in a neighborhood public school that was our top choice (mainly because I knew we could get in) -- and it is a large school.  There are three classes per grade level at the infantil level (the younger kids aged three to five).  Each class at the infantil level has one teacher and 25 kids, but usually they have aids/paraeducators coming and going from what I can gather.  And an insane level of parent involvement (more on that later).  Serafina was placed in a class with a male teacher -- we will call him Profe J (kids call their teachers profe for males (short for profesor) and seño for females (short for señora) + their first name).
learning about jet packs
School is from 9am to 2pm every day (for elementary -- high school has a little longer hours, but not by much).  School starts promptly at 9am and you really can't be late -- every single school (from what I understand) has huge gates/walls around it, very similar to all the houses here so this is not unusual.  But this means that you can't walk on campus whenever you want -- the gates are opened by a city worker about 8:55am each day (and then typically they are closed by 9:10am so you can't linger).  The gates open back up at about 1:55pm each day (again by a city worker) and then close again about 2:10pm.  So it seems pretty safe -- you have to be buzzed into the building if you come outside of the pick up/drop off times.  From what I understand, you can drop your kid off late and/or pick up early, just have to sign them in/out with whom ever is in the office.  While each school does have a secretary, s/he has specific office hours so if you need something from the secretary, you often have to wait for the office hours.

For pick up/drop off -- only parents* with kids in the infantil classes can go inside the gates as the building/courtyard area is not large.  All the other classes line up in the courtyard but kiss their parent/family member goodbye outside the gates.  The infantil classes line up outside their classrooms and when the bell (sounds more like a siren) rings at 9am, the teacher comes out and brings their class inside.  Then at the end of the day, the kids are released when the teacher sees a parent (or guardian) outside the classroom door.  This is only for the infantil classes, I am not sure how it all works for the older kiddos.

There are no half days or early release or anything like that which is nice as I can rely on the same hours every day.  There seems to be no teacher work/in-service days -- also, I am fairly certain that the teacher doesn't even have a prep period everyday and for sure doesn't get a lunch break as everyone goes home for lunch.  The kids eat a snack or desayuno (breakfast) at school but then go home and eat lunch with their families.  There is a lunch program for kiddos of parents who work called comedor -- and you have to prove that you are working and your kiddo doesn't have other care.  If kids do any after school activities, even those provided by the school, they tend to start after 4pm. 
There are no school buses for any school (as far as I know).  So even if you don't live within walking distance, no bus will pick you up.  This means that parents/grandparents/other family members pick up and drop off kids every single day.  You either walk or drive to school but there is no parking lot for our school, only street parking so it can get tricky finding parking and people get creative.  But it means that everyone is walking from home or their car -- and it can get a little crazy with the whole school walking/driving at the same time.  So many schools (ours included) have police blocking off roads and directing traffic both at the beginning and end of the school day to help with the chaos.  But it is also quite fun walking with everyone.  And also fun to walk with friends too.  I seriously love when we meet Serafina's classmates on the walk to/from school -- she will run ahead with her friends while I attempt to speak with the parents :)
Communication with the teacher is very different from anything I experienced in the states (I was a special education teacher for 8+ years before moving to Spain).  I have no email for the teacher and no class phone number.  Teachers do have office hours (for lack of a better word) -- Profe J has them on Mondays from 6-8pm so if I need to have a meeting with him, that is when it happens.  However, we also have a lot more face to face contact with the teachers daily so no formal communication doesn't seem like a big deal.  I see Profe J every single day at drop off and pick up so this is when I share anything with him and he can briefly share with me as well (anything major then we set a meeting but we haven't needed that yet).  We did have a parent/teacher conference in November (as did all the kids in Serafina's class) but I don't think this is a common practice as I know friends who have not had parent/teacher conferences.  We also get notices/newsletters each trimester on the new unit/theme -- explaining what the kids will be doing and how parents can get involved.  There are also permission slips for anything happening that requires payment or leaving school grounds (field trip, fun events and the like).

