School Admissions: The Saga Continues

December 22, 2008

So we got back from Lakshadweep this morning. I haven’t had time to download photos or write it up yet, that will be coming up in the next few days. Meanwhile, here’s a couple of posts I wrote earlier, but didn’t have time to publish.

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The search for a suitable school for the twins is still underway, and things are hotting up. A couple of weeks ago, for some reason now lost in the mists of time, we decided to apply to the Gear foundation. The website said to apply early, so we thought we’d already left it too late, but we put in our application anyway and we got a call the very next day. Could we please register before 4 p.m.today and attend the parent interaction session at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow?

We could, and we did. It seemed that getting invited for the interaction indicated that you were through. That seemed too easy to be true, but at the interaction the reasins became clearer. Gear was starting a new school and wanted the first batch of enrolments for a session starting in mid-December. Normally, the school year starts in June, though in the Montessori system kids join whenever they turn two-and-a-half. Gear, for its first batch at this new school, would take kids upto about 4 years old, try and get all the kids accustomed to the Montessori method by April, then close for the summer holidays and re-open with a fresh batch of admissions in June.

While getting into the very first batch of anything always has some problems, this particular situation had several problems over and above that. First, the only infrastructure currently in place was a large, bare room. This was situated 20 km from home and 13 km from civilisation (as defined by me, in this case a significant traffic intersection). Third, this bare room would serve for the Montessori years, up to M3, but where the primary, middle, and senior school(s) would be, or when they would be, or how, or even whether they would be… was not known.

So: send my kids 20 km down a lonely country road for the benefit of a large bare room and an uncertain future? I don’t think so.

Having said which, however, I must add that the Principal who addressed the parents in that large, bare room, was most persuasive and quite subtly so. He gave a good pitch, and he put some gentle pressure and told you how lucky you were to have this opportunity for your kids and how he could make no guarantees about being able to give you a seat even one month down the line, should you be fool enough to let this opportunity pass. By the end of it, you actually felt that you were being offered a gold mine on a platter, not a single bare room 13 km from anywhere and a dream for a future.

We actually agreed to meet the Principal 1:1 (with the kids, that is) within the next week, but we finally chickened out. A 20 km commute each way every day? Give the kids a break!

Meanwhile, we got a call from another school. This was one we had applied to first, and not having heard anything, had given up on. I will not name the school right now, but it’s a school that everyone we’ve talked to has praised very highly. And, it’s only 7 km away (seems almost walking distance, compared to some others).

The weekend after the Gear meeting, we were at this other school. It has a small and quiet building tucked away in a noisy part of town. The gate was locked and we were allowed in only after our name was verified on a list. We were made to wait outside the Principal’s office and fill up forms. The girls naturally had to use the toilet, and I have to say, it was the cleanest toilet I have ever seen – you could have eaten out of it. Yuck! But I mean, it was really clean.

We waited about 40 minutes, but we arrived about 20 minutes early, so that wasn’t too bad. It was good to see only about 3 families waiting at any given time. We let the girls run around as much as we could, so they wouldn’t be cooped up and cranky and it turned out they were in great spirits.

When our turn came, we went in and found three women at a table and a couple of chairs for us. For the kids, there was a mat on the floor with a couple of toys scattered on it. We were told that the girls were free to go and play there, if they wished. At first they stuck to us, but in a few minutes they had got their hands on the toys and were asking us for help and advice. A few minutes later, they were off doing their own thing.

We were spoken to by three women, who explained the school philosophy etc to us. I noticed that at least two of them were always obliquely observing the kids. They said nothing to the kids directly, made almost zero attempt to interact with them, but just watched them at their work.

That whole approach made the interaction so very easy. The kids were relaxed and happy and so were we. I don’t know what they were looking for in the kids, and I don’t know what they saw, but I know that whatever they saw, it was most likely what is true of the kids, not some different persona brought on by heat, stress, strangers or other environmental factors.

Overall Amit and I both liked the place, the people and the whole feeling of the school. Let’s hope it works out – we’ll know soon enough.

Meanwhile, Head Start is still pending. If, perchance, that also comes through, we’re going to have to make a tough decision.

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PS: The admission at this school came through when we were in Kochi, and then we had the task of organising the fees, no small feat, while we were on the ship and without much access to the world at large. The last date for making the payment was today! Well, with some help from our friends, and some setbacks courtesy yours truly, we got everything done by lunch today, so now it’s official. The kids will be joining in June!

PPS: What’s more, this school takes a sensible approach to the matter of twins being in the same class. They let the parents decide and then see how it pans out.

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School Admissions

November 25, 2008

Next year in June, a little shy of their third birthday, the twins will – hopefully – start school. Big school, that is, which might even see them through till the end of their school days, if we find no reason to change.

We have applied in four schools, but we are really interested in two. One, Headstart, is a Montessori school in Koramangala. It is nearby, but it currently runs up to only the fourth standard, though it has plans to extend. The school building is small and it is located in a largely residential area; a small patch of lawn and its own covered rooftop are the primary play areas.

The other school is Vidya Sagar, which is 15 km (a one-hour drive) away. It has spacious and well-manicured lawns and play area and a large, sprawling building. It is a pre-primary school and feeds into two higher schools after three years. The one we are looking at is Vidya Shilp, which is 20 km away from home (that is, only a little beyond Vidya Sagar). It is practically outside the city and there’s not many residential areas very close by. But the school has huge grounds, with lots of sports fields and a nice swimming pool, an impressive building, and a huge lawn in front. It would certainly be a lovely school to be part of.

If the girls get admission in both places, we’ll have a tough time deciding which one to take. But first, we have to negotiate the admission process.

VS gave out admission forms for just one week and the only Saturday in that window was the last day for both getting and submitting the forms. That made it a bit of a scramble, but we got it done. We got a call for an interview quite soon after. We were expecting that we’d be the ones interviewed, while the kids were perhaps primarily observed, or put to play somewhere. But no. I had to take the kids one at a time into a room where they were seated at a table with a collection of seven or eight different toys/activities like crayons, picture books, play-doh and the like. They were expected to play with (or to demonstrate expertise with?) ALL of these in a period of about 15 minutes, and finally to pour some sand from a scoop into a cup in a miniature sandpit.

The twins could have happily spent 20 minutes at any one of those activities, maybe even more. But switching between ALL of those after like 2 minutes each? And that, after they had spent a good five minutes settling down, looking around at the other tables and kids, looking for each other, fingering the toys…

Mrini didn’t speak much but she grudgingly made her way through most of the activities. Tara, on the other hand… She was already upset when Mrini and I went into the room and she was left to wait outside, wailing. Still, when her turn came, she did quite well, even spoke a bit, until she came to the sandpit. The first thing she did was to scoop sand out and on to her dress! The teacher then hastily decided she had seen enough and bid us adieu. When I tried to get Tara to leave, she threw herself on the floor, kicked up her legs, and let out a loud scream. Great. A tantrum. There was no way they’d give her admission now. Not that I could blame her, I could just feel her frustration at seeing all those lovely toys and not being allowed to play with any of them to her heart’s content. It’s like being shown a whole Death by Chocolate and then being given only two teaspoonfuls to eat.

Anyhow, I didn’t think much of that admission process. They didn’t want to know anything about us except whether I was working or not. And what they could make of any child based on that whole gamut of activities, coming right on top on new environment, strange people, time spent waiting and/or driving and/or away from usual daily routine… I really don’t think this is any way to assess or evaluate whether or not to take a child into a school.

HS on the other hand, has so far seemed to shine as far as the admission process goes. First there was a school exhibition, where their methods of instruction were demonstrated and teachers were on hand to explain. That, itself, was an eye-opener. If they really do teach the way they say they do, it’s wonderful already.

They seem to give out admission forms on one day and one day only, which is scary. But then, there’s a good three-week period to fill in and submit the forms. They also profess not to interview the child, only the parents. After seeing VS’s interview process, I can only say that any school that does not “interview” the child will automatically go way up in my esteem. I already like the admission form – there are a number of sensible and sensitive questions, including a few very pertinent open-ended questions.

So in some ways, we are in a deeper dilemma now than we were before. Before, it looked like VS with its superior facilities was a clear winner, but now I’m so disenchanted with their selection process that it doesn’t seem like the fantastic facilities mean so much any more.

My sister, who is an educationist, said she preferred HS: she said it was a warmer place. I think she’s right about that. And that should count for a lot.

Well, time will tell. Meanwhile, the girls are so enjoying their neighbourhood playschool that last weekend they were demanding to be taken to school even on Saturday morning.


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