Jun 28, 2010

How to Pick an International School

A top priority when moving to a new place is selecting the right school for your young ones. While the move is an exciting event in a child’s life, it is important to make a seamless transition so as not to interrupt their learning.
Attending an international school will prove to be a valuable learning experience for your child. The diverse student body, personal attention of teachers and sense of community found in an international school will leave a lasting impression.

Often, international schools worldwide, and Central Europe included, fit one of three categories: international, American or British. Needless to say, Americans and British will have little trouble finding a school that aligns with the curricula back home. Many schools also offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), whose international scope makes it appealing for students of all nationalities. The program includes six examinations, along with a philosophy course, a 4,000-word essay, the learning of a second language and a community service project. It aims to develop global citizens with critical thinking skills so that students “learn how to learn”.

A typical international school is composed of an Elementary, Middle and High School with principals for each (or at least two for the three levels). Enrollment can vary but will likely be lower than a public school in your home country. In Central Europe, average enrollment is about 800. No matter the classification, the student body will be quite diverse. It is common for international school teachers to switch schools every few years due in part to local labor and tax laws. In my own experience as a student in an international school, teachers are attentive and excited about their work. Mine road the bus with me and encouraged me to get involved in extracurricular activities (also staffed by teachers). It is this constant attention—from the bus morning bus ride to class to play rehearsal after school, that can turn a teacher into a family friend. Be sure to inquire about teacher turnover and extracurricular programs when visiting a potential school.

Local Schools are an Option
If the attendance term will be relatively short (2 to 3 years) and your child is young and not yet taking exams, consider the benefits of attending a local school. Some European state systems offer special language training for foreign children. They will learn the language easily when introduced at a young enough age while making friends and absorbing your new home’s cultures and customs!

Check with your home country’s embassy as they may have a relationship with the school and will likely have staff members with firsthand knowledge. In addition, refer to the questions below when contacting or touring a potential school.

Further Information
--Maps and Listings: International Schools in Budapest, Prague, Moscow, Warsaw, Bratislava and Vienna

--Suggested questions from Dr David Willows, the director of external relations at the International School of Brussels, Belgium and Telegraph.co.uk

Your child
• Does the school have planned activities to assist your child in a positive start to school?
• Do the students seem happy at school?
• How big are the classes?
• What services are available for individual student counselling and university placement?
• How often will you receive information concerning your child's progress?
• If you child has 'special learning needs', how will the school meet these?

The curriculum
• Is the approach child-centered and challenging enough to develop each child's strengths and love of learning?
• Are the course offerings sufficiently extensive to meet your child's needs?
• How many co-curricular activities (arts, sports, clubs, community service) are offered?
• What types of standardized tests are offered, and how do the students perform?
• In the last year, what universities accepted the school's graduates?

The teachers
• What are the expectations for staff about students of high ability, special needs, ESL, other areas?
• Are all the teachers certified?
• Does the school support professional development, so teachers learn and apply 'best practices'?
• What percentage of teachers has earned advanced degrees?
• During your visit, are the teachers available and friendly?

The school
• Is the school accredited?
• How many years has the school existed?
• Are all facilities such as libraries and IT state-of-the-art and well maintained?
• How long will it take for your child to get to school?
• What security precautions is the school taking?
• Were all questions answered in a straight-forward manner with documentation readily offered for claims?

Your involvement
• Does the school have a strong sense of community in which you and your family can play an active and happy role?
• To what extent can you be a partner in your child's learning?
• Does the school offer opportunities for parent education?
• Are there opportunities for you to contribute to the school by sharing your own skills and knowledge?

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