While the communication is different, I am not saying there is no communication.  There is so much communication I don't always know what to do :)  Each class has at least one group WhatsApp chat -- sometimes one with the teacher and one just the parents.  Our class has one group chat of just the parents and only the delegada or class parent has Profe J's number and communicates with him, then passes along information to us.  So if you have a question for the teacher -- you message the delegada or group chat and ask the question, then the delegada messages the teacher (at least this is what seems to be happening).  I honestly don't even know how to accurately explain the group chat.  This is a common topic of horror and humor among my friends here in Spain who have children in Spanish schools.... when something is happening (field trip, end of year party, anything major) the messages come in fast and furious -- we are talking hundreds of messages in a short amount of time.  It is not unusual for me to go to bed and wake up to hundreds of missed messages which of course are all in Spanish.  And translating is not always easy as they use an extensive amount of text language that no online/app translator recognizes.  This is when I often message the delegada separately and simply say ayuda (help)!  Our delegada does not speak English but she will tell me what is going on -- she and her husband have been a huge help to me this year.  I have also been very lucky because our delegada will put any important message with big bold red explanation marks so I know I really have to pay attention to those messages. There is also a PTSA but called AMPA (stands for the exact same thing) and any information they want to share goes through our class delegada to the parents through the group chat.

The school also has a lot of parent involvement and from what I understand, this is fairly normal for other schools as well.  Each trimester parents/families are encouraged to create some sort of project/presentation relating to the theme/unit.  There is usually a fun, hands on activity at least once a week (usually more) that requires parent volunteers.  Parents decorate the classroom according to the theme -- so at the beginning of each trimester, we spend a few days in the classroom after school putting up new bulletin boards and creating some seriously intricate decorations!  The teacher will gladly do any art projects to help make the room more personable for the kids -- for example, when the theme was the universe, the parents created a solar system mobile and then also had the kids make rockets to put on the door.  The parents supplied all the things needed for the kiddos to make the rockets and even came into class to do the project with the kids.  Speaking of supplies.... Parents pay for ALL of the supplies for all of these activities and also ALL school supplies for the entire class for the entire year.  AND the parents buy these supplies and bring them to the teacher.  The delegada gets a list from the teacher at the beginning of the year of everything that s/he will need -- and s/he will go buy it all and the parents split the bill evenly.  If the teacher needs anything else throughout the year, the parents buy it.  Freaking genius.  Our family has not spent more than 50 the entire school year for supplies and teacher gifts.  But as a teacher in the states, I spent so so so much more than 50€ out of pocket for supplies.
going to the cinema

learning about rocket ships and space
Serafina gets grades three times a year and they are not mailed out -- or given to the students to be taken home.  The whole school has a parent/teacher night at the end of each trimester (with your own teacher/class) where the teacher basically does an open house.  They talk about how the trimester went, what the kiddos learned and also what they will be learning in the next trimester.... And then they hand out the grades and student work from that trimester.  Parents sign a formal sign in sheet to say they have received the grades and then can ask any questions to the teacher.  Our grade meetings typically only last about thirty minutes but they can go longer (depends on the parents and teachers).  I tried explaining to some parents that this doesn't happen in the states and they thought I was crazy :)

Another thing that is different -- teacher gifts for Christmas and end of year.  Instead of each kid bringing if a gift, every student puts in a few euros (usually no more than 5) and the teacher gets a HUGE gift from the whole class.  For Christmas, our class bought Profe J a leg of jamon including some other local foods and treats.  And for the end of year, we got him and his wife a spa day at a local spa.  Students tend to not bring in individual gifts, it can be considered offensive as a lot of thought and time goes into the whole class gift.  Class gifts are also bought for any aids/paraeducators that work in the classroom.

Serafina was placed in a classroom with no other American students.  There are other Americans in her grade level, but not in her class (and actually both of those students have since moved so now she is currently the only American in her grade).  And it did bring about some challenges but also some seriously amazing experiences.  None of the parents speak English and neither does the teacher.  Or if they do speak English, they sure have not used it with me!  And obviously because we are attending a Spanish school, everything is done in Spanish -- as it should be.  But it can seem like a full-time job just to translate all the communication that goes on -- the parent group chat, the permission slips, the newsletters, etc.  We also don't think Serafina's teacher quite understood what it meant to have an American in his classroom.  The first few months of school we were constantly trying to explain to him that Serafina only speaks English at home, that we as a family do not speak Spanish.  Luckily things did start to click for her after Christmas break.  And oddly enough our other major challenge has been that I send a very LARGE desayuno (breakfast/snack) to school because it is eaten at American lunch time.  So all the other kids have small, normal sized snacks for desayuno whereas Serafina takes a Yumbox (bento box) for her desayuno each day!  It took some explaining to Profe J that Americans function on an entirely different schedule than the Spanish and that while we live in Spain, we have not fully adopted the Spanish schedule/lifestyle.  All is well now and she keeps bringing her large desayuno to school!

Serafina also has the most amazing class -- kids, parents and teacher.  They have been so welcoming of us outsiders.  Even though the parents (or kids or teacher) don't speak English, they have attempted to talk to me so frequently, letting me stumble through my beginner Spanish and helping me when I get stuck.  They love on my kid, always giving her hugs and kisses and being genuinely happy to see her each day!  Sadly, I know this is not always the norm for Americans entering into the Spanish community.  We live in a very small town and most of the kids in Serafina's class knew each other long before they entered the school -- parents are friends, families are friends (and this is very similar in other schools as well).  It can be hard to be an outsider in this very tight knit community.  While we did get lucky with an amazing group of kids and parents, I also worked hard to be present and attempt to get to know some of the parents.  I show up for the parent meetings, I volunteer to help decorate the classroom, I attempt to chime in in the group chats, I talk with the parents at pick up/drop off as best I can...  It isn't easy and it takes so so so much courage and bravery on my part but it has made our year that much better.
sensory play activity
The activities they do are so cool and so much fun!  During Carnaval the whole school has the same theme/unit and so much instruction is related to the theme -- this year Serafina learned ALL ABOUT the planets and it was so amazing.  Then everyone dresses up according to that theme and parades around the streets by the school.  The whole school also has a big end of year celebration called Fin de Curso -- again there is a school-wide theme, this year it was cinema so the students learn all about cinema while preparing a performance/dance for fin de curso.  Each class does a dance to a song relating to the theme -- Serafina's class did a dance to Hakuna Matata and all dressed up as characters from the movie.  The party is after school on a Friday or Saturday with the whole school and their families in attendance where each class performs their dance and then parties the night away -- complete with bounce houses for the kids and drinks/food for the adults (yes, alcohol is served at school functions).  And the party goes late -- we left about 9pm and it was really just getting started!
science day

working with a parent volunteer

fin de curso
The infantil classes typically have fun events to celebrate the various seasons -- eating roast chestnuts (an actual roaster came to school), having churros con chocolate (a churro truck came to school), walking to see all the churches are their nativity scenes at Christmas time, having a Christmas performance, planting flowers, a end of the year party at a local park and more...  They've had whole school wide celebrations for Fiesta Nacional de España (national holiday), Dia de Andalucia (regional holiday) and various other holidays!  The whole school also does what Americans would consider field day -- but they call it fiesta de agua (water party).  They always seem to be celebrating and having a blast learning at the same time!
Christmas performance
fiesta de agua
end of year party at the park


It can be challenging not knowing exactly what is going on at school -- and it has taken some stepping out of my comfort zone to make it all work.  Serafina has been in a Spanish school setting since she was two years old; it isn't new for her to speak Spanish or to be confused sometimes.  She is a pro at switching between Spanish at school and English at home.  With her preschool the director/principal spoke English as did some of the parents, so I often got notices in English or could have someone explain things to me in English.... with her current school, that is not the case.  So while it can be really frustrating to not really understand all that is going on, we are giving Serafina an amazing opportunity to learn a second language and we are giving our family some pretty cool experiences being immersed into the culture!






*I use the word parents but it is not uncommon to see grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle... or any other family member dropping off and picking kids up.  Sometimes the whole family comes to get the kiddos -- I often see both mom and dad picking up (and dropping off) kids in Serafina's class every single day.

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