The sound of excited chatter from the kids’ room woke me this morning. It sounded like Christmas or the first day of school; with gradual waking awareness, I realized that it couldn’t possibly be Christmas.
Then Evelyn walked past in the hallway wearing a plaid skirt and it all came back to me. July 20, the first day of the third school term in New Zealand!
New Zealand public schools are broken into three stages: primary (from age 5 through about 10); intermediate (middle school, in US parlance); and secondary (high school, in the US). As soon as we arrived in Christchurch earlier this month, one of the first tasks before us was to choose schools for Calvin, Charlotte, and Evelyn, and then to enroll them. Unlike most US towns and cities (and even rural areas), school children in Christchurch seldom travel far to get to school. I haven’t seen any school buses for any of our kids’ schools, but they’re not really necessary since each school serves a small surrounding community. While parents can opt to enroll their children in a school outside of their neighborhood, it doesn’t seem to be too common, and there’s no guarantee that the school somewhere else will have room, anyway.
Thankfully, all three of the schools that our kids are slated to attend (because of our address) seem like great places. We had hoped that Evelyn could sneak in under the upper age limit at the same primary school as Charlotte, but the principal indicated that he believed she’d be happier and better suited to the intermediate school around the corner, instead. When I told Evelyn, she breathed a sigh of relief.
New Zealand schools start in the fall (early February) and run through the middle of December. Unlike US school schedules, however, the four “terms” are separated from each other by two week “school holidays.” When we arrived, the schools were about to let out for a couple weeks’ break.
So today was the first day back for students, teachers, and staff, and the true first day for Evelyn and Charlotte.
New Zealand schools nearly all require uniforms; each school has its own logo and colors. Evelyn’s school uniform is forest green, navy blue, and white. Charlotte’s is royal blue and white.
Another word about differences between New Zealand schools and US public schools: there isn’t kindergarten here, so each of the grades is one higher than those in the states. So while Charlotte just completed 2nd grade at her elementary school in Delaware, here she is in Year 4. Evelyn, similarly, concluded 5th grade but is enrolled in Year 7 (grade 6).
Interestingly, if we were going to be in Christchurch beyond October, Calvin would start “kindergarten,” also called Year 0, right after his October birthday. New Zealand kids start on or right after their 5th birthday, regardless of the time of the school year. It’s hard for me to imagine Calvin going to “real” school, but it does mean that he’s pretty much the oldest child in his preschool class.
While the girls’ first day was today, Calvin has been attending his early childhood center several days per week since our second week here. Like the girls’ schools, it’s very close–easy walking distance–and quite nice. His main teachers are Miss Helen (which Kiwis pronounce like Hee-lyn), Miss Suzy, and Miss Joy. Calvin has settled in well, though he’d still rather be home all day watching tv and eating candy.
Today also marks James’ first full week of teaching at UC. School days, school days… for everyone but me! (I will share quotes and impressions once the kids are all home again.)