Saturday, May 12, 2012

Private International Schools: Harry Potter and other Differences

LBean is entering her third term of school and it’s been interesting observing the differences in her school and an American school.  (**My disclaimer is that I am comparing the elementary school of my childhood memories.  I’m sure that American elementary schools are also a bit different now too.)  I really assumed that a British school and an American school would be alike, but there are differences.  From what I’ve been told, the differences really have more to do with the fact that it is an international school and that the school is different than a traditional British school, too.

Here are some differences that I have noticed:

Summer Uniform
  1. Uniforms-This is an obvious difference and I really like not having to fight LBean every morning about what she’s going to wear.
  2. Buses-Even the buses are different here.  Each school uses a bus that looks like a charter bus (and so do businesses to get their employees to work).  LBean was very glad to find out that they all had seat-belts and I was glad to know that there were bus monitors on each bus.  The teachers also ride the charter buses, although before and after the students do, to get from their apartment compounds to school and back. 
  3. The school year is longer.  I don’t know that they actually attend school more days than students in the US, but the school year stretches out longer.  School began at the end of August and the school year wraps up at then end of June.  LBean’s school year is divided into three terms.  The longer school breaks allow students to travel back to their home countries and for travel to other countries. 
  4. We found out very quickly that all students at her school learn to read in preschool.  This is very different than the preschools we were familiar with in the States.  I think it is funny that both systems generate highly intelligent students, but both go about reading in very different ways.
  5. Because it is a private school, there are extra staff that are not typically available in a public school in the US.  Each classroom has at least one full-time classroom assistant, usually a Chinese assistant who also speaks English.  There are also extra staff to help hang up decorations and students’ artwork in the hallways (hello, no more late, late nights decorating bulletin boards!), taking photos at events, etc.
  6. No special education staff per se.  There are teachers who help the students who are learning English...I was going to type ESL (English as a Second Language), but for many of the students, English is actually one of three languages they speak (Mandarin, their home country’s language and English).  There is a reading & writing teacher that provides additional support to the students, but there are no speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or physical therapists to provide that very specific instruction.
  7. The school is very open to parents being in the building.  There is a small parent lounge in the school’s common area where parents (and siblings) can come to play, drink coffee, use the Wi-Fi, and get a feel for their child’s school and classroom without intruding in the class.  I really, really like this idea. There is also a play group one morning a week where parents can bring their toddlers to run around and the mothers get a chance to talk and see their older children at school.  Parents are encouraged to volunteer in the classroom, which is no different in the States.  But it was so funny when I agreed to help with the reading groups, the moms for whom English was a second language, were very reluctant to volunteer to help (their reasoning was they felt like their English was not very good-which is not true-and so how could they help the students say it correctly).  They laughed and said that I could take care of the English & reading groups and they would help plan the parties...done deal!  
  8. The school introduces public speaking and performing from the beginning.  It is such a brilliant idea and the school does a fantastic job of giving the students many opportunities to be in front of an audience, but not just for the “big” productions like a Christmas concert.  Each Monday, LBean’s school has an all-school assembly for the younger students.  The children sit on the floor in the common area and often-times a class will stand up right where they are and perform a song from music class.  This gives them a chance to perform, but not on stage and in a very low-key manner.  On Fridays there is a joint assembly with the elementary students and the middle school students.  Each week a different class is selected to perform (LBean’s class presented on toys, their topic for first term) in front of all the students.  The middle school students take turn announcing house points (more on that in a second).  After-school clubs like LBean’s ballet class, also perform at the Friday assemblies.  It’s just a great way to routinely get the students in front of others without the pressure of this “is the big production of the year.”  It also spreads out the number of parents at school at any given time.

Here LBean (in the blue) is singing a song for Chinese New Year.  
She loved singing the song because at one part it says
"shake your butt" and since we don't say 'butt' in our house, 
the scandalousness was very exciting for her.

A song from LBean's class presentation on "toys".

9.  It’s all very Harry Potter!  Because it is a British school, they have striped scarves that match their uniforms, the school is divided into “houses” (LBean is in Anand house) with house colors, and the students earn points based on behavior and performance.  Harry Potter makes even more sense now!
10.  LBean now takes the “rubbish” to the “rubbish bin,” erases her pencil marks with a “rubber” (yeah, that one makes me pause too), and gets “cross” with me sometimes.  Some times we must do things "straight away".

The glassed off portion is the parents' lounge.

The covered playground.
LBean's Bus


  1. Oh my, such nostalgia for me!!! I taught music and P.E. in a British Intertnational School in Bangkok in 1965/66 and it doesn't sound like things have changed much!! Not only that, I grew up using a rubber at the end of my pencil,took out the rubbish, was in a "house" at school,got "cross" with my siblings at times, and was ordered to clean my bedroom straight away!!!! I loved reading this Kara!

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed it! I find all of the differences and similarities so interesting. We all manage to bring up highly intelligent students and I think it is fascinating that it is done in such different ways!