The (really) long version
If you’re interested, the following lengthy account details the journey that brought us to a place of feeling like putting our kids in Czech public school is an okay and even beneficial move. I’ll preface it by saying that we adored homeschooling. We kind of fell into homeschooling, as it wasn’t our plan. When Zoe was five we didn’t have any other option for kindergarten and I literally googled “how to homeschool” in July before she would’ve started school. To my surprise, it was a joy. We stuck with it for the past five-and-a-half years. Our principle has been: every year, every child, by prayer--meaning that we would evaluate our choices one year and one kid at a time. This principle led us to put Rebekah in a missionary kid boarding school this year--a move that shocked us but one that we felt the Lord orchestrated (but that’s for another blog another day!).
Last March when we were at Pioneers being interviewed we listened to a panel of missionaries describing their journeys with their kids going to public school in their respective countries (India and Bosnia are the most memorable). As I listened to them I felt a stir in my spirit and instantly knew that the Lord might ask us to do that too. I was immediately terrified and told Him, “No way!” But the seed was planted and the reality remained that we might just do that in the future. So we began back then to pray about it as a family. We even discussed it almost daily with the kids. We