Choosing a High School in Amsterdam: The Lottery!

Surprisingly enough, I have not been obsessing about the lottery every spare moment since we turned in Axa’s form almost a month ago. There were even some times when I forgot about it completely. However, as the time drew near for the blessed event, I did start to think about it more–several times a day by the final week. I had at least one nightmare where she got placed in a school that wasn’t even on her list. I was at pains not to mention the lottery to Axa (well, at least to not bring it up more than once every couple of days), since I didn’t want her to stress about it. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it myself. I don’t do especially well when significant life events are up in the air (who does?), and finding out where Axa would spend the next six years of her life is a significant event. It reminded me a little of when I was Mormon, and we turned in our mission papers, and then waited for that big white envelope that would tell us where in the world we would be going.

For those wondering about the nitty-gritty logistics of the whole thing, back in late February Axa’s primary school provided us with a special form that we had to take to her #1 school. At some schools you need to make an appointment, but at Het Amsterdams Lyceum you just had to show up during certain hours. Once we arrived at the school, they gave us a school-specific application form to fill in, which we submitted to them, along with some identity documents for Axa, me, and Tony. Then we were ushered into the rector’s office, and had a little chat with him about us, why Axa liked the school, and which foreign languages she was interested to learn. It was also an opportunity for us to ask any final questions.

Fast forward a few weeks, and on the Monday before the lottery we received an email with a link that they said we could click at exactly 15:30 on Wednesday, April 5 to find out where Axa had been placed. I had a suspicion that the website would probably crash at 15:30 on Wednesday when 8000 kids and their parents clicked on it simultaneously. But sure enough, before I could even click the link on exactly that day at exactly that time I received an email from the school where Axa had been placed. So I can certainly attest to the efficiency of the system.

OK. I know by this time you’ve already probably scrolled past all this to find out which school she got. So I guess it’s time to do the big announcement:

THIS is Axa’s new school.

Barlaeus Gymnasium.

Around the corner from the Rijksmuseum, in the historic centre of Amsterdam, dating back (according to Dutch Wikipedia) to the year 1342. So yeah. Older than most universities. It’s a pretty spectacular school. Despite the fact that, as you may recall, it was not Axa’s number one. I did tell you we were spoiled for choice.

At the last minute, Axa decided to switch up her list and put Ignatius Gymnasium as #2 and Barlaeus Gymnasium as #3, because the bike ride to Ignatius is six minutes shorter. After the lottery it took her a few days to process it all, mostly because I think the whole idea of going to a new school is sinking in as a real thing now, and she has all the normal worries she would have no matter which school she would be attending (in her words, that she will “be a hermit with no friends”). But she now says that she put Het Amsterdams Lyceum and Ignatius Gymnasium over Barlaeus out of laziness (for the short bike ride). So she is really happy with the result, which makes my heart sing. Not just because I think Barlaeus is a fabulous school, but also (and more importantly) because when my kid’s happy, I’m happy.

Just by way of recap, Barlaeus is one of the five categorical gymnasia in Amsterdam (middle/high schools where kids follow a rigorous college prep curriculum including Greek and Latin). They have a great theatre program, participate in all sorts of events like the European Youth Parliament and the Classical Olympiad, and go on cultural trips to European capitals. It’s housed in a gorgeous 19th century building that’s designated as a national monument. For our initial impressions of the school, see Choosing a High School in Amsterdam: Part 3. I still have to do a lot of reading about it, but I am absolutely thrilled that she got in, and think it’s going to be a wonderful place for her to spend her teenage years.

One aspect about this whole lottery thing is that twelve schools is a lot. So many that although I was as thorough as I could be given the circumstances, it was impossible for me to research any one of them as much as I would like. Besides the school websites, we have this huge collection of paraphernalia from all the schools we visited. I pored over all of it after the first school, but quickly realized that I was going to have to stick to highlights only if I wanted to stay sane. Eventually I settled on the plan of perusing each website and skimming the literature they gave out (remember, it’s all in Dutch!), since Axa’s choice was more about how she felt at the school, and then thoroughly reading everything about whichever school she ended up with. So here’s all the stuff I DON’T have to read now:

(not pictured are all the pens, water bottles, bags, and other school-themed goodies that got handed out at those many open houses). And here’s the much more manageable pile of stuff I will take a shot at reading:

So yay for that. The Barlaeus website is voluminous, so I expect it will take me quite a while to get through it. Apparently there are camping trips and survival camping trips, which each warrant a separate website, as well as a variety of other school activities with spin-off websites. The very day after the lottery Axa received a welcome letter by post, and we’ve also received a couple of emails from the school, arranging lockers, collecting documents, and telling us what to expect. In early June Axa will have a first meeting with her mentor (each first-year student gets assigned a mentor). In late June there will be some kind of official welcoming event for all the new students.

I feel a huge sense of relief that the ordeal of choosing a school is over. I started worrying about this process before we moved to Amsterdam, and it was a pretty intense few months that we were visiting schools. I’m incredibly grateful that Axa was among the 98% of kids in Amsterdam who got into a school in the top five on their list (and I feel bad for the kids, some of whose parents belong to the Dutch Education Facebook group that has helped me so much in this journey, who lost out in the lottery and ended up at schools far down their list, or don’t have a school at all yet). At the same time, I’m conscious that Axa’s middle/high school journey is just beginning, and I’m sure there will be other things to figure out. But for now, I’m just enjoying celebrating this great opportunity for her.

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