Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lost in Translation.

..french is not always better.
Last year, as we entered Montreal, we listened to our neighbors and children's parents at the girl's preschool speak about their feelings on the english schools. Their opinions were strong, and new to the area, in an entirely unfamiliar culture, I felt cornered. Quebec is a french speaking country, however, Montreal is very bilingual. There are two school boards here: French, well funded and highly thought of schools; and English, poorly funded and often dilapidated schools. Within the English school board there are french immersion schools, very high brow among the community I live in, and the english schools, which teach in 80% english and 20% french education. It's a total hierarchy system with the all french schools put high on a pedestal and the english schools somewhere down in the myriad of potholes they have through the city roads.

We were told that the only 80/20 english school in our area would be closing within two years, and among other things, that this same school was not to the same standard of education as other schools. We were told by these same parents that the school was to close within two years because of funding. We weighed the french vs. english debate for months and came to the decision that because of the high quality of school, the english school closing, the opportunity for our girls to learn a 2nd language, and our unknown length of stay debate: we opted for the french immersion program. Little did we know, that in listening to people around us, who we later realized based their decision on the minority make-up of the english school, and the french is better mentality would inevitably make the wrong decision.

The girls entered the immersion program, they had friends from their preschool year in the same class as them, and they seemed to enjoy going to school. But by October, both girls were constantly tired, one of them was consistently wetting herself at school, complaining, and putting their mom through heck after school! I asked to meet with the girl's teacher, but was refused on more than one occasion, as they only met with parents on the scheduled parent/teacher conference dates. When the conference finally came, I was ready to once and for all, find out how they were doing. The meetings were quick and to the point: Cici was doing great and Nini was failing miserably. I talked to them, but the consensus between both teachers was that they are "just" kindergartners. After Christmas break, mid way through January, Nini said something about how the kids in her class make fun of her and she hates french. OK, so I ask her teacher for a meeting and to my surprise she says, "yes". After our meeting, it was clear to me that the decision to put the girls in french immersion was wrong. The teacher said that Nini wasn't learning, she would "space" off in class, and that she didn't understand a word she said. There was work she wasn't finishing, but when I said, why don't you said it home with her, so she can see she needs to finish it - it was as if she hadn't even thought of it.

In the french immersion program, the children are scolded for speaking french within the classroom. Parents are not allowed to participate in the classroom, or at least, my requests to help were never taken. So poor Nini, could only really speak and be herself during the 30 minutes of recess she had a day. Cici, was being ridiculed by several classmates, but she couldn't retort, because she couldn't use english. While she was learning some french, that's all they were doing - nothing else. There were many tear filled afternoons for an already very anxious and sensitive little girl. It hit me and Craig suddenly that we are not native Quebec, and our chances of staying here longer than another couple years is slim - why did we put them in the immersion program. Learning to say shoulder in french, or name their colors. Most french immersion children, we now know, already knew french from home.

When we finally announced the decision and the girl's last day at the immersion school, we were met with a lot of criticism. But I was quickly validated, when Cici's teacher said that she thought Nini, would really do a great job at the new school. Huh? Why is Cici's teacher telling me this about Nini. I realized that poor Nini had been labeled by the school as a difficult child. And that made my decision all the more validated. To make this very long post a little shorter, we made the decision to pull them out of their school and put them in the english school. We made the transition the Monday after our return from our vacation. The change in my girls has been amazing, especially in Nini. They don't fight as much, or cry as much, they talk to me about their day, and to top it off, we are carpooling with a family, so they get to see their friends everyday. There are cons to this, but I think they are more superficial than educative. Here are a few things I learned through this process:

1. When arriving in a new area, especially country, base your decision on real facts that you tract down yourself. Do not be so certain that your "new friends" have your best interests in mind.
2. When someone says, "they are just kindergartners" realize that they have to say that. If you think there is an issue at school with your child, be proactive, despite the general view they the stage will pass.
3. Don't be afraid to make changes, even when they are argued or thought of us as the wrong changes to make. As soon as we made our decision to change schools, miraculously everyone backed down. I had several people say that they didn't think I was making the right decision.
4. Circumstances change, what is good at one time, may not work later.
5. You know your own child, his/her stresses, actions, and when they have been pushed to their limit. My girls were very unhappy and although this doesn't solve everything - it creates a better environment for overcoming.
I am so caught up in the french vs english debate, I often wish for the days when Quebec wasn't in my vocabulary. But it is, and I have embraced our living here the best I can. My mom said it best, "Michelle, but you are living in a foreign country." Oh, I guess I am.

What are your thoughts?


Jenny said...

I am so glad that you changed schools. That it has worked out for you. I have had many ups and downs just living here in the States. Each state here is different and the schools, parents, children, life styles are different. Like you I trusted someones opinion when placing my son in a local Jr High in Southern CA. When we first moved to the area. Where it was such a big mistake. I realized it when he started shutting down. Moving him to another school helped him so much and I believe save him spiritually. I actually spent a great deal of time praying over it. I am so Glad that you had the strength to make the changes needed and best suited for your girls.

Marie said...

How stressful! I am glad you were able to switch the girls over and that they can finish off their year happily.

Anonymous said...

"There are two school boards here: French, well funded and highly thought of schools; and English, poorly funded and often dilapidated schools."

Not accurate: the funding formula is the same for English and French school boards.

Chrissy, said...

Who ever is posting anonymous needs to get a backbone. You are such a sweet person. You are a wonderful mother. You only have your daughters best interests at heart. Your not looking to critiicize the system, it is what it is and I'm sure you see things with new eyes being new to the area.
I'm sorry you and your daughters have had to go through this, Do you think it has made them closer as sisters? Are they in the same class? Do they rely on each other?Maybe there is a silver lining in this. I admire that you made the change. I think as the Mom you know what is best and will do great things for yoru girls. I find used to ask people a lot of questions about things. I find I do it less and go more on my own instincts. It's good to learn from others but you have to follow your own happy heart right!

Jennfer said...

I'm so happy they are happy! Go English!
You made the best decision for your family. It shows already by the girls' responces.

Melinda said...

I am so glad that you did what you thought was best. Schools are so hard and everyone has their own opinion. I have gone through the same thing with the charter schools here vs. public. Everyone has to do what is best for their kids and go with it.

I am so glad the girls are doing better. It is weird to think you are in a foreign country.

Barb said...

Good for you for making the switch mid-school year and not suffering any longer!

crystal said...

These were WONDERFUL pieces of advice--thank you! Beneficial to anyone moving somewhere new, let alone to a new country. I so admire you for your sense of adventure and for your bravery in living in a foreign country; that would not be easy. I've thought this often.

I've also often wondered about the french speaking issue in your girls' education (being a former teacher myself).

The thing I love best about this post is your commitment to take a stand and weather criticism. WE MUST ALL BE WILLING TO DO THAT. (especially in behalf of our kids) And I admire you infinitely for it. What a thing to have learned! Bravo, Michelle!

SASSY said...

I normally don't comment on this blog but feel at this time I will. Michelle,you and Craig are the parents, there is always going to be someone who voices there opitions for what they think you should do or not do, especially in a foreign country. However, you both have to choose what is right for you and your children. When you pay for a serice such as kindegarden and the teachers will not meet with you only on their terms and there is a problem with the children not being happy at school, then a change should be made. YOU DID THIS. Good Job.
(hopefuly at this school they will allow the children to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, i have never heard of a school that told you what you couldn't send to school for the children to eat)
""this should put a buzz in the blog, WHAT NO peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at school unheard of""
have a great day, glad the girls are happy now at school.

Mandi said...

Hey girl

Congratulations for getting through this tough period. You and Craig have moved a few times and it always amazes me that whenever I hear about your new adventures you seem to do it with ease, I cant imagine moving (we have lived in the same house for 16 years) having to clean out everything would send me over the top. I think there is actually more stuff in our roof than is in our house - the whole process scares me to death!!! You amaze me always - the experiences your little girls have experienced so far have been something they will cherish their whole lives, the fact that their parents have given them such a rich childhood - you are doing a great job. Sometimes we need to seek advice from other people and sometimes we dont always make the best decisions, but recognising it was not the best decision and acting on it is the best outcome, the other lesson is that the girls will also have learned that you can try everything and some things fit and some things dont and when you find something that doesnt then you move onto something better, they will not be scared to try new things - WELL DONE MICHELLE.
Luv Mandi..............xxxxxxxx

Lauralee said...

way to go michelle.. way to figure all that out and help your girls be happy and have a more successful year of kindergarten.. what a struggle, what pressure.. your poor girls.. and poor mom! Glad you got it all figured out and settled.. I tell you- you are a great mom! Way to go!

Holly said...

I am proud of you and Craig for listening to your inner voices and making this change, even though others advised against it. I did not realize that there were two types of schools, based on language, etc. I hope that the remainder of their Kindergarten year goes well, it sounds like they are already benefitting from the change. Thanks for sharing your experience and the lessons learned.

Rachel Bagley Wurtz said...

Oh my, what an ordeal! I am so sorry, but glad you were able to change the situation. Your girls are so silly and so precious, you just have to do what your GUT tells you, even if it's not "popular". Good luck, friend! I've had my own little share of school issues with one of my boys.

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

That sounds like it was terrible for them! SO glad that you switched them! Here's to better school days!

Amie said...

You said it perfectly. I am such a fan of knowing your options and making your own choice. Kids are so different, of course, there is not one right choice for everyone. The best advice I ever received was to "make the choice each year for each child" it was eye opening. It was even more eye opening that there were so many great choices to educate our kids.

You are a great mom. I'm glad your girls are happier... it is proof that you did the right thing.

Laura said...

It must have been hard to pull the girls out mid-year, but I am excited for their change. It sounds like it will be really positive.

Oh those Quebecois! They are such language snobs. (Pardon my French.;)

leanne c said...

hey michelle
I for one am glad you shifted your children to this school otherwise we would not of got to be friends with such beautiful people.
The decision of which school to send your children to is very hard.this school was the only one that replied back to us from our messages,so we took the opportunity to meet with the principal and our children attend this one. .
All the others never even replied to all our messages that were left
which my husband and myself find very rude. But it is okay because we have two children who love this school, have lots of friends and are very happy . take care leanne