Sunday, October 2, 2011

School for 2012

It's that time of year in Brazil.  Time to register your kids for the 2012 school year.  Thinking about my kids' education has been weighing on my mind the past few months.  When we moved here, I wasn't so worried about getting our kids into the "right" school.  Our older two kids were in gifted programs in the states, I knew they were probably ahead of the game in some areas.   Beatrice was only 3 at the time, so school for her was going to be all about socialization.   And in my mind, the first year was going to be about learning Portuguese.  And I'm very proud to say that they did great.  And overall, we were happy with their school, and so we decided to keep them at Escola da Serra for 2011.  It's considered unique here in Belo Horizonte, somewhat of a Montessori model, with a heavy emphasis on the arts.  It's small, has lots of social events, and at the end of the school day parents and children like to hang out in the "patio" and eat popcorn while the children play and the parents chit chat.  Very nice.

However, within a few month, some things became more challenging in regards to subject matter.  Dora started complaining about how boring her classes were and how kids were yelling during class.  Sebastian said he wanted to go back to the United States because he was able to better learn there.  We started having meetings with teachers and coordinators (coordinators oversee a group of classrooms, help with discipline issues).  I was very pleased that the teachers and coordinators responded very quickly to our concerns.

But I was worried about Sebastian.  I don't think that 7 year-old kids should be feeling so bad about school.  His classroom is 15 boys and 5 girls, including some kids with special needs.  Honestly, it was not a good combination.  And Sebastian was starting to have some problems with his behavior, and felt like his discipline issues and the noise levels in the classroom were making it hard to learn.  After much deliberating, and negotiating, we've decided to move him to the school where I work.  I know the kids in the classroom where he will be, I know the coordinators at Maple Bear, and I've looked over the curriculum.  It's not perfect (no school is), but I feel like I can better understand what happens in the classroom.  One thing that has been hard for us here is how little we know about what actually is happening at school.  I think that a large part of it is due to our lack of Portuguese, but it's also that parents are essentially not allowed in the classrooms.  This is the case at Escola da Serra, but also at Maple Bear.  In the US, you can ask and schedule to visit a classroom at any time--to help out, to observe, to help with a special event.  And you can always talk to the teacher at the end of the school day.  In Brazil, you pretty much have to be invited into the school, and it's on the teacher's terms.  And the only time you can actually talk to the teacher is if you schedule an appointment, which is done through the diary or agenda (the "planner" or calendar that you have to buy as part of the supplies for school).  I've been in Sebastian's classroom two times in Brazil--once for his 6th Birthday (and I actually wasn't supposed to, but I misunderstood) and then for a presentation he did on Robots.  In the US, I was in his classroom at least once a month, and I talked to his teacher at least once a week after school.  All this to say, it's been hard for me to adjust to this, and I really do want to know be involved in my children's education and know what is happening at school.

The other benefit about sending Sebastian to Maple Bear is that half of his instruction will be in English.  His writing in Portuguese is pretty good, and he's probably about equal in reading in English and in Portuguese.  But his writing in English isn't so hot.  I've tried some things with him, but it's the "oh Mom, I don't want to do this with you," kind of response.  So the hope is that school will not only continue to encourage his Portuguese, but now help with spelling and writing in English.  And, that some of the discipline issues can be resolved.  Especially since I will now have the insider scoop.

Oh, and did I mention the super cute uniforms with the Canadian flag and cute little bear??
This is not a picture of my son, but one of my students.  Some of the uniforms have added Brazilian flags.  Too cute.

We're going to keep the girls at Escola da Serra.  They have good friends there, it's in our neighborhood, and it's what we've got.  I know I'll have to continue to work hard to understand, to be involved, and push to make sure that our kids are getting what we feel like (and they feel like) they need.  But now that the decisions have been made, and the conversations have been had, I feel a little better.


  1. What tough decisions! Good for you for going with your instincts! It's so interesting to hear about how parents aren't automatically invited into classrooms there.

  2. Ugh. I dread trying to find a regular school for my daughter, but she's coming up on four years now. When we had her in the bilingual school, I forced them to let me observe one day. But her Brazilian school is as you described above, and I don't like it one bit. I'm also worried about the quality of education she'll be getting at any of the schools we choose here in Sao Paulo. It seems like the ones that are good have a militaristic approach to education... ugh again.

  3. Although I won't be moving to Belo Horizonte until January, my husband will be moving in November so we visited in August to find an apartment and a school for the kids. I actually visited Maple Bear while I was there. After reading your post and seeing how parents aren't very welcome in any Brazilian school, I realize that they must have thought I was a complete jerk! I submitted an online form to schedule a visit (twice), but I never heard back. So I called and the receptionist just hung up on me when I asked if anyone spoke English. So I ended up just showing up and asking for a tour. Even if it was a major tabu to just show up, they were still very nice to me and took the time to give me a tour (maybe they just waited to bitch about me after I left :) ) I thought it was a great school, but I still haven't decided where to send my kids. They are still young (two and four) and we'll only be in Brazil for for 2-3 years so I probably should't stress about it too much. But being a teacher myself, it's really hard not too!

  4. Hi Melissa! I'm so sorry you had a bad experience. Their website just got updated, but I don't think that they do a very good job responding to emails. You're not the first person I've heard from that has had difficulty trying to get in touch with the administration or schedule appointments. I still would highly recommend the school! They have a great music teacher :-)

  5. My four year old has a voice just like her mother - we pretty much sound like howling dogs when we sing, so you might not want her in your music class ;)

    Do any of the younger Brazilian kids at the school know a decent amount of English when they first start? My four year old is extremely shy and has a really difficult time adjusting to change, so I'm a little concerned to put her in a school with very few English speakers since it might make the transition more difficult for her (although I know that it would be helpful since she could pick up some Portuguese from them). I really did like Maple Bear and the staff members that I met while I was there were very nice. It had a much better vibe than the International School which is really my only other option since I speak no Portuguese and am not sure how I could communicate with the staff at a regular Brazilian school. Thankfully the company that my husband works for will be footing the bill or else we could never afford it! But a high tuition doesn't guarantee a good education, so I don't want to just go with them because I can communicate with the staff.

    Living overseas was so much easier before I had kids! My main concern was finding the good bars, not the good schools :)

  6. Hi Melissa--I hope to meet you! There are a handful of 4 year olds who's first language is English. I know of a girl who had been living in Australia, and a little girl who had been living in the states, and there is another little girl who's father is British, and I believe they only speak English at home. I think that building a connection with the teacher and staff will help immensely, and 4 year olds are pretty amazing at their ability to adapt (speaking from my own experience with my youngest daughter). All instruction and communication from the teachers in in English, so the main challenge for your daughter will be playground time and free play. But maybe you could ask the teacher to try to pair her up with another native English speaker at the beginning, so she can have a special buddy. And to be honest, it will probably be good for your daughter to step outside her comfort zone--I know it was good for my 10 year old, and helped her a lot with her confidence!

  7. Thanks for the info, Shelly! My husband is moving to Brazil on November 12th (the kids and I won't move until Jan 23) and he wants to visit Maple Bear before we decide where to send the kids to school. (I toured maple bear alone in August since he was working, but he was able to come to the International School with me on a different day.) Since I've taught overseas before and am now only 9 weeks away from completing my student teaching here in the US, I think I should have complete say in all matters related to education, but my husband's not buying that :) I'm leaning towards maple Bear - especially now that you say there are a few native English speakers - so hopefully he'll be just as happy with it as I was.

    If there is anything you need from the States, just let me know! We'll be shipping a container of goods and I'm sure we'll have plenty of extra room :) When I lived in Seoul years ago, I once paid $12 for a box of Golden Grahams at a black market. it's funny the things you miss when you live far away from home.