Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Down by the schoolyard...

Last week I went in for Bethy's first teacher's conference in the Middle East. I was a little bit nervous, figuring this puts me up there with VP nominees for foreign relations and negotiations experience.

One of the very first things her teacher said to me, her eyes tired and speech rehearsed, was "This is the classroom, and what I care about is what happens in here. As far as I'm concerned all politics stay out in the hall."

I sympathise with her; there have been several kindergarten parents who've tried to recruit me to their camp, complaining endlessly about how much they've paid to send their little darlings to the school, and how distressed they are that the school is not completed yet. I've managed to slip away from their grasp. Some of the major complaints are: cost of uniforms (hel-ooo, you sent your child to the region's most expensive school, what did you expect?), that the school is in the middle of the desert and runs on generators and has to have water trucked in every day and waste trucked out. How they didn't notice the whole "desert" thing when they came to sign their offspring up in the first place is a beyond me. Perhaps they were jetlagged at the time, we'll never know. In their defense, on the school website it shows various very realistic computer-generated images of the completed school in a well established neighborhood, so if they just sent their lackeys to do the legwork, this might have been a surprise.

Bethy's favorite parts of the school are the spiral staircase over the pools surrounded by flowers in the main foyer, (pictured above in a real photograph) the pinpoint lights in the ceiling that change color, and the Planetarium.

I told Claire (Mrs Potts) that I really didn't care as long as the school has lights and when the children turn on the taps safe water comes out. I said that I find the school beautiful, understand that it will be done in time, and that Bethy and the kids are happy is all I'm interested in. She brightened up immediately, and we had a pleasant chat over tea.

One of the things we did was to go over a sampling of Bethy's work. All of the students write a story in their diaries Sunday when they return to school after the weekend. Bethy is doing an amazing job of it, with carefully drawn pictures and sounded-out, lengthy stories, not unlike my own. She even had one with pictures describing my runs at Safa Park. She drew me smiling, so that's a good thing.

The diaries will be given to the students in a bound book at the end of the year so they can look back at what they've been up to. I thought this was a great idea. Apparently I was all sappy since I even had a little sniffle at the thought.

Claire said all the things I expected; Bethy is smart, friendly, pretty good most of the time, and talks too much.

Yup, that's Bethy.

Bethy gets on the bus at 7:05 AM Sunday-Thursday and school starts at 8:30. I hope she doesn't ride the bus that whole time, but probably. The website describes the school as being "5 minutes from the Springs" (where we live). Perhaps by helicopter it is, but I haven't gotten that flyer from the school yet. Bethy is friends with most of the kids on the bus, though one is being frightful and I had to ask the bus helper to please not sit Bethy next to this older kid since ours is coming home with black-and-blue marks and broken skin from pinching. They agreed.

I didn't mind too much when she came home after being decorated by another older student. The bus helper shook his head on this day, saying Problem, is big problem. I decided that pens are a no-no on the bus until further notice. The door-to-door service is nice; not having to wait in the heat and getting to shove in that last bite of toast is good. Unless of course your mother is pitching you out the kitchen window...

I have finally mastered the door, and now am rarely fighting with it for more than a minute. I need two hands and a knee to get it open, though.

School goes until 3:30, now that Ramadan is over and they have returned to the usual longer hours. (hours of operation are called "timing" here). During Ramadan the school "canteen" was closed, and any of the older Muslim children who had elected to fast were given a special area to weather it out while the other kids ate.

During Ramadan, after sunset we'd driven past a McDonalds all decorated with strings of lights for the holiday. Bethy said "Oh, look! That McDonalds is happy because the day is over and we can go eat there now!"

Bethy's day starts with math, then has Arabic twice a week, poetry, music class or PE, and there will be swimming time once the pool is finished. (So some parents are unhappy with buying a school swimsuit and/or with the pool being unfinished. Whiners. I bought the gym clothing without whimpering once.) The other learning times are "Taskboard", "Inquiry", and "Discovery Time". That last really means "The End of the Day when all the little kids are tired and couldn't be organized if their lives depended on it so they get turned loose in the classroom to do whatever activity they like." Bethy generally chooses to paint for this part. Messy, messy uniform results, despite the painting smocks I know are provided. She's an enthusiastic artist.

The Arabic is a required subject, taught in all schools in the UAE. Bethy is loving it. She wrote Arabic "B" after Arabic "B", in purple and pink, of course. She tries out her new words on Rani, who speaks Arabic as well as English and Sinahlese (and probably more I don't know about yet.) The two of them have a great time.

There are fewer than 20 students in her class, many of whom have parents in the various Embassies, so while lessons are taught in English, the curriculum is drawn schoolwide from international sources. Once a week the kindergarteners get to go to the Elementary Library. This is a big deal for Bethy, choosing and checking out a book all by herself. This week she selected a Maisy Mouse book. Here is what she said about it: "I saw this book about Maisy and I knew Thomas would love it, so I put back my book and got this one for him instead."

Now, that, my friends, is a darn good big sister.

Music class, is, of course big, and she comes home and teaches me new songs on a regular basis. The words are no problem, but she has a hard time making me understand the tune, unless the piece is based on, say, "Happy Birthday" or "Frère Jacques". That she carries a tune at all makes me happy. That she gets to play with castinets is pretty cool too.

The kids do go outside for recess, and Bethy has taken to bringing home the tiny white seashells she finds scattered thoughout the sand. One day the kids found a dead bird, and the construction men carefully buried it with what Bethy described as proper reverence.

Twice a week the kids stay after for another hour, for elective after-school activities. For this session Bethy chose gymnastics and chess. Chess, because she and Mike like to play. We love that our 5-year-old can set up the board and explain the moves and her strategies. On these days I drive out to pick her up, which I like since it keeps me a bit more up-to-date with what is happening at the school.

So she's adjusted well to life in the Middle East. 81 degree mornings have been deemed "freezing, Mom!" (she put on a sweater vest over her uniform) and here is what she said while building with blocks the other day:

"See, here's the car and it drives around and around the roundabout, and then errrrr, it parks in the street!"

The girl knows her stuff!

No comments: