Yesterday our family had its second chance to participate in the great Amsterdam Middle/High School Lottery. Raj’s list of schools ended up being fairly similar to Axa’s, with a few tweaks. Here it is, straight off the link they sent us with instructions to check it at exactly 15:30 on April 4 to find out what his lottery number would be, and in which school he would be placed:
I fully expected that when we clicked the link at exactly 15:30 on April 4 along with the parents of 7580 other anxious Amsterdam pre-teens, the server would inevitably be down. But no! We immediately saw this:
As you can see, he got lucky with a lottery number of 1528, and ended up in his top choice school, Barlaeus Gymnasium, which just so happens to be the same school where his sister attends. Raj is thrilled to be going exactly where he wants. Axa is thrilled that her little brother will be attending her beloved alma mater. And I am thrilled that from next year on, I will only be fielding emails from one school.
Navigating an unfamiliar school in a complex foreign education system in a language that isn’t your best (or even second or third best, although I am slowly getting there with Dutch), is not for the faint of heart. I have a lot of hard-won knowledge on exactly how Barlaeus Gymnasium works, and I am looking forward to a bit less steep of a learning curve with kid #2.
There are, of course, numerous other benefits to the kids (finally) both attending the same school again. For the past two years, their vacation schedules have been a bit mismatched. We are not one of those families who spend every moment of every school holiday vacationing abroad, but it has been somewhat annoying how much time I’ve spent checking and double-checking that both kids are free during times we want to plan family activities. The thing I will miss most from our semi-international primary school schedule is the lovely three week Christmas break. But by now we are pretty used to vacationing along with the rest of the Netherlands, and I like how the holidays are nicely spread out throughout the year here.
I also look forward to having a “woman-on-the-ground” at Barlaeus already. By now Axa has the studying routine down, as well as a method for effectively learning vocab in five different languages. She’s familiar with a lot of the teachers, can navigate the online grading system, and knows the details of all the school activities that are happening. Raj is a kid who really likes knowing in advance what to expect, so it’s nice to have Axa around to answer all his big and little questions about how Barlaeus works. I fully expect that as parents we will spend some significant time helping Raj find his feet, just like we did with Axa, but it will be wonderful to have a built-in tutor to call in for emergencies.
My kids are now both officially “Barlaeans”. I have nothing really to compare it to, since I was homeschooled, but middle/high school (the six years from ages 12-18 are spent at the same school in the Netherlands) seems to be a pretty big deal for Dutch people. Apparently it is not unheard of in Amsterdam to be asked in job interviews which high school you attended. My expat American group had a discussion this week in which it emerged that several Americans in the Netherlands have tried to enter Dutch universities (and even universities of applied science, which are a tier lower than full research universities), but been denied because their U.S. high school diplomas weren’t viewed as being good enough. Regardless of if they also had college transcripts, or in some cases even a bachelor degree. Like I said, high school diplomas here are serious business.
In fact, even for my grad school application they wanted a high school diploma, which threw me into a momentary panic, since I was homeschooled and went straight to university without one. Fortunately, I managed to rummage through a couple of old boxes and find my passing certificate from the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE). It’s the test the state of California lets teenagers take if they want to leave high school early for college, trade school, etc.; kind of like a GED, but less comprehensive, and aimed at younger people. I took it for test-taking practice at 16, since I wanted to have at least one standardised test under my belt before going straight into the ACT. That certificate was the only thing I had even remotely resembling a high school diploma, so I attached it to my application, hoping for the best. Apparently, I got lucky.
Since I have zero direct experience as a professional, parent or even student in the U.S. educational system, I am not qualified to comment on the equivalence or non-equivalence of educational quality there and here (although there is an entire Dutch organisation dedicated to that). However, from what I see of my daughter’s high school, it seems like the transition to university should be pretty smooth. The level of individual responsibility, personal organisation, study and time-management skills, multilingualism and academic performance is impressive even just in Year 2, which my daughter is currently completing. In fact, the whole process of choosing a school in the first place and then suspensefully waiting to see if you’ve gotten in bears more than a passing resemblance to applying to university.
Speaking of which, almost as soon as I was breathing a sigh of relief that we are finished with the madness of choosing a middle/high school, I realised that in a few short years it will be time for my daughter to apply for university. Parenting just keeps going on and on, doesn’t it?