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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Out With The Old, In With The New

Just three days into the new school year and already it has been a huge eye opener for me.  Firstly, unlike British schools, whether public or private, our school has no formal or standardized uniform/dress code.  Students are basically free to wear whatever.  I saw kids in shorts with long sleeve shirts; others had long pants with shirt-sleeve shirts.   A few kids were wearing shorts and flip-flops, although the temperature this morning was @ 5C. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
A couple wore hats/caps.  Some kids had coats on; others wore thin, loose fitting sweaters or windbreaker type jackets.  None of this would’ve been permissible at any of our previous schools.   We’re accustomed to having one set of clothing, worn by every student, whether boy or girl.   Strict compliance was not only expected of everyone, but rigorously enforced by school staff.     
Hairstyles varied just as much as clothing.  Lots of the boys’ sported spiky haircuts.  Can you say hair gel overload?  I saw a few “Bob Marley” look-a-likes running around.   One child had a Mohawk, and a diamond studded (fake, obviously) earring!   His haircut brought back vivid memories of a child from our previous school who, came to school with his hair frizzed up, as if he’d stuck his finger into an electrically socket.   He was publicly berated, by the school, in an Email to every parent, as an example of how NOT to cut your child’s hair. Poorly handled by school staff, I think.  Why didn’t the school handle this privately, instead of going public, is anyone’s guess.
The girls too were making their own fashion statements.  Haircuts were far less important to them.  Instead, it was all about having the latest, most modern and up-to-date school book bag.  Many substituted backpacks with airline approved carryon luggage trolleys to haul around their belongings.  Backpacks, on the other hand, were very popular with boys.     
Jewellery, fingernail/toenail polish and hair accessories were also very popular with girls.   A lot of them wore brightly colored bows of all different types, shapes, sizes, and colors.  Fingernail and toe nail polish, of all colors, appeared to be in fashion too.    Again, none of this would’ve been allowed at our last school, unless it was a certain color, size or style.  Uniformity is everything, right down to hair braids, clips and bows.     
I’m happy to see our new school being so open minded and liberal with students, allowing them to freely express themselves.  A completely different approach from the British system, the only system we’ve known. 
For now he’s managing well.  But I suspect his attitude and opinion will gradually change to fit the model of his new school, and that of his new friends.    And in due time, I suppose, ours will too.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Meet The Taecher Day

We arrived a little late at Orientation Day.  For whatever reason, the bus ride ended several stops short of where we needed to change buses.  That meant walking part of the way, on foot, to catch our connecting bus.  When we finally did arrive at the school, things hadn’t even kicked off.  All that running and worrying for nothing.  When things finally did get started, we heard from four senior administrators. For a school this size, over 1,700 pupils, I guess you need that many, in order for things to run smoothly.

The school is divided up into two tracks, German and English, both of which have an elementary and high school section.   Each school has its own principal.  One of the four principles acts as the managing director.

During the briefing, we learned quite a few interesting facts about the school, one being that JFK is not a private, international school, but rather a German public school.  And, there are close to 40 different nationalities represented at the school.  Of all the interesting factoids and subject matter presented to us that afternoon, the one that stood out for us was being told by the current managing director that,  “We all should feel proud of ourselves for having made it into the school.”

Hearing him say that made us pause.  Should all of us really feel proud for having gotten in, I wonder?  Is securing a spot here like winning the lottery?  For some parents, perhaps yes.  But for many others though, that might not be the case.  

Of course we’re happy to be part of a legendary school, one that’s been in Berlin for more than 50 years. That’s a no brainer.   But saying we all should be so grateful for the opportunity to be here, comes off sounding less than humble.  Btw, of the three schools we applied to in Berlin, each one sent us an acceptance letter. 

Following the briefing, parents and children were handed over to their child’s homeroom teacher, giving them an opportunity to see their child’s classroom and speak directly with the teacher.  It was here that we met Mr. Jones. 

Like our son, Mr. Jones holds dual German/American citizenship.  To our surprise, he also graduated from JFK, first enrolling at the school in 3rd grade. For roughly thirty minutes or so, it was just us and three other families (all boys), speaking with Mr. Jones about everything under the sun---mostly classroom issues.  In our opinion, Mr. J certainly made a good first impression. 

School starts Monday morning @8 a. m.   I’m looking forward to it, but can’t say the same for the school boy.    He’s nervous, albeit very well disguised.