It’s that time of year again! School is on the brain. School uniforms can be seen in every shop, little tents can be seen on the sidewalks selling school supplies at a discount. Here we goooooooo!
School is about to start and the Johnson family has (yet again) the big question looming over our heads: “What will we do about school???” I gotta tell you, I’m am SO OVER asking that question. I’m over it! I have to admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who stays in one place and without much thought or debate knows exactly where their children will go to school each year. I’ll admit to being a bit jealous of everyone who knows what to expect and what supplies to buy how to communicate with the teachers and what is expected of them and their children. But, pity party over. I realize that we will never be those people. Time to suck it up and move on. :)
There are several variables that make schooling a big challenge here. First of all, we seem to be the only foreigners with kids around here. If there are others they must be hiding because no one knows about them and no one has ever seen them. Because our kids are, seemingly, the only foreigners and are not fluent in Ukrainian the schools have no idea what to do with them. ESL type programs are nonexistent here, because everyone is from here! I know that kids learn quickly, and will eventually catch up, but it’s not like Addy can just enter 6th grade here and on day 1 write an essay in Ukrainain. There’s just no way! Addy and Ez will absolutely need help and assignment modification, but if schools have never done that or considered that before, then their answer is usually just to put the kids in first grade over and over so that they don’t fail. Hava will be fine because she’ll do first grade, and Seth will be fine in preschool/kinder, but we are pretty adamant this time around that the schools find some way for Addy and Ez to be with their peers.
There are four schooling options available to us:
1. Local Public School. PROS: Free, great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to go to school with neighbors. CONS: Big class sizes, no ability to modify assignments for our kids, our kids would go to the village school which does not have a good reputation, a public school would not accept Vladik.
We sent Addy and Ezra to our neighborhood public school for a semester in 2014. It was a fine experience. They both did first grade and all went fine. It wasn’t amazing, but it was okay. I would be very hesitant to send them to public school in the upper grades. They are just not equipped to work with us.
2. Local Christian School. PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, opportunity to get to know other Christian families, smaller class sizes. CONS: No desire to modify assignments for our kids, unsure if they would accept Vladik, they have a waiting list right now, so most likely we wouldn’t get in anyway.
We sent Addy and Ezra to this school for a semester in 2014 and it was just okay. They wanted them to continue to repeat first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian…so yeah, probably that’s not the best option for us. NO WAY are we making them repeat first grade again. NOPE.
3. Home School. PROS: We know how to do it. :) No language barrier or cultural barriers, they will not fall behind in study content and English reading and writing, more time together as a family, more time to be involved in ministry as a family. CONS: Social isolation (NO ONE homeschools here), far less exposure to Ukrainian language.
My heart longs for this option. I love homeschooling my kids and and I believe in homeschooling 100%. It is cozy and wonderful and would be BY FAR the easiest option for us. But, we know that we know that is not the option God has for us. If we call Ukraine our home, then we must give our children opportunities to be a part of Ukraine. They will be absolutely isolated if we homeschool, and in a very closed culture we must provide them with opportunities to be with other children and develop language skills. We are already the oddity everywhere we go. We can’t just keep our kids at home. We just know we can’t.
3. Local Ukrainian Private School. PROS: Great opportunity for social integration, taught 100% in Ukrainian, smaller class sizes, a desire to integrate our kids and modify assignments for them, open to Vladik. CONS: We don’t really know anyone there so it’s starting all over.
This is the obvious choice for us at this point. :)
We met with the director of the private school this last week and the meeting was super positive. She was full of energy, and right away it was obvious that the director and the teachers were excited to have our kids. It was like they were excited to accept the challenge, which is a huge blessing to us. We don’t want to feel like our kids are a burden to the school. They are open to putting Addy and Ezra with their peers which is a HUGE blessing to us! Maybe the most miraculous moment in the meeting was their reaction to Vladik. There was not one moment when they debated if they would accept Vladik into the school. They looked at him and were like “Okay, now let’s decide where we should place Vladik.” Not “if”, but “where”. Miraculous. We were almost positive that by bringing Vladik back to Ukraine that we were basically deciding he would never get more education at a school, because Special Ed does not exist here. What a big surprise and blessing that they are willing to take him, and WANT to take him. YAY!!!
At this point it looks like Addy will be in 5th class, Ezra will be in 4th class, Hava will be in 1st class, Seth will be in kindergarten, and Vladik…we’re still up in the air about him. He will need a one-on-one who will help him in the classroom, and then take him out part of the time for individual instruction. The school needs to find and hire a teacher for him, and then they will need to figure out which classroom is the best fit for him. If you could pray that they find the best person for him that would be great! It needs to be someone who will treasure Vladik and love him for who he is, yet not be afraid to push him to meet his full potential.
They are basically having us fill out a form that says Addy and Ezra have special needs, as well as Vladik. This will enable the school to legally modify their assignments and give them their grades based on modified work. We explained to the staff that our desire for our kids is language acquisition and social integration. We don’t really care about their grades. Seriously, grades are the least of our worries! It is a battle to get educators here to realize that for Addy and Ezra this is not a problem of intellect, but completely a problem of language. They are smart! They do amazing at school! They just don’t have the level of Ukrainian they need to be able to function like the other students. They don’t need to be in second grade at 10 and 12 years of age, they need to be with their peers where they are socially motivated to reach their potential.
I have no idea how it will all pan out, but at least for now we have a plan and a school that is welcoming us with open arms. The learning curve will be outrageously steep, especially for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah. We’ll also need to figure out how they can get content and practice in English language stuff without burning them out…yikes. I’m super nervous for them, well for all of us, but trusting God that He will give them everything they need.
I’ll keep you posted as we go!