The list of books and in-classroom necessities was extensive. I remember reading it and thinking that I was in for a very confusing year as I couldn’t understand anything except for a few words. There were books upon books for both kids. There were pencils, pens, protractors, compasses, erasers, highlighters, calculators, whiteout contraptions, special erasable pens, more pencils, pencil sharpeners and more. Thank goodness for my friend Maria. In fact, as much as I have spoken about our saying of “Poco a Poco”, probably the most often spoken phrase when getting everything together for the kids’ school was “Thank You, Maria.”
Maria Kent saved us. Literally. I am not being dramatic. I would have had NO IDEA what to do if I simply showed up in Spain and hit the ground running, without a plan for the kids’ education. She helped me visit schools during our trip here the April before our move. She helped me secure important papers and meet with the people in charge of the school. She helped me file papers necessary to get the kids into their school. She explained to me that we wouldn’t know, for sure, if the kids would get into the school for awhile but that she would let me know. There were so many details, very important details, that she walked me through, helping me with the language along the way.
Before school started
This is Spider’s classroom
Schools in Spain are different than in the United States. Not incredibly different and not better or worse, just different. And, if there is one thing I hope you take away from this blog of our year abroad, it is that the word different is NOT BAD. Different is what has made our year amazing. It is what has given us so many stories and is often what has inspired us to grow. So, “different” with their school and with their studies was an adjustment, just like everything else; a wonderful, sometimes with tears, adjustment, from which we all have learned.
First, there were the books. In their schools in Park City, so much of their work is done through computers on a platforms called Canvas (at least for Skye in middle school) and iReady. Both Skye and Spider had very little work in actual textbooks. They also rarely had their school backpacks filled with schoolbooks at home in Park City. As Spider says, “I am not kidding, mom, we had no text books at home.” Here, everything is done through books. When they started school we were required to buy at least 10 books for each kid. They study, memorize, highlight information all through their textbooks. Rarely do they use computers. Yes, there is an electronic room at school with a dozen and a half computers but they are never taken home. And, honestly, that doesn’t bother me.
Half of Skye’s books
Her backpack weighs at least 25 lbs.
“No computers” means they have to research their information at home. It also means they have to write a TON here with their own hands. They have to write out every math problem, copying it from the chalkboard or from the book to their notebook which is full of all their homework. Sure, in Park City, they would do schoolwork with pen/pencil and paper in class but it is nothing like it is here in Spain. Here, when Skye finishes her homework, she gets hand cramps. And for good reason, she will sometimes have 40-50 math problems to do just at home on top of all her other homework.
And homework here is extensive. In Park City, I would ask the kids every day if they had any homework and there was only occasionally a “yes” in response. Skye would have some but for her, for the most part, it was an hour of computer work for the week on iReady. Spider, had to read every night but other than that, he didn’t ever have any. Here, homework is the norm, and when they don’t have any, it is like a fiesta in the car ride home. But when they do have it, it can take them up words of 2 hours to finish, especially for Skye.
Much of their homework revolves around studying for tests, memorizing the information and understanding the curriculum in another language. When they have tests the next day, they will ask us to help them study. Every week we spend time going over the information in social science or lengua that they are to know for their tests. Generally, it is highlighted in their books or copied onto a homework page. We will sit there for over an hour or so, going back and forth about the information. And when we are done they will get this sort of excited and nervous feeling that is so very familiar to me. It’s that excited feeling when you are totally ready for the test. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday.
Working on their homework
On the airplane.
All of this, in fact, I remember so well. Their school in Spain reminds me so much of my elementary and middle school in Roseville, California. The books, the homework, the tests and the hand cramps. I remember being nervous for my tests in elementary school just like I would get nervous on the blocks before my race. I remember that feeling when my teacher would pass out the tests and I would panic reading the first question if I didn’t know it, wondering if I had studied the wrong information. All of these feelings, our kids have experienced here in Spain. And, it makes me smile. I like that they are getting a healthy dose of those nerves one feels before tests. And I love that they are also experiencing the feeling of “acing a test”, and “totally sucking” as well. Again, a very real life lesson.
However, there was a moment when we first got here when I wondered if not having computers would set them back. I was more concerned with what they might be missing out on as opposed to seeing what they were gaining. It was difficult to completely let go of their usual curriculum in the states and it took me a little while. But, the worry about computer use didn’t hang around for long. I started really watching their homework and the way they are teaching over here which helped me become a bigger part of their educational process.
Not everything is perfect and, frankly, I haven’t been in their classroom but once for a “Thanksgiving” presentation. But I can say there are some things that I find super interesting. I love that they have to worry about their penmanship and if their math “work” is clear enough for the teacher to read. (Spider was marked down on a math test, even though he got all the answers correct, because his work was too messy) I love that they have to use their hands to create work in science, math and in art class. I said this to my friend who lives here in Spain and she said, “There was just an article about the benefits of kids using their hands in school and how computers takes some of that away. The fact that they are writing and creating with their hands is helping their brains grow and learn.” It makes sense and I am glad they are getting a chance to experience these methods.
We will miss these…or at least I will.
But don’t get me wrong. I am still that mama who wants to make sure we are staying on top of their studies at home. The last think I want to hear from the kids upon arrival back in Park City is, “You made me behind in school cause we moved for the year.” So, we are also staying in touch with their teachers and their curriculum in order for them to, hopefully, make a seamless reentry back into 6th and 8th grades in Park City. We have received a ton of Spider’s challenge math from Park City and I have focused a bit of time on helping both of them with structured writing through graphic organizers in English. We were also told by one of Skye’s counselors before we left that the most important thing for them both to do in order to stay up with their English is to read in English. And, of course, they aren’t studying about American History, the United States Constitution or the social science of Utah but they are learning so very much about Eurpoean and World History, the Spanish Constitution and the Iberian Peninsula.
The structure of their week is quite similar, actually. Spider has two teachers, one for English and one for Spanish. He stays in Spanish class most of the time although learns social science in English. Skye has several different teachers and is not in the “bilingua” program (which means she has only one class in English). We have also worked with the teachers about more opportunities for her to converse in Spanish and her one English teacher is helping me with her English writing. The teachers have been very flexible and amenable.
In the US, they would have classes in art and music, just like here in Spain. They have PE twice a week here in Spain just like in Park City. They were uniforms at school here which is different than home. And on PE days, they have a different uniform to wear. They get report cards every trimester. Their grades are numbers on a 1-10 scale. When Spider’s tests come home, I have to sign them and he takes them back to school. I have to tell his teachers when he will be gone so that he can get his homework. All of this is the same as in Park City. Skye takes care of most of her studies and talks to her teachers when she needs to miss class, just like her middle school back in Utah. For sports, when Spider qualified for the Campeonata de España in life-guarding, he was given a “justificante deportivo” to officially notify the school of his absence for sport.
As a whole, this experience has been a wonderful adjustment for all of us. And, going back home to their schools in Park City will be an adjustment as well; an education within their education. It has also been super fun for me to reconnect with them, their homework and their curriculum. I have really loved helping them study and helping them with their math. Both Erik and I have had to relearn algebra. Every day we remind them to cut themselves some slack on their expectations for grades and to “not beat themselves up” when they get answers wrong because they didn’t understand the language. I love how much they truly care about their grades.
They are halfway through their school year and they have made their friends, are learning more of the language and have started to speak in English with a Spanish influence. They are constantly saying, “can you put me a….” Instead of, “can you get me a….” It makes us all giggle. Just like at home, they rarely want to go to school on Monday and are ridiculously excited about Friday. So much of this new school is very much like their other school, with the biggest difference being the language…and to all of us, that is amazing and quite comforting. It is all working out and so once again I say, “Thank you, Maria!”