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Humans...and a Simple Message

By       Message Rachel Gladstone-Gelman       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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There is no great and powerful Oz. Not here, anyway.

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.

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Now what happens indoors? Let me go backwards. My ninth-grader takes the school bus and gets there in one piece. Having driven behind a multitude of school buses in New York, a calm and safe ride to school is not a different country but a different planet. Once she gets there, she can learn. I wish this weren't so momentous. She then, with effort, can find a seat in a very crowded lunch room in order to...eat. This wasn't the case in her previous schools. If students weren't trying to take her food they were throwing theirs. She can walk through the halls without having to defend her person, self-respect or freshman status. Yes, we were hoping for all this civility in the New World, but to have it realized almost puts "me" in a trance.

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?

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It is the beginning of the school year for many students. Others have already begun on a different, modified schedule (elementary) open to all. Students have been shifted between classes, as in the U.S. Parents have opportunities to meet with teachers, as in the U.S. At our elementary school, physical education takes place daily, even when gym class isn't scheduled. NOT in the U.S. One of the subject teachers, instead, works physical activity into their time slot. Lunches have to be prepared carefully, as nuts and nut products are banned due to the potential for severe allergic reactions. They don't provide breakfast and have to charge for lunch items you order in advance. It may be a partial fundraiser, but more of it seems to go to paying the higher costs that the school had to pass on to the families. And we needed to purchase a second pair of sneakers for indoor use also at the elementary school, even though there's a custodian. Shoes and the indoors seem to be a general no-no, but my son has already gotten confused over which pair to wear and no one has yelled at us. I've seen the school floor at the end of the day. Students in the upper elementary grades study the ukulele, recorder or trumpet. And a school agenda for each child, which parents need to purchase for a fairly nominal fee, is a spiral-bound half-tome that should aid organization, ending a lot of lost paperwork and posing more of a challenge for the dog or cat to eat.

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?

 

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Rachel emigrated to Canada in the summer of 2006.- She has an M.A. in Teaching ESOL, and her poetry, short stories and articles have appeared in print and online. Rachel is a member of Fair Vote Canada.

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