Friday, September 3, 2010

La Rentrée (translation: our vacation is over)

Here in France, early September is known as la rentrée, and it’s a Big Deal. It’s when everything picks up again after the two month break that is summer holiday season. Adults are back to work, kids are back to school. The city is busy again in many ways. Stores and restaurants that have been closed are re-open, the outdoor markets are bustling, and doggie droppings are plentiful on the streets. We have yet to step in any, but we have had many close calls. Advertisements everywhere capitalize on the fact that it is la rentrée, enticing consumers to purchase new clothing, school and office supplies, home furnishings, etc. We have been gearing up for la rentrée these past few weeks: we purchased new clothes, new shoes, and new backpacks for Raelyn and Nola. More eagerly, and somewhat dreadedly, we have been waiting for the arrival of Tuesday, August 24th. This is the day when we could go to the department of the schools (“L’académie de Paris”) called CASNAV (the “Centre Académique pour la Scolarisation des Nouveaux Arrivants et des enfants du Voyage”). This department is designed to welcome, test, and place foreigners entering the French public schools.  The first 50 families to arrive each day at the CASNAV office are allowed entry. Others must come back the next day. So this day had been hanging over us ever since the day I blogged about "Getting Schooled". Given the unsatisfactory outcome during our first attempt to enroll the girls in school,  it gave us plenty of time to look forward to the bureaucratic hassles to come. CASNAV opens its doors at 9:00 a.m. However, we wanted to ensure our being seen that day so we arrived early at 6:00 a.m. with snacks, books, and video games to bide our time. We were first in line, but many other families arrived just after us. It was a long wait, and the girls were mostly patient. At 8:30 a.m. an official emerged from the building and handed out numbered tickets. Interestingly enough, even though we were first in line, our ticket had the #2 printed on it. The official handed out all 50 tickets and by now, the line of families extended down to the end of the block. At 8:58 a.m. an expensive sedan pulled up in front of the entrance and a very well-dressed family emerged from the car. When the doors to CASNAV were opened promptly at 9:00 a.m. and we were ushered inside, this newly-arrived family entered with us. We glanced over and noticed that they were the proud owners of ticket #1. We couldn't help but wonder if they had political ties? Maybe they know Liliane Bettncourt or Nicolas Sarkozy? We were a bit amused however when they did not serve this family first. Naturally, they served #35 first!? After serving #35, CASNAV finally made sense for the first time that day by calling, "Deux!" It was our turn and, indeed, we really were #2 after all. A young man who spoke decent English (and, by the way, was the only official we encountered that day that spoke any English to us) told us that CASNAV will test and place both Raelyn and Nola in school. We had previously read on the CASNAV website that they only serve children age eleven and up so we were not expecting any outcome for Nola on this day. We were pleased that this was turning out to be one-stop-shopping for both girls. After the young man verified and made photocopies of the girls' documents, he created an official envelope for each. Then we were ushered downstairs and swiftly separated from the girls since it was time for them to take their test. This also marked the start of our all-French language, all day long journey. We did not know what the test consisted of, what the format was, the length of the test, or what the results specifically determine. We just knew we were told to wait in a room with other parents of test-takers. Shortly thereafter, Nola was brought to us. It was explained that indeed, she was too young for CASNAV's services and we were told that we need to register her at le mairie  in our arrondissment (been there, tried that!). We were prepared for this and had done our homework thanks to our relative, Olivier, who had, behind the scenes, been communicating with local schools in an attempt to find a placement for Nola. Soren showed the official the name and address of the school that supposedly had space for Nola in their CLIN program (akin to the U.S.A.'s ESL program). The official obliged us and said she would make a call to confirm Nola's placement. More waiting. A long wait. Finally, Raelyn was brought to  us and we were dismissed with instructions that we would receive a letter in 7-10 days with Raelyn's school placement. (The first day of school just happens to be in 9 days, but oh well. We're at the mercy of the system now). Soren explained that another official was working on Nola's placement. We were told to wait. Meanwhile, we peppered Raelyn with questions about the test. To summarize, it was written, all mathematics, with a big section on the metric system. Raelyn left those answers blank and she reported to us that she did horrible on the test. We congratulated her and told her that this was likely the one and only time she would be congratulated for performing poorly on a test. We suspected that if she received poor results, CASNAV would place her at elementaire with Nola rather than at college. We were feeling hopeful now that our wish would come true. Finally, the woman working on Nola's placement brought us an official document that contained Nola's school placement. However, it was not the school that we had thought had room for her. Instead, it was a school even closer to our apartment (none of the schools in our arrondissment have the CLIN program). Things were looking up! We left CASNAV in high spirits, off to our next destination, les mairies (again), this time, with official documents in hand to prove that there is a school with space for Nola. First stop, le mairie in the 4th arrondissment, where we live, to show them that the document gives Nola permission to attend a school outside of our arrondissment. Second stop, le mairie in the 3rd arrondissment, to prove that the 4th arrondissment knows that Nola will not be attending a school in their arrondissment. By now, it was mid-afternoon and this whole process was giving Soren many opportunities to use his French. To his surprise, he received a complement from one official at le mairie that he spoke it well! Getting to the right official at le mairie in the 3rd was a bit challenging. These buildings are big and multi-storied with lots of corridors and doors. When a desk clerk gives us directions, we understand "left", "right", etc., but we miss the "little" nuances such as, "second hallway after the fifth door on the right up the lift on the fourth floor." By the time we find the elevator and get to the 4th floor, we've mixed up everything else and wind up wandering around and guessing which door upon which we should knock. Turns out, we knocked on the door that is responsible for registering children in the school lunch program so we learned that we needed to go back there once we received the stamp of approval from the correct official down the hall.  By the time we were enrolling Nola in the school lunch program, Soren's brain was entirely fried.  His silent searching through his vocabulary and verb tense rolodex inside his head was stalling. I surprised myself a couple of times by translating for him what I understood the official to be saying. I also completed a sentence or two of his. I did not expect to pull  that off, but I did! The day's process ended with the official instructing us to go to Nola's school and meet le Directeur. This meeting would have to wait until Monday August 30th however since he was still taking his vacance. The official also confirmed that if Raelyn's test scores are poor, then CASNAV would place her in the equivalent of 5th grade at elementaire. So, despite a very long day and a laborious process with  bureaucracy that was not as unpleasant as we had anticipated (really!), we were feeling quite pleased and very hopeful that our desires for the girls' schooling would be just as we wish. Now what? We wait for August 30th to meet Nola's directeur and we wait for Raelyn's letter to arrive in le poste. Hopefully before the first day of school. To be continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment