The kids started their 3rd week of school today. There were a few minor things they had to adjust to: the “weekend” is Friday and Sunday, they wear uniforms, and they have to carry their lunch every day. Surprisingly though, I was completely wrong about who would adjust better.
To begin with, Maggie was by far the most excited about starting a new school. She had been telling people for months how she was going to learn Arabic and make Arabic friends. She was very excited! She came home the first day of school telling us how many new friends she had made. At the beginning of the 2nd week of school she was refusing to go. She broke down in tears 2 or 3 days in a row and did not want to leave. One morning we dropped off Will and she walked with me to the grocery and then back to school. It was really hard to take a crying child to school. I completely understand why ESL kids miss so many days when they are still beginners. As a parent it was painful to make her go to school even though I knew that if she stayed home it would only be worse next time.
Last night she was still saying that she wanted to stay home with us (they think we are just hanging out all the time). However, this morning she waved me off at the gate instead of the stairs. We spent some time with another family who has a girl in her class and think that has been the most helpful thing. Now she knows she has another friend who will be there and help her out.
As for Will, he was really nervous. For a few months he has been awkward about other languages. He told me that he thought my students in class were just talking “in gibberish” once or twice…which led us to a lesson in connotation and respect for others. He did not want to go to school here. Now he is the one helping Maggie by encouraging her and trying to make her laugh on the way to school. He said everyone in class knows who he is and they invite him to play. Something that honestly doesn’t happen at home.
The two classrooms are treating the kids differently. In Maggie’s class she is doing a lot of the work in both languages. When they are doing some Arabic work, she just sits (so she says) but she is coming home with some things filled out. Some of the classes another student will translate, like in religion. Although the curriculum is Catholic so I am counting on her not understanding much. She came home this weekend saying that the angel who told Mary she was going to have Jesus was a baby angel. I don’t know if she got that from a picture or if that was what was explained.
For Will, the administration decided during the 2nd week of school to allow him to read English books during religion (because his grade apparently doesn’t have a Christian teacher like Maggie’s) and Arabic language. He has 7 classes a day and those 2 account for about 9 of his 35 blocks. If you know Will, you know how happy that just made him! They let him check out books from the library, but all they had were picture books and Shakespeare. He checked out Hamlet and Othello. I asked if I could send him with books, which they said would be fine. Dan found some Arabic/English out of copyright novels (HG Wells, something about detectives, etc). Then we found an English bookstore which had some Rick Riordan books and we picked up one of those. They also said we can send his Kindle, although Will said the kids looked at him funny. If we had to buy paper books, we would go broke! They are not a lot more here than the sticker price in the US, but he reads 1-2 books a week.
They are still making adjustments, but doing well. The part of the process that has made this the easiest is how welcoming the students and parents are. Our kids are the most popular students in their class and their parents have invited us over many, many times. We haven’t been able to accept all the invitations yet. I wish I could bottle that and bring it back to Madison. I would not say that any of my students deal with people being outright rude to them very often. However, I’m not sure they get invited to things or welcomed in the same way. They have to make their own group, which they do very well. Yet…
For those of you who have either studied abroad or been an ESL student in the US, what was your experience with the locals? Do you feel like they were excited you were there or you were just tolerated? Or am I wrong and a large group of people is outright mean? What could American schools do differently to assimilate students into schools (not in a bad way like making everyone the same, but helping new students be a part of the group)?