Saturday, August 29, 2009

high hopes...high in the sky apple pie hopes

It's that time of year again...

This summer we presented Bethy with a choice. She'd been accepted to two schools here in Dubai. Which one would she like to attend this year? One, the school she attended last year; brand new, over the top beautiful, international, very expensive. Two, Dubai American Academy; established, has an awesome reputation, not as glamorous. Both schools have great after school programs, swimming pools, transportation. We left it up to her entirely.

I honestly thought she'd choose her old school, possibly on looks alone, or by force of habit. Mike in particular was hoping she'd go with choice #2, DAA, but neither of us were pushing any agenda. I had taken her to DAA for a tour, but nothing was open beyond looking out the glass door to the playground. To my surprise she chose DAA, the American school.

Instead of being out in the desert this school is next to the Mall of the Emirates...I think she can see the ski slope from the playground.

Little girl, big school.

After she decided on Dubai American Academy, Mike and I were so happy. I hadn't realised I felt strongly about it until the choice was made. You see, Bethy didn't have the best Kindergarten experience. She'd been bullied, had some real behavioral issues, and I felt that the sweet, friendly little girl who'd started at the beginning of the year had been replaced by an argumentative, often angry one who, some mornings, cried and fought because she didn't want to get on the bus. We didn't know: was it her, us, an age related thing, or the school?

I believe that no school is perfect, that a child can learn as much or even more from a difficult situation, but only within reason. We really want this year, first grade, to be wonderful, with learning and friends and happiness.

I couldn't fault her level of learning, the standards seemed awfully high to me for little kids. I mean, I remember Kindergarten being about play-doh and making friends and taking a nap after recess. No naps for these kids. Even so, the overachieving parents seemed to be asking that the kids get pushed even harder.

For Mike and myself as parents, we were concerned about the serious lack of communication between her teacher and ourselves. One day Bethy came home with a bloody bag of clothing, having had to change her shirt and pinafore, and no explanation from the teacher or nurse whatsoever. No note, no call, no text message, nothing. Another student had hit her in the nose with his water bottle. Hard. Apparently the attack was incited by a fit of jealousy: his friend chose to play with her rather than him. According to Bethy he was disciplined by having to take her to the nurse.

Another time he had to take her to the nurse when he threw sand in her eyes, again deliberately, and she had to have them irrigated and checked. Again, no communication to us at all from the school. This worried me. A lot. I tried to be the non-freak-out parent and didn't go storming down there to see what was going on. Maybe I should have. Mostly I asked Bethy a lot of questions about her day and tried to be a good listener. I wanted to support her teacher and respect her style of class management, but not at the cost of Bethy's happiness.

On the positive side, I liked her teacher's no-nonsense approach, especially since many of the children in her class were truly, truly spoiled. However, some prerogatives seemed a bit off. Perhaps it was just me, but I thought that getting along with other children was more important than, say, sitting like a lady so the other kids couldn't taunt "we can see Bethy's knickers!" (This was a major issue.) Her teacher came up with charts and ideas to help Bethy, but didn't follow through. She might chart for a day and then....nothing. Whenever I was at the school I would run into her teacher who would inevitably have a problem to tell me about, but if I didn't see her, I wouldn't hear anything.

We worried and all were relieved when school ended last year. It felt like the whole thing was spinning out of control.

Anyway, as the summer has progressed Bethy has drifted away from that kid we didn't know and back to the kid we do: helpful, loving, still a bossy boots and extremely talkative. (Hmmm, wonder where she gets that from?)

When I asked her why she chose DAA she said, among other things, that she hoped going to an American school would help us to go back to the USA sooner. Oh dear. She still wants to live in Seattle. And Thomas only wants to live here.

We met Bethy's new teacher. Young, blonde, enthusiastic, from the East Coast of the USA. I think they'll be a good fit. Her class assistant was lovely as well, and I immediately liked her for her gentle demeanor. During the "welcome" assembly they talked almost constantly about communication. This is what I wanted to hear. I am excited that the class will be celebrating American holidays like St Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day. Mother's Day will again be in May instead of March. She's already planning her Halloween costume.

I did wonder about the one rather oversized child from her class who showed up to meet the teacher with metal handcuffs hanging from his jeans belt loops. Is this a new fashion I don't know about? Am I the only parent who thinks this is a strange choice? Ah well. Handcuffs are very much NOT standard for the school uniform.

The bus company called yesterday to give us Bethy's pick-up time. Her ride will be 40 minutes shorter than last year. SO much better. Her day was an awfully long one, and riding the bus for an hour or longer one way was awfully hard on a little girl. Her first month at DAA will have shorter hours thanks to Ramadan, too.

Today is the first day of school. I am actually all nervous and keyed up but trying not to appear so. I desperately want this to go well. This morning Bethy put on her shiny new black shoes (that happened to have the letter "B" on them, serendipitous), her new uniform (a cute skort...hooray! A sensible choice for a kid. more comfortable and not as hot as her other uniform. I'm withholding judgement on the bow tie bit though...) and, though it showed up 20 minutes later than advised, got onto her new bus. I have the knack of opening the door down to a science no matter how humid it gets and didn't need to pitch her out the window like last year. She was off on her new adventure with hugs and a huge smile.

I may not breathe until she returns home as happy as she left. But I'm hopeful.


Jeane said...


DAA is a great school, I'm hopeful your daughter will come home happy. I know DAA has a number of counselors and such too if ever needed. Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law teach 4 year olds there. :)

I'm also from the pretty PNW and I love your blog. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

Natalie said...

Hi Jeane! Thanks for stopping by! I am awed whenever somebody from here reads the blog...let alone from here AND there! :) DAA will be a great school for HAS to be after all the good feedback I've gotten. Thank you for your kind words, highly appreciated. PNW high five to you, I hear it's raining...


*Paula* said...

Oh dear - I'm so sorry Bethy (and you) had such a tough experience last year. Molly had a wonderful K experience and I know how worried you must have been. I'll be thinking of her on her shorter (yaay!) bus-ride and hope all goes well. My guys don't go back to school until after labor day!

Karen said...

Hi Natalie,

I hope all went well for Bethy on her first day! The emotion was all brought back to me of that first day with my girls as I read through your blog this morning! You want so much for them to have a great experience - especially that first year!
Natalie, I have passed on your blog to so many people - such a great read! Have had great feedback enjoying your fabulous writing and stories!!
I was only starting my search last night for schools for the girls, as we may be out in Novemberish! We finally got the 'word' last week that we would be heading out there. Feeling a little overwhelmed with it all....where to begin. May have a few(hundred) questions very soon for you - if you don't mind!
Mia is excited to see Thomas and Bethy!!
Thank you for all your sharing - it's been extremely helpful.
Will be in touch,
warm regards,
Karen Keane

Julia said...

No matter how her day goes, I hope you give Bethy a great BIG hug from me. I also really really hope she has a good day. Frankly, I'm appalled that the only discipline that little boy got was walking her to the nurse. The teachers/administration there must be scared stiff of the parents to turn a blind eye like that.

Did she ever find her barbie in the sand?

Natalie said...


Fire away! I will help you in every way that I can, more than happy to and so pleased you're coming out here. I hope you love it as much as we do. Have you been before? Email me with your first round of questions and we'll get you started.


Sadly, the Barbie leg was never recovered. No one confessed.

I think the parents here can be very high maintenance and demanding, and unfortunately I should have been far more aggressive in advocating for Bethy. Being polite is always good, but apparently I needed to be LOUD too. She seems to be liking her new school so far, and we'll have to see how it goes. :)