Monday, January 31, 2011

A tales of two screenings: Part II

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent a few mornings in school screenings. One of those meant accompanying a friend to language testing at SFUSD. Another brought Portland, Tacoma, and me to the lobby of French American International School, checking in for a private school evaluation.

Since it was a weekend, I’d thought the campus would be empty. But the lobby was busy, not only with the arrivals of about 15 or so other families also joining in that particular evaluation time, but with bigger boys and girls, welcoming visitors and chatting among themselves. They were all wearing name tags, and we quickly learned that these were FAIS middle school students. They and their parents, along with the FAIS admissions team, were there to greet us and help guide us through the evaluation.

We were all taken to an elementary school classroom, where the children had a chance to draw pictures and play with toys for a few minutes. The kids all looked fine – it was all of us parents, standing with arms folded, chatting nervously, who seemed more on edge. Then it was time to go.

The FAIS students gently gathered the smaller children and escorted them to the evaluation rooms. Tacoma looked up at the older girl who offered to guide her, smiled shyly, gave us a little wave, and set off. A group of current FAIS parents then led all the grown-ups upstairs to wait. As we walked upstairs, one little girl was still in the classroom, sobbing, clutching a pair of blocks, clinging to her parents. My heart went out to her, and her mom and dad, as we left them and the FAIS team to sort it out.

Upstairs, where we waited for about an hour-and-a-half, things were happily low-key. There were no formal presentations or interviews. FAIS Admissions Director Andrew Brown and Associate Admissions Director Coumba Diouf seemed to divide their time between upstairs and downstairs, sometimes appearing to chat casually with waiting parents. Our most constant company came from current FAIS parents and students. The middle school students, especially, made a point of introducing themselves, asking if we had any questions, and chatting animatedly about their school life at FAIS – which teachers they loved, which classes were hard, and which sports they preferred.

Then, it was time to go back downstairs. As we waited in the same classroom as before, our children came running back in, escorted again by a middle school student. Tacoma was one of the last to return, all smiles. Like the others, she had a small card, decorated with stickers, hung by a piece of yarn around her neck.

What was the card for, we asked? She smiled, and said “For fun!” Where did the stickers come from? She replied that she got one every time she “visited a teacher.” What did she do with the teachers? “We played, and talked about shapes, and drew a “B” in a box.” My best guess is that FAIS teachers or evaluators were each manning different activity stations, and the children rotated through the stations trying different tasks. Mostly, though, Tacoma just said she had fun, and then shifted to lobbying us for a burrito for lunch (chicken with avocado, with a lot of chips on the side, soon please!).

Highlights:

  • The FAIS team, including current families, went to great lengths to make us and our daughter felt welcome and comfortable.
  • Based on the number of stickers on Tacoma’s tag, she did a lot of different activities during the evaluation. Some seemed to be related to shapes and letters of the alphabet, but I’m not sure what many others involved.
  • There are a lot of things we like about FAIS, but as at the Open House, it is the school’s students who stole the show. The middle school students who helped take care of their young visitors and us nervous parents were all polite, articulate, thoughtful, confident, and clearly intelligent. Yes, I know, those students were also hand-picked for the task, but they represented their school well, and we all appreciated their efforts.

Others out there on the private school application circuit, how’s it going? I know there’s a lot to say about different evaluations. I’ve only got time for this one right now, but you can also see more stories in a screenings thread on the site’s community forums.

4 comments:

  1. We've done 5 screenings with 1 to go, and I have to say I think the schools do a nice job with the kids. My daughter always skips out happily, saying, "I want to go to THIS school, Mommy!" I haven't seen any tears or tantrums, either. Every place has provided coffee and refreshments, and parents to chat with while the kids do their screenings. I've learned a lot from those sessions.

    Same with the parent interviews -- the admissions directors have been warm, friendly, and down-to-earth. We haven't had a bad experience yet. We're not assuming that this means anything about our chances of getting in, but we appreciate the efforts to put us at ease.

    Now the financial aid forms, on the other hand ... those are making me tear my hair out.

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  2. I really felt that FAIS' learning style caters to girls. Anyone else pick up on this?

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  3. I see that greatschools.org has taken down their (mainly bad) reviews of French American International School, and am wondering what that's about.

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  4. I have two boys who have done very well at FAIS, with one now at International High School there. I don't think the style is particularly suited to girls (both of my boys are science and math types, btw), but it is NOT suited toward kids with ADHD or learning differences. The bilingual part makes the learning different kids have an extremely difficult time, and the French expect kids to be well behaved and polite, which can be difficult for some ADHD kids.

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