Illustration of a brother and sister
Since we've been talking about schools these past few weeks, I thought I'd do one more column dedicated to the topic with an interview with my friend 'Sarah' (not her real name) who has spent the last 10 years with one child in a local Catalan school and the other at The American School of Barcelona.
Please comment in the section below about how your school experiences have been similar or different to what Sarah describes. Also, let me remind you that this was one person's experience. As I've mentioned before, my son goes to a local Catalan public school and I've been absolutely thrilled with both the school and the teachers. However, I still believe it's interesting for us to consider different perspectives, especially when thinking about the very important decision of where to send our children to school (or why some of us might make different choices than others).
1. Where are you and your husband from?
The United States (me) and Uruguay (my husband).
2. When did you move to Barcelona and how old were your children?
We moved to Barcelona in 2001, our kids were 2 and 8.
3. What schools did you put your children in?
The 8-year-old child went to The American School of Barcelona (ASB), and the 2-year-old to a local concertada nursery (and primary school) in Sant Gervasi.
4. Why did you decide to put them in different schools?
Our older child had already been immersed in a different culture and language, and we didn't want to switch him from a language he was familiar with at his age.
Also, ASB was far from our home in the center of the city. We wanted our younger child to be closer to us so that she wouldn't have a long commute every day
5. How much did each school cost (roughly) per year?
I don't remember exactly what it cost when we started in 2001, but in the last year 2011, ASB cost about €10,000/year.
The concertada school cost about €4,800/year
6. Now can you please talk about the following aspects of your children's school life (comparing and contrasting between the two schools, talking about what you liked, didn't like, etc.)?
-Interactions/communications with teachers and administration: With a few exceptions, the teachers at ASB were extremely committed educators, prepared and innovative, and constantly updating their professional development.
The teachers at the concertada school were bound to a very provincial system of rote learning, with a few exceptions.
-Homework: The homework from ASB was normally designed to support, stimulate and encourage initiative. I felt that my older child was learning the value of knowledge, that he was really building a base of knowledge, and was deepening his comprehension of his subject material.
The homework at the concertada school was often rote memorization of data, mathematical exercises, filling in the blanks in grammar books. My child was more concerned with making mistakes than exploring or engaging herself with the subject matter
-Interactions with other parents and children from the school (i.e. socializing, dealing with problems, etc).
In both cases my children formed friendships that have endured, and we have also formed enduring friendships with the parents of these friends.
My son didn't experience any social problems. His school advocated positive social behavior, and awarded children certificates each month for 'helpfulness', 'responsibility', 'sharing', etc.
My daughter sometimes had problems related to being bullied or sidelined. She was very shy and vulnerable to this kind of behavior. The teachers didn't have much professional training in this area, and tried to manage aggressive kids by being more vigilant and occasionally isolating them.
ASB is a private school that models itself after standard American schools. The facilities are airy and pleasant. Recently they built a grass-topped football field but they still don't have a gymnasium or auditorium.
The concertada school is housed in an old private mansion. It is very charming and cozy. As a primary school, the rooms are adequate for small children, but some rooms are not ventilated well, such as the ones on the upper floors. The patio is blacktop, and there have been many accidents resulting in broken arms and legs.
-Quality of teachers
The teachers at ASB are required to have professional development and degrees in education, conforming to American standards. They are usually passionate committed educators, competing for interesting positions in private international schools.
The teachers at the concertada nursery and school usually stay in their teaching posts until they retire, if possible. They are not required to update their professional development and they are not motivated to achieve or perform beyond the level they have attained or which is expected of them.
-Overall quality of education
The quality of education my son received was very good. He's had models of achievement as teachers, and he has gained a remarkably rich base of knowledge and self confidence.
My daughter's education was mediocre and provincial, though she has gained a rich cultural experience.
7. At the end of eight years, which of your children could speak, read and write Spanish better?
Both children write and speak Spanish fluently. My son writes in Spanish as well as or better than a native Spanish speaker.
My daughter is more fluent in Catalan, and has a better understanding of Catalan grammar.
8. How is your daughter's spoken and written English compared to that of your son when he was the same age?
My daughter's spoken and written English is not at the same level as my son's at the same age. Her English is very good, and beyond that of her former English teacher or classmates, but she doesn't like to read.
9. If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently?
If I could do it all over again, and if I could afford to do so, I would send my daughter to ASB
This article was amended on December 15th at the request of the interviewee.