LJWorld.com weblogs Fourth Grade in a Foreign Country

Finding our way


This is a bit of a long post but I wanted to include some general information as I get started (see yesterday’s post for an introduction to the blog).

Some quick stats gleaned from official city websites:

Heidelberg Population: 133, 763 (2010)

Number of primary schools (1 - 4th): 18, serving 3,494 students

Number of special needs schools: 4, serving 422 students

Number of private primary schools: 7

Lawrence Population: 91,464 (2009)

Number of elementary schools (K – 5th): 14, serving 4, 644 students (2011/2012)

Number of special needs schools: 0

Number of private elementary schools: 3

4th grade at the Heidelberg Grundschule: 2 sections, my daughter’s class has 20 students

4th grade at Cordley Elementary (my daughter’s hometown school): 3 sections, 18-20 students last time I checked.

Things we “knew” about school in Heidelberg going in:

  • Our daughter would be attending the neighborhood school.
  • The school day would start at 7:45 and end at 1:00.
  • We would be able to walk or take public transportation to school.
  • This fall was going to be German language immersion for our daughter.
  • Although understandably nervous and hesitant about this culturally enriching adventure, our daughter had expressed interest in learning German and was enjoying the language (at the expense of her parents) very much.
  • We were confident in our decision that, given the short day and only 3 and ½ months of school, this would be “a culturally enriching adventure” for our daughter.

Things that took us by surprise:

  • Turns out that as of 2010, you can go to any school in the city (although I’m sure there must be capacity restrictions) and there are two relatively close schools in our part of town.
  • The school day is even shorter than we thought, 7:55 to 12:20 (the actual times vary by school).
  • The school physically closest to us is an 18-minute walk or a 13-minute bus ride. The other school is a 22-minute walk or a 4-minute streetcar ride.
  • The school we chose has a German integration program for students who don’t speak German.
  • When faced with the reality of actually starting school in Germany, we all had our confidence shaken.

    Schools were on break when we arrived, so we were unable to contact anyone until a week before classes started. Even with the help of a native speaker, a primary school mom, we could not make heads or tails of the school website. Fortunately, with the help of our translator we were able to meet with a teacher and the Rektorin (principal) of one school on the Friday before classes were to begin. At our meeting we find, as expected, that most teachers and the Rektorin speak English, certainly a great deal more than we can speak Deutsch. Granted, everyone was frantically getting ready for the next term (and it turns out they had not been expecting us so they were very kind to slot us in) but we had no other option of enrolling and getting information. Which brings me to the distinct advantage of the Lawrence School District’s Welcome Center. Now, if I did not speak English, I would not be able to use the District’s website to find the Welcome Center information but through word of mouth and a bit of Google translate I might know of its existence and then at least have a central location to go to for help***. Here, there is no designated district staff to handle incoming students, with the exception of new first graders, and it is left to individual schools and teachers who may or may not have time to deal with confused foreigners.

    Another potentially noteworthy difference here at the beginning of our school year is the integration program for non-German speaking students. We were told by the woman who teaches the integration program that it was really only for people who were to permanently reside in Germany and that we should not expect her to give our daughter much attention, certainly much less so than the other kids (non-German speaking students are quite common at this school, and it appears to be like one of our designated ESL schools). Fair enough, my husband and I have travelled a great deal throughout the world and we do not expect things to be as they are in the United States. We must also be careful of attitude and tone that may be confused in translation. So, we remain pleasantly surprised that there is an integration program at all, but I do note the difference in attitude. I can’t imagine an ESL instructor in the Lawrence public schools making a distinction between a child who is in our schools for one month or six years.

I’ll have more posts about this subject as school gets underway as well as posts about the curriculum and how on earth parents cope with such a short school day.

*** Curious, I checked out the homepages of the elementary schools in Lawrence and found that Cordley’s school website can be read in other languages and Quail Run has a Spanish version of the school calendar and supply list on it’s homepage. The District’s website has some forms in Spanish, but there is nothing indicating this on the homepage. Google translate is not great, but it is something.


Claire Williams 5 years, 7 months ago

Some interesting information! I am surprised by the statement the integration teacher made about the time allotted to your daughter; although it sounds like class size is about the same as in Lawrence, perhaps they do not have enough staff dedicated to their integration program to handle all of the students in it?

ashworth 5 years, 7 months ago

That may be. The program has not started yet, but I'll be sure to post something when I have more information. Thanks for reading.

LadyJ 5 years, 7 months ago

I wonder if the special needs schools have better results with the students as opposed to putting them in a regular school school setting.

ashworth 5 years, 7 months ago

While my German is too rudimentary to have a conversation about outcomes for special needs kids, I can tell you a little bit about how special education is approached here. According to the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, Germany is moving toward what we call mainstreaming. Special needs children can attend mainstream schools if adequate provisions can be made, such as the availability of special education teachers. Special needs are divided into the following categories:

• blind • visually impaired • deaf • hearing impaired • mental disabled • physically disabled • pupils with learning difficulties • students with behavioural problems • students with impaired speech pupils with a disease

What appears to be more common, is cooperation between a mainstream school and a special needs school where classrooms are mixed at certain grade levels. My daughter’s school has such an agreement with a school for the mentally handicapped (their term) for one of the first grade classes. The city of Heidelberg has a special focus on attempting to mainstream children who are chronically ill. If you’d like more information, check out the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education or the special needs school Graf von Galen (www.galen-shule.de/) which has a translate button so you can read it in English.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.