Saturday, October 9, 2010

Searching for a School

Finding a school we like for Cameron has been a big challenge for us, but we think we have a good match now. He's going to the Irish International School.  You might think it strange that there even is an Irish International School in Cairo.  In fact there are many international schools here:  The British International School (there are actually four of these, one of which includes a Dutch section); the Canadian School, a couple French Schools, I think one or more German Schools, an American International School (along with the very expensive and elite Cairo American College), and a couple Montesorri Schools, one run by Germans and I think the other is run by Americans.  Plus, there are many Egyptian Schools, some of which are called "language schools" which are taught all in English.  So, with all these choices, you might wonder why it was hard for us to settle on a school.  Well, one reason was that most schools were already full by the time we knew that we were coming to Egypt.  (Originally, we were going to be sent to Ghana, but then it turned out that malaria was going to be too risky for Cameron if we went there.  Malaria is the number one cause of death for kids his age there and there are some strains of malaria that there is no medication to prevent.)

I tried hard from the U.S. to find a school for Cameron, but online and finally making calls to Egypt from New England was challenging.  I did find one British International School that had space so that was our first choice when we came.  We took a cab to the school, which was beautiful, had a lovely campus, great facilities including an auditorium, swimming pool, large grassy playing field.  We had to pay around $200 to have Cameron assessed to see if he would be accepted to that school.  He was accepted, but then we realized the bus ride to that school from where we wanted to live (in Maadi) was going to be too long and on a very dangerous highway, so we decided not to send him to that school.  Traffic here is a real concern.  We talked to one parent who said the first month or two their child went to a school in New Cairo, the bus was in four accidents, fortunately all were minor.

Tuition to international schools here is very expensive.  The British School we'd been looking at was $15,000 for kindergarten!  And that school was much cheaper than the Cairo American College which was about $27,000 for kindergarten!  Part of why the schools are so expensive is that there is usually a hefty one time only registration fee, which for Cairo American College was about $10,000.  I think the way international schools can charge so much is that there are many expatriots here working for Shell Oil or other multinational companies or their parents work for embassies.  The employer picks up the tab for the children's schools.  One of the school forms even asked what company should be billed for the tuition.

After deciding against the British School in New Cairo, we scrambled around looking at other schools.  We looked at one Egyptian School, but decided against it because of the facilities and the fact that he would be the only foreign kid in his class and perhaps in the whole school.  I have heard there are other good quality Egyptian Schools but I either couldn't reach them by phone or was told via email that they were already full.  A parent told me that the best schools fill up late spring.  Education for children is something Eyptians take very seriously.

 We also looked at a Montesorri school and were very impressed with the director and her view of education.  We ended up sending Cameron there at the end of August.  He loved it, and we liked it too in many ways.  
Cameron's First Day of School 
Cameron in front of the bunnies.
He did interesting activities and had fun all day long.  

But we worried he wasn't learning enough.  They had a lot of building materials, arts and crafts, playground equipment, etc., but didn't have paper and pencil readily available for the kids to learn how to write and he wasn't reading much (except for stories at circle time).  

He was one of only a couple five year olds with the rest being toddlers and younger.  The clincher though came when he started to get hurt.  One day, he came home and told me he got a bloody nose when the swing hit him.  The next day, he had a severe gash in his lip.   We realized that this school was not the best place for Cameron.  The combination of nontraditional playground equipment and there being times when kids are out of sight of teachers, plus the reading and writing, made us decide we needed to put Cameron in a different school.  I'd visited the Irish School and that seemed like a good fit.

It was a hard decision to leave the Montesorri School since Cameron liked a couple of the teachers a lot and we liked a lot of things about the program.  Cameron was in tears when we told him he would be going to a new school.  The Montesorri School director said they normally do a good-bye ceremony for children who are leaving.  So it was decided Cameron would go one more day for his good-bye ceremony.  

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