After a REEEEAAAAALLLLLLY long summer, we were all ready for school to start. The girls had been on summer break since the end of May, and the first day of school in Spain was September 12. During those months, we were pretty busy. We:
- Packed up our house,
- hiked in Yellowstone with family,
- rode horses in Big Sky Montana with family,
- rode bikes in Glacier National Park with friends,
- spent time with dear friends in Washington,
- visited the Pacific coast in Anacortes,
- played pickleball in Bellingham with friends,
- met up with our friends from Ecuador in Tacoma,
- picked up our visas in Miami,
- ate tasty food in Little Havana,
- swam in the sun in Hilton Head,
- cozied in a cabin with cousins in Greenville,
- acted at the Clemson Little Theater,
- tubed in Lake Hartwell,
- swimming and splashing while saying goodbye to friends,
- said goodbye to our house,
- packed 4 suitcases for the year,
- flew to Spain,
- took a train to Granada,
- moved into our new house in the Albaicin,
- splashed in the Mediterranean Sea at the Balcony of Europe in Nerja with friends from the States,
- brushed up on Spanish with three weeks of classes at a language school,
- spent a week with friends in Santiago de Compostela.
Whew! It was a wonderfully full and fun-packed summer. And we were ready for school and a routine at long last.
Questions, questions, and more questions
We had so many questions before school started… Were the girls indeed registered at the school? What were the hours of school? Is there recess? Do you take a snack for recess? What kinds of school supplies do we need? Who would their teacher be? How many kids would be in their classes? Where are their classrooms? What type of clothes to wear to school? Where do they go when they arrive?
Fortunately, we got to visit the school the day before school started, so we had an answer to some of the questions:
- Yes, the girls were indeed registered for school. Whew!!
- School day is from 9-2. However, the first day started at 11:00.
- Yes, the students pack a healthy snack to eat during recess, and no, we were not registered for lunch at school (which was served at 2:00).
- Serena is in Marta’s class, and Ida was going to be Ali’s teacher. There were about 25 students in each class.
- We also learned that MANY new international families would be starting at the school this year. Many families’ plans to move to Spain were delayed due to the pandemic, so this year everyone was making their dreams a reality.
- The teachers would share the school supplies list once class started.
- Girls enter through the back entrance, and the first day they will be sorted into their classes.
Whew! We all felt a little more comfortable and ready for the first day.
The First Day
Here’s they are: Serena is ready for her 1st day of 6th grade, and Ali is ready for 4th grade. (6th grade is part of elementary school here.)
When we arrived at school, it was a bit crazy with families meeting up after summer break, and new families like us taking it all in.
The principal said a few words of welcome, and the kids were grouped into their classes. It was not a sorting like at Hogwarts but rather, cones with an attendance list of each class. There are two classes for each grade so the school is much smaller than Clemson Elementary.
Our family likes to celebrate the first day of school with a special cake. We light candles and talk about our wishes for the school year. This year, learning Spanish and making new friends are at the top of the list.
Welcome Back: Sueños
The Monday after school started there was a welcome back for the families. It had a special theme this year because every 4 years, they go through a visioning process where students, parents, and community members share their dreams (sueños) and wishes for the school. The students prepared a fun dance to kick off the evening.
This dance makes me sooo happy. Ali was so excited for it. They rehearsed all week at recess. You can see her in the pants and pink hat. Serena wasn’t there because she had her first orchestra practice. I loved that the kids were into it, but also the teachers and principals were dancing too. (They’re the tall ones at the back). Do you think this could happen at our school back home? I can’t imagine teachers, administration, and students getting into it like here, but it sure was fun and wonderful for community building 🙂
The rest of the night, parents discussed and wrote down their wish lists for the school. And the idea is that after collecting all of these ideas, the school comes up with a plan, committees and steps to implement the ideas.
The Girls’ Classes
I would love for Serena and Ali to create a guest post, so you can hear their perspective on the first month of school. But, you’ll get my input.
We knew this was a public school all in Spanish, and we knew that it had many international students. It was a strong reason that we chose the school because we thought it might make it easier to find friends who were going through the same thing. The school has a language and cultural support program to help kids by pulling them out for extra support once every two weeks. They tested the kids the first week, and Serena doesn’t need the classes. It so impressive how much her Spanish has come back. She’s already writing more fiction stories in Spanish.
Serena and Ali were lucky to have a strong base of Spanish before the start of school, so they have interpreted for some of the other kids from their class. One girl in Ali’s class that doesn’t know very much Spanish, and there are other English-speaking kids who have been at the school for more than a year. Ali’s good friends so far are from Bermuda, London, Canada, and California (which is practically another country for us :D). It might take her longer to master Spanish, but she has no shortage of friends.
Serena said that over half of her class is from another country or has a parent from another country. Amazing! Serena has been really helpful for the other new student in her class from Norway who doesn’t know any Spanish. Since she’s also blond, many of the kids in her class think they are twins 🙂
Serena has a blog post about the First Week of School. You can find it HERE on Serena’s Blog.
The ceiling is falling?!
Ali had a little extra excitement the first week of class. The ceiling in the classrooms of the 4th and 5th graders was supposedly fixed over the summer, but little pieces started falling down. So, after spending days decorating their classroom, they had to move out. The school is old, and not very large, so they school is having to be very creative and flexible. Ali’s class is now in the gym with the other 4th grade class (with a divider between the classes).
Since they had to move the 5th graders too, they moved all 5th graders into Serena’s 6th grade classroom, and her class moved into the other 6th grade classroom. That made for 50 kids and 2 teachers in a classroom! Ugh. Thankfully, Serena said that the teachers do a great job of keeping the kids in order. Serena’s class has now moved to the cafeteria. Apparently things aren’t as fast moving as in the States, so now it’s been 50 days and the ceiling hasn’t been fixed yet. Oh well. It’s part of learning to be flexible that is a huge part of this whole international experience. And, I do hope they’ll get it fixed soon.
The same day that the ceiling started to crumble, Ali got a new teacher. It turned out that her teacher was pregnant, so instead of her leaving halfway through the schoolyear, they switched the teacher now. Ali’s new teacher is Pablo and so far so good.
The first week was dedicated to community and team-building activities. Ali’s class didn’t get into any academic content until 6 days in. (Not all schools are like this here though.)
The whole school is out at recess at the same time. It’s pretty crazy out there. Since lunch isn’t until 2:00, kids have sandwiches for snack.
The teachers are also the special subject teachers. For example, Serena’s teacher is also their art teacher and is the French teacher for several classes. The PE teacher also has a 3rd grade class. Oh, and the principal teaches a few classes. It’s interesting and sure makes for a lot of prep for the teachers.
Serena has a French class. So, she’ll be catching up with the students who have studied it for a year.
The girls have a special class called Valores (Values), where they learn about values and being good community members and citizens. In her first class, Ali and her classmates gave notes with compliments to each other, and Serena’s class talked about doing favors for other people.
Hmmm… I’m trying to think of other differences, but I’ll have to ask the girls to do it. For me, the biggest change is having to prepare 3 meals at home. Meal prep is a lot, especially since I usually send sandwiches for their snack, which take is off as a lunch option, but it’s fun to talk at mealtimes together.
Oh, and I’m liking the 9 am start time. I love living so close to school. There have been several days that we leave home at 8:57 and make it to school on time. #NeverinClemson
Serena also has a blog post about the differences from school here and in the US. You can find it HERE on Serena’s Blog.
The girls’ school day ends at 2:00, and then they come home for lunch. It makes for a very long afternoon, so we were happy to have some extracurricular activities for the girls.
We wanted the girls to continue their activities from the US, so we researched music lessons for the girls before we arrived. We’ve found some other options since we’ve been here.
Ali was very excited about her piano teacher because she’s lots of fun. Her teacher is from Canada, so Ali gets to take her weekly lessons in English. A nice surprise was that her teacher here uses the same approach/books as Ali’s teacher back home, so it will be good continuity. I just wish I’d brought those books with us!
Ali was inspired by the flamenco show that we attended, so we found flamenco dance lessons for her. She loves it so far and dances around the house twirling her hands like an expert flamenco dancer.
We found a music school near our house for violin lessons for Serena. Her lessons are in Spanish, so that is totally new, and she also got to join the orchestra. She was really excited about this since she wasn’t able to join the youth orchestra in Greenville that she’d been selected for before we left. It’s been a bit of a challenge because the don’t use C-D-E-F-G-A-B like we do in the States. It is going to be a lot of new vocabulary.
Serena started playing volleyball last year in Clemson, and we found a volleyball team that seems like it’s right on her level. The girls are older, but the players her age are as tall as Ali. They play with lower nets and a smaller court, so Serena was happy to bump up to this team.
As for us, Chad’s found a soccer team to play with. It’s guys from our neighborhood, so it’s been a fun way for him to be active, meet people, and speak Spanish. They play at 9pm on Thursday nights. Friday nights Chad plays pickup basketball. He’s also very keen on improving his Spanish fluency, so he’s taking a couple of private lessons each week and has been listening to a real estate investor podcast in Spanish.
I’ve found a yoga studio that I really love. I hadn’t attended an in-person class in a really long time. It’s downtown, so it gives me a good reason to head down the hill once a week. I’ve also started taking a Zumba class at our local community center. I’m still looking for English students 🙂 I have met other expat friends and have had fun meeting up for coffee, touring the city, riding bikes, and hanging out. And there’s always grocery shopping, laundry, and meal preparation. It’s amazing how my days fly by.
It’s been nice to be in a routine, and with our new friends and activities, we’re feeling more at home here.