Chinese School

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School in China was one of our biggest obstacles. There are really just 5 options, and each one is about twice as expensive as the one below it. And here they are listed from most to least expensive:

  • International school. Cost: ludricrous
  • Bilingual school (Chinese or foreign). Cost: insane
  • Chinese private school. Cost: crazy
  • Chinese public school. Cost: expensive
  • Homeschool. Cost: about as much as 1 semester of college tuition (when I attended a state school many moons ago).

International schools cost $20-25,000 per year PER STUDENT. (Roughly 125-155,000 RMB.) In case you couldn’t guess, $100-125,000 per year for school just refused to fit anywhere into our budget. Chinese bilingual schools cost about half that—so $50,000 a year for 5 kids. It’s half the cost, but still outrageous and untouchable. Chinese private schools are roughly half the cost of bilingual schools, about $25,000 per year for all 5 kids. It’s starting to sound pretty good compared to the international schools, but it’s still not doable. Chinese public schools (can you guess?) are about half the cost of private, $2-3,000 per year per student, or $10-12,000 per year for 5 kids. Ok, FINALLY. Something that’s sounding reasonable (…only because we heard the ridiculously expensive tuition of the other schools first!). And the last option is homeschool. We would have to hire a tutor for Chinese (since I am most definitely not qualified to teach that subject). The rest of the curriculum and materials would only cost $1000-$1500 for a year for all 5 kids but…it might also cost me my sanity. :) Tough choice.

Since we had no idea if we would be accepted into any Chinese public school, I made a backup homeschool plan. I decided that if we did get into Chinese school, I could homeschool in the summer in order to keep the kids caught up with U.S. Curriculum. And if we didn’t, I would have the homeschool curriculum ready to go. So I bit the bullet and did it. After lots of research I made my choice, bought a full homeschool curriculum for the kids for the bargain price of $1200, and had it shipped off to China with the rest of household goods. Just in case.

With the help of a Chinese-speaking friend, we enrolled Kaylee, Jasmine, and Trevin in the local Chinese school right next to our home.  It took them the better part of a day to get them registered, but they were in!  Yea!  The only catch was that they would only allow them into 1st grade since students are required to pass a test—in Chinese—to enter into any other grade. Obviously, our kids wouldn’t be able to pass any sort of test in Chinese. So, they accepted our 8, 8, and 6 year old into the same first grade class. (They would not accept Michael, age 10, because they said he was too old for 1st grade.   And we agreed.) They let us try it out for 1 month before having to commit for an entire semester.

School began at 7:45 and ended at 3:15. It sounded like a long day to me, especially since Chinese school is very academic. (Recess…what’s that?) And even lunch wouldn’t offer much of a respite, having to speak Chinese, and eat Chinese cafeteria food. I knew it wouldn’t be anything like American schools.

Todd and I walked the 3 kids to school that first day, and into their new first grade class. I was nervous for the kids, but I did my best to put on a this-is-so-exciting face for them. We told their new teacher, Mrs. Sun (Sun Laoshi) their Chinese names, since she didn’t speak any English. When she introduced our shy, nervous children to the class—in Chinese—I had to fight back tears when my fears almost got the better of me. Because at that moment I realized our two English speaking children didn’t even recognize their own Chinese names. Wow. This was going to be rough, and instead of comforting my children, I had to turn and walk out the door, and out of the school. All day I prayed just one silent, fervent prayer: that my children would feel comfortable and not afraid.

That afternoon I made the brisk walk to the school to pick up the kids. I was so anxious to find out if/how they survived their first day of Chinese school. To my astonishment and relief, I brought home three smiling, bubbling children! They were so excited to tell me about school. They actually liked it! Hallelujah!!! My prayers were heard, and answered in a big way.  Even into the next two weeks, when the new was wearing off, they talked about school and how they especially loved the cafeteria lunches. Ha ha! Chinese cafeteria lunches…who would have guessed.

Homework was another story. No one talked about how they liked the homework. Quite the opposite, since it took them hours to complete. We got home from school at 3:45 each day, had a quick snack and started homework by 4:00. They (more like “we”) worked on their Chinese homework until around 6:00, ate dinner, showered, and went to bed. It was a very long day without much of a break.

In order to pass to the next grade, the kids would have to test out of the current grade (1st grade). When Jasmine brought her first test home about 3 ½ weeks into school, I saw the writing on the wall. If our fluent, native Mandarin speaker could not pass this small test, what chance did our other two children have with the “big” test? Jasmine had only completed a little more than half of the test, and much of what she had completed was incorrect. They only had a few short months left to learn a good amount of spoken and written Chinese before they would have to take the 1st grade test. I think Jasmine could have done it if we kept working, but I didn’t want her attending Chinese school without any of her siblings.   So after 4 weeks we brought all 3 kids home.

We have now completed our first month of homeschool…but that’s a whole ‘nuther story. :) Hopefully coming soon.

- Jill

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