Sunday, August 08, 2010

The school year that was

Being a kid, I remember being apprehensive at the start of every school year, wondering if people had changed, if my friends had changed. It's not easy. So if I hadn't had to, I wouldn't have put my kids through what they went through the past school year.

When school broke for summer hols in 2009, the boys returned to Singapore for Brian to prepare for his PSLEs. So from July till the early October, the boys were in Singapore school. It was Sean's first taste of school in Singapore as he had left the country when he was just 2.

Then right after Brian's last PSLE paper (Science), we flew off that very night to Moscow, where school had already started for about 7 weeks. I think it was easier for Sean to jump right back in as he had a proper class and just one core teacher. But for Brian, it was his first time in Middle School, there were no more fixed classes, and most of his good friends from Elementary School were not in any of his classes. He only met them at the locker area or during lunch break.

And before long, it was December break again. In January, Brian joined another new school, his Singapore secondary school, for a couple of weeks' orientation. He had a wonderful time as he knew a number of kids from his primary school. School was hectic but fun.

And then we returned to Moscow, and within weeks, we found out we were moving to Bangkok. I think they never quite got into the groove of things this year in Moscow. Soon, it was time to visit schools, submit documents, sit for tests.

We flew into Bangkok at the end of March and the boys only started school after the week-long Songkhran hols, on April 19, and by the time school broke for summer in June, they had had only 7 weeks in their Bangkok school.


Now, going to this school ISB, instead of the one most Singaporeans and Malaysians go to (Patana), was mostly Brian's decision. My heart told me ISB (loved the vibe, loved how the kids looked really chilled and happy, loved the counselor I met Daneah), but my head said Patana (I'd have more friends, it was nearer, boys would have 30 min extra sleep, curriculum more similar to Singapore etc). Sean was non-committal, he liked the folks he met at ISB, but he also liked the extra 30 min sleep. We went with Brian's choice, he was adamant...and after the hectic year he'd been through, I thought he deserved to be really happy and settled.

So 7 weeks of school, and for sure Brian has taken to ISB like fish to water. He's thriving, he has made many friends. He had a new counselor, Nancy, attached to him, cos he was going in as a 7th grader instead of 6th in Moscow. And Nancy has been brilliant as well (ISB MS is lucky to have 2 amazing counselors as the face that new parents meet), keeping me updated on Brian's progress on an almost daily basis at the start. I didn't even need to email her, she would email me or call me to let me know her thoughts.

As for Sean, I've been less enamoured with Elementary School (similar situation in AAS Moscow, what is it with American schools?). The counselor, Sarah, did not offer me any updates on him except when I emailed her. Perhaps I was expected to contact the class teacher directly, but I had been spoilt by the MS counselors :P And I've never liked to have much teacher-contact, so I left things be. Unlike when he was with Ms Jayne (his fantastic Moscow teacher), he hardly came home excited about stuff he had learnt or talked about in school. Each day, it was just "Fine..." when I asked him how school was. There was also a playground incident that I'll write about another time. All in all, he was still happy to go to school, but if I compared it to Brian's experience, it's like heaven and earth (no, not hell, phew!).


Finally, at the end of the school year, I emailed Sean's teacher asking her for her feedback and this is what she said:

I think Sean has done a great job considering the short transition period. He does still cry but not as much. I believe this will go away as he matures. He is a remarkable child and I wish I had a whole year to work with him. I would recommend that you keep him in some activities that he is interested in but will also require social interactions. He has connected with a few kids but in “Sean’s” way which is always going to be a bit different. Please come visit with me anytime. He has been a pleasure!

There was never a need to check on how Brian was doing cos throughout the 7 weeks, I was getting unsolicited feedback.

May 6: Good learner, likes academic challenge, yet wants to have fun too. She really likes the BALANCE of his character and the ease at which he makes friends! Total positive and admiration for him! (from Ms U, Brian's humanities teacher, via MS counselor Nancy)

(Brian loves his Humanities teacher and it seems many other kids do too. Unfortunately, he only got her for 7 weeks :P She doesn't teach 8th grade.)

May 20: I'm so excited about Brian's "fit" here at ISB! Most amazing transition I've ever seen!: (from MS counselor Nancy)

Jun 3: I have LOVED how easily and quickly Brian has settled in to school here. There were so many reasons it should have been tough for him, and yet he has slid in as if he’s been here for ages...a true testament to his character (and some most excellent parenting!). I am so glad he chose ISB, we’re lucky to have him, as well as the rest of the Leong family :o) (from other MS counselor Daneah).

Year-end School report: I have only known Brian for a little while but can already tell that he is an outstanding student, a kind and ethical person, a creative thinker and full of intellectual curiousity. Brian quickly adapted to his new classmates and teacher and it is as if he has always been here with us. He is a valued group member, a frequent participant in class discussions and his sense of humour makes the class more fun. he asks for help when he needs it and cares very much about the quality of his work. I know that he will be very successful in 8th grade and I will be envious because those teachers will get to work with him for a whole year. (Ms U, Humanities teacher).


So for sure this is the school for Brian. Verdict's still not in for Sean...there are days when I question the decision, wondering if I should have sent them to different schools. Hopefully, there will be less questioning in the year ahead, which starts in a few hours. To a successful, enriching and happy year ahead!


monlim said...

Brian's teachers sounds fantastic! I love how they're so encouraging and don't stinge on the praise, like SG teachers tend to. Don't you just love the bit about the excellent parenting? LOL!!! Of course much of the credit has to go to Brian lah, he's so dedicated and bright with a great work ethic. So happy for him that's he settling in so well, considering all the upheaval he's been through.

As for Sean, maybe it's an elementary school thing, like you say. At least you can be sure it's more nurturing than back here. Give him some time, I'm sure he'll adjust fine eventually :)

Lilian said...

Thanks Mon, you're always so supportive. Well, Brian has to love the school right? He was so adamant about his choice.

In general, Brian's teachers tend to be more effusive than Sean's :P Sean's teachers always remark that he makes them laugh but they've never brought up anything on conscientiousness or work ethic LOL! I guess teachers tend to like kids like Brian. And you're right, I very rarely get feedback like this in Singapore. It's always how quiet he is, and in Pri 1 how disorganised he was...they pick on the negative bits and focus on that (hmmm, much like what I do actually :P).

It seems that at elementary level, the schools aren't that willing to stretch the kids that much, instead it's a lot about play-based, inquiry-based, discovery-based, style of classroom teaching/learning. Which I've learnt to accept isn't necessarily a bad thing. At Middle School, they seem more willing to do significant differentiating. I'm not quite sure why this is so. It could just be my perception though.