Thursday, February 4, 2016

Decisions, decisions

One of the most nerve-wracking and head-achey decisions you have to make as a parent in the Netherlands is which basisschool to send your kid to.  First of all, it doesn't help that they start during the academic year during which your kid turns 4, so for a November baby like kidlet that means he gets to start at the ripe old age of 3.  Secondly, it turns out that there are at least 4 different teaching principles that different schools can follow, so there actually is a big difference between the schools and therefore the only way you can tell which school has what available is to go see the school itself.  Most schools have an opendag, where parents can come in for a quick talk about the education principles of the school (Jenaplan, for instance, or Brede plan) and take a tour of the facilities.  So that's what I've been busy with this past month, visiting every school nearby and taking in the pros and cons of the places.

In Nijmegen, at least, you're allowed to pick six basisscholen, ranked in order of preference.  You fill out the form online, and then in a few weeks or months you get a letter in the mail telling you which school you can send your kid to. And the problem, at least from a "which school is better" standpoint, is that all Dutch schools have to guarantee that your kid will become literate and know how to add and subtract, at least.  One school is not "better" than the other, educationally-speaking.  This actually sets a lot of worries about picking the "right" school away and lets you focus on picking, well, the right school.

The part that makes this such a headache is that there are a lot of schools.  In our area (meaning within a 3-mile radius) there are at least 8 schools we could theoretically send kidlet to. Some of them are much farther away than others, and obviously distance factors into the decision quite a bit.  Most of them are ordinary schools, meaning that they follow a standard curriculum, but some of them follow the Jenaplan system and there are a few Montessori schools as well.  So it really does depend on what you think is best for your kid.

Things that I've discovered about myself:  diversity matters a lot more to me than I thought it did.  I mean, I don't mind kidlet attending the peuterspeelzaal where literally every child is some shade of blonde except kidlet.  It's a good peuterspeelzaal and the teachers are patient and kind, and kidlet's Dutch is improving in leaps and bounds, but he's still not speaking Dutch 100% yet and it's getting down to the wire as to whether or not he needs logopedie (speech therapy). But the proportion of blonde versus non-blonde kids is highly indicative (at least so far, in my experience) of whether the school has experience dealing with bilingual kids.   I would mind a lot less about the lack of diversity in some schools that I've visited if they were able to give me a shred of confidence that they had the experience of dealing with bilingual kids, but one of them just point-blank told me, "We don't have any facilities or experience with that."

And, well, frankly--there is something to be said about attending a school with kids from all kinds of backgrounds. I mean, okay, I get that this is the Netherlands, that most people are white and and tall and blonde.  But a lot of the issues and microaggressions and finer points of not-being-racist would be greatly mitigated if people grew up in a diverse environment, I think.