Choosing a High School in Amsterdam, Postscript

Yes, it’s that time of year again, or that time of life, I should probably say. Because I have two children, I get to enjoy the whole school shopping saga for a second time. There are two years between Axa and Raj, which is enough time that we have to visit all the schools again, but not enough time that I have forgotten all the stress and anxiety of the adventure. Ah, well.

Although it has been an intense month with many evenings gobbled up by school visits, I don’t feel like it has been quite as difficult as last time around. For one thing, at least I now understand the process completely. (If you are just arriving and don’t, you can read all my posts about it here.) For another, while my Dutch is still nothing to write home about, I could actually understand most of what was going on, which made the short talks given by school rectors at the open evenings a lot more helpful. That said, I felt like even just two years later I heard a lot more English between parents and kids in the halls, which is not surprising, giving the burgeoning population of internationals in Amsterdam. One of the schools, Vossius, has even added an English-language section to its website, inviting parents of prospective students in for a personal talk with the rector, which I found to be a welcoming and much appreciated gesture.

As anyone with more than one child knows, while there are a few transferrable parenting skills, you basically have to learn all new strategies with the next kid. And it’s funny to see the differences in how my kids process school visits. For example, it was with great difficulty that I convinced Axa to attend trial lessons at a few of the school open days. Raj, on the other hand, not only loves the trial lessons, but uses them as a significant factor in his decision-making. He pays close attention to the teachers and their interaction with the children, as well as the level of organisation. Raj is not a child who thrives in situations of chaos, so the better organised the open day, the better the impression the school made on him.

The elephant in the room at our house is whether Raj will put Axa’s school at the top of his list. She has, of course, taken the opportunity to spend the past year and a half singing the virtues of Barlaeus. That said, as parents we have been clear that it is perfectly fine for him to choose a different school, and that he should pick one that fits him. He does have the same VWO indication as Axa (if you need an explanation of the academic streaming system for 11/12-year-olds in the Netherlands, you can find it here). That’s lucky for me, since it means we are looking at more or less the same list of schools as we did with Axa, and I don’t need to go research an entire new set of possibilities. But there are a few new schools on his list that didn’t end up on Axa’s, so I’ll add those in here.

Hyperion Lyceum. Axa didn’t include this one on her list, since distance was a highly significant factor for her. According to Google Maps, the bicycle journey to Hyperion takes 25 minutes. But I know very few people who cycle as fast as the proverbial Google cyclist. The route also involves a short ferry across the Ij into Amsterdam Noord. From house to school, counting locking and unlocking your bike, stopping at stop lights, waiting for the ferry, and all the other stuff the Google cyclist apparently doesn’t do, we are probably looking realistically at around 35-40 minutes for my 11-year-old, whose legs are also probably shorter than the Google cyclist’s. I hasten to add that this is considered well within the range of doable for a Dutch teenager, but it does feel a bit far, especially in rain or sleet or driving wind, all of which are common weather conditions here. It would likely also impact the percentage of his friends who live far away.

But. This is an actual photo of the inside of the school.

Yep, it’s pretty awesome. It’s also one of only two schools in Amsterdam (Het Amsterdams Lyceum being the other) that are VWO-only without being categorical Gymnasiums. Hyperion offers some interesting extra subjects: you can study things like philosophy or logic, as well as the traditional Latin and Greek if you want. We sat in on a logic class, and Raj was smitten. The school also offers Spanish, in addition to the more commonly available French and German. They moved into their new building just last fall, and it is beautiful inside and out.

For extra-motivated students, Hyperion is flexible with allowing the final tests (normally taken in year 6) to be taken early. They’ve also recently finalised an agreement with the University of Amsterdam to allow their older students to attend classes there. So there appears to be quite a bit of opportunity to tailor things for kids who need/want more challenge.

In short, such a nice school. But so far away.

Caland Lyceum. We actually visited this school last year, because on paper I thought it sounded amazing for Raj. Caland offers Technasium, which is a math/tech-based programme where kids work together in small groups to solve real-world problems in design, engineering, environment, etc. It’s part of the city of Amsterdam’s comprehensive plan to build its tech entrepreneurship sector. The kids sometimes even work directly with tech companies and nonprofits. They each make a website showcasing all the projects they’ve done, and it serves as a sort of CV to help them get into university (often at TU Delft, apparently, which is basically the MIT of the Netherlands).

It is a beautiful school, and the Technasium room was nothing short of amazing. They had a 3-D printer and a bunch of other cool equipment. There was also this fabulous wall of all sorts of old electronics that the kids can apparently take apart and put together and experiment with. Raj was the kid who at three wouldn’t let me throw away old CDs or cardboard boxes because he needed to make stuff with it, so I thought this whole concept would appeal to him.

However, it turns out that Caland Lyceum may be my single biggest parental miscalculation ever. Ever since he visited it last year, it has consistently remained at the bottom of his list, which probably means it won’t even end up on his list at all, since the working list has a couple more than the 12 schools necessary for the lottery.

From what he has told me, he is not too keen on group work; he likes to have control over his own stuff. And strangely (for the son of an inveterate homeschooler) he actually enjoys and thrives in a more traditional school environment. He’s partial to structure and specific guidelines; I was more than a little amused a few weeks ago with how horrified he was when a student at Montessori Lyceum was explaining the virtues of the Montessori system. I guess this cute little robot at Caland will have to find a different playmate.

Anyway, that’s where we are right now when it comes to schools for kid #2. Our last school visit is tomorrow, and then he’ll make his final list. And then I’ll be done!!! Until, that is, the time comes around to start visiting universities . . .

One thought on “Choosing a High School in Amsterdam, Postscript

  • February 12, 2019 at 6:31 pm
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    I remember these posts when your daughter was looking for her next school! How exciting for Raj to be doing the same now!

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