Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Madness of School Registration!


In Saudi Arabia, if you want your child to go to a nice school, you have to pay tuition. However, you can send your child to public school for free-but all the classes are in Arabic! 

Before coming here, I researched every international school in Jeddah, that had a website. Schools here are like businesses, so some were presented very well on their websites, while others were not in English.

When I arrived here in June, all the schools were off for summer break and all the staff were gone for vacation. Administration and office staff do not stay on campus during the summer. So, I could not visit any campuses to see how they looked. However, I did find out from the websites that administrators usually return one week before school starts. Starting on September 1st, I began calling the schools to set up an appointment for a tour. Not one school picked up the phone! After 2 days of me and Sohail both calling all the schools that we were considering, we began to get worried. On facebook pages from parents in Jeddah, we began hearing that many of the schools were full and had no space. I became so frustrated that no one picked up the phone and got concerned that all these schools must be bad if they can’t pick up the phone. 

So, I reached out to Jeddah mom groups  on facebook. The advice that I received was that I needed to actually go to these schools in person, to find out if there were any spaces for my children. So, that is what Sohail and I did. The first school that we visited said that there may not be a spots for the kids, but that we could sign them up on the waiting list. The office staff said that we could bring the kids back the next day for an entrance exam. Yes people, that is the norm here. All International schools “test” each and every child, so that they will know if the child is ready for the grade level. I have also heard that some schools make spots available based on your country of origin. 

So, frantic….we went ahead and picked up the kids and took them back to the school for testing. The 2nd grade test lasted 20 minutes and the 4th grade test was over an hour! I know! This is insane! I was then told on the spot that my daughter “passed” but that I would receive a phone call the next day to hear if my son passed or not. I guess they needed time to grade his lengthy test!

So, worried that he may not pass the test, we went ahead and visited the other schools. EVERY school we visited did not have spaces for both children. They had space for either one or the other. Now we began panicking yet hopeful that the kids would be accepted to the first school. So we went to bed, went to work the next day and waited for the phone call. At 1:00, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I called the school…..and guess what? He passed the test and there was a space available for both of them now! Yeah!!!!!!!

However, this is not the end of our literal "school shopping" and registration process. Now, I was told to come to the school before 2pm and pay the fees. So, I got a taxi (since women can’t drive here) and I told the guy to go fast, so that I could get to the school in time. I made it in time and was told to pay the fees. Now, keep in mind, I have not even filled out the registration papers yet. I thought that I would only be paying the registration fee but was told that I needed to pay (for both kids) ½ of the tuition, the book fee and the uniform fee.  I guess the schools here want to make sure that you will actually pay the money, before they allow the child to start school. 

Since I didn’t have that much cash with me for both the kids, I asked the office lady what to do. I told her that we have the money, but not with us. She said I could pay the registration fee and ½ of ½ of the tuition for each child. So, I did that and now and she garaunteed that their spot would be held. Yipee!!!!! In spite of the insanity of the registration process, the office staff were very nice and respectful to one another as well as me and the other parents. I think this is a good sign of the type of school atmosphere that they have. The teachers were coming in and out also, as they were the ones testing the kids. I noticed that the principal had to sign off and approve each child’s entry. In the end, it seemed like they had a good routine of what they were doing even though I was freaking out inside and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do! 

Each of the grade levels also start on a different day of the week. This is also the first year,  EVER that I will be able to take the kids to their first day of school!

When I mentally recover, I may write about the joys of finding a Kindergarten school for our youngest child! 

Thanks for reading and I know my American friends and family, that you are probably feeling truly blessed to be living in America and not have to worry about this hassle! But, if it weren’t for all of this drama, I would have nothing to write about. I hope everyone has a great school year!

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