Call the local elementary school and get a whiff of the one-room schoolhouse.
During interviews at our elementary and high (secondary) schools, we were given significant amounts of time to listen and be heard by at least three people, including the principal. More listening, more face-to-face contact, less paperwork. Did Deborah Kerr ever teach in northern Toronto? My home schooling records were taken seriously and, luckily, even the New York Home School authorities were given merciful leeway, of which we were the recipients. My detailed e-request for previously-offered-but-never-provided letters of affirmed compliance with NYSHS laws was either not received or ignored, something thus far taken in stride by both schools. They'd prefer to have those letters, but are letting the students' performance speak for itself.
Students respected by the system. Where's a defibrillator? My daughter was so happy with the head of the Main Office at the elementary school that she left the building in a trance. And on the first day of school, we met the crossing guard. She really is as pleasant as great coffee. I learned that she, too, is not from around here. We were discussing a chilly morning and she mentioned not having grasped Celsius. So we spoke Fahrenheit. At the school, we came upon numerous parent volunteers who direct traffic within school grounds where it is sorely needed. They put their hearts into it. In contrast to the pollution-choked, hopelessly crowded blocks surrounding our previous schools, a human traffic light off the main drag, another equally-cheerful crossing guard immediately onto the main drag and fewer people to shepherd along, you can walk, breath and be polite all at the same time. Even in high school.
Waiting in the schoolyard for my second- and sixth-graders is a live-action retrospective of "The Way We Were", or the way we may never have been back in the U.S. I suppose, if you work really hard, you could imagine these children beating each other up; then again...and I am probably the only parent present who doesn't know EVERYONE. As it happens, other parents want to help change that. One mother I met during the morning line-up on the first day has, basically, insisted that we have coffee at her home. We're in the same neighborhood, she knows I'm new and wants me to feel less new. With the general calm of acceptance, respect and how naturally expected they are, along with the communal nature among students and their families at the elementary school level, the rush is on to shed most of my New York training.
No, not everything is idyllic. The cell phone my ninth-grader borrowed from me was already missing from her locker within the first week. She filled out a Lost and Found report. There was a lock (that we provided) on it but it's questionable just how secure it was, safecracker or not. We gave her a new padlock which was removed altogether, with nothing missing from the locker, although she had decided to take everything except her backpack with her, anyway. As a result and upon my direction, she has turned to the principal twice over this. He switched her locker and gave her a padlock. On a lighter note, students begin studying French in the fourth grade here, so she has to continue with tenth-grade Spanish. Her classes have about thirty students in them. Her siblings have about ten fewer in theirs, although Ontario has it in sight to make all classes smaller with more teachers. Otherwise, her teachers speak too quickly and at least one writes too small. Maybe it's because there are only four courses per semester, each class seventy-five minutes long, in addition to better teachers and/or teaching methods, but she still feels as though she has learned more in the first week of school here than in most of her public schooling in New York. Are you listening, Bloomberg and Klein?
It will be interesting to experience how the Canadian system of education works once we really get underway, though I've already been apprised that it is not immune to the occasional bad-apple teacher. But with the relief of leaving No Child Left Behind behind, it's already easier to get up with the birds. Am I just being optimistic? Or is it possible that this new immigrant of Canada really does understand?