Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nola's First Day of School

Nola's School
On her way...
Post-school grin.
Soren and I were not sure if Nola, who has a tendency to be a bit shy, would express any resistance to the idea of attending a new school where she does not speak the language, she does not know a single person, and for the first time ever, she is not attending school with her sister. Nola showed no signs of nervousness. She independently picked out her school clothes the night before and layed them out. She made sure her backpack had the requisite pencil case, pen, and pencil. And the next morning, she reportedly had a good night's sleep. She was ready to roll. I, on the other hand, was not. In my funk and fatigue from disappointment and lack of rest, I had failed to set my alarm the night before. Thankfully, Nola came into our room and woke us up with enough time to spare. Not enough time for me to shower, (which meant it became a hat day for me) but enough time to not be late for the first day of school. Phew! I had intended to put more effort into my appearance for this special day. Expat websites mention the formality of the school environment and since French people dress well to take out their garbage, surely they dress well to drop their kids off at school. Instead, I quickly threw on a hat, jeans, and shirt, downed the breakfast that Soren helpfully made, and off we went. Nola's hair was still wet from her morning shower, but she was cute as can be with her big new backpack riding the Metro to school. When we arrived, families were gathered in the little street in front of the school's closed front gates. We immediately noticed diversity among these families: French, Asian, Indian, Italian, and African. We were pleased since one of the reasons we declined the girls' admission to the private school was due to its homogeneous community, essentially, well-to-do French families. We eagerly stood in the street waiting. We were uncertain as to what, exactly, we were waiting for. A bell to ring? The gate to open? A hopeful invitation for parents to come inside? From the information we gathered from expat websites, we anticipated a distinct and formal boundary, one in which parents are not invited to come inside, meet the teacher, or enter the classroom. These sites also stated that if parents want to communicate with the teacher, they must ask for and receive permission from their child's teacher first before entering the classroom. Since we assumed that, in a moment, Nola would be whisked away from us, we said our goodbyes and good lucks in the street and gave her all the reassurance we could. Kisses and hugs were quick and discreet so as not to embarrass her in front of her new peers. Just then, the gate opened and Monsieur Directeur stepped out, smiled, and motioned for everyone to come inside, parents included! He greeted every family as they entered and we were no exception. Once inside the gate, families congregated in a big courtyard surrounded on all sides by the school buildings. Parents were greeting one another with smiles and European kisses and commenting on how much each others' children had grown over the summer. We observed whom we presumed to be teachers milling about and greeting students and their parents. Just then, Raelyn excitedly spied across the courtyard the very same girl that she had played with in our neighborhood park just a few weeks ago. (See post "What I Learned In London, Pt. 2"). Raelyn's smile quickly turned to a frown upon realizing that she will not have the opportunity to get to know this girl better since Raelyn will be attending college. This girl (who Raelyn recalls is named Vishnavi) was greeting her friends on the other side of the courtyard and did not see Raelyn. Next, we were approached by Madame Christine, Nola's teacher. She warmly introduced herself to Nola and us, in French. Continuing to speak in French, she explained that Nola's class has six other non-French speaking children and she pointed them out to us in the courtyard. Madame Christine then stated it was time to gather as she wanted to lead us to her classroom. What a surprise! Once inside, Madame Christine explained, in French, that she speaks only French to the children and that her methods include lots of gestures, repetition, and drawings on the board. She showed us the kids' workbooks and described how, as the year progresses and her students' command of French improves, they will be weaned from her and assimilated in with the rest of the French-speaking students and immersed in the normal curriculum. Madame Christine said that her students will work diligently from 8:30-11:30 and then break for lunch. For two hours! During which time they sit down and enjoy a three-course meal like the French do, slowly savoring every bite. After their meal the students spend the rest of their time in the courtyard playing. From 1:30-4:30 it's back to school work and then the day is done. No school on Wednesdays and lots of field trips. And parents are encouraged to chaperone. Yes! I know Nola will be happy here. She will need to get used to the lack of a snack break. And she will also have to train herself not to scarf down her lunch in 3 minutes like back home in order to maximize her playtime during recess. When we picked her up at 4:30 she emerged with a big grin. Madame Christine made a point to check-in with each student's family to report on their day. She told us that in the morning Nola was no smiles,  but by mid-day, Nola was happy and engaged. On the way home, we asked Nola if she spoke any French at school. She said, "Once." Of course, we wanted to know what she said.  As usual, Nola proved to us that she's a girl that goes after what she wants and needs. Her French for the day... "La toilette s'il vous plaît?" So glad she remembered her manners.

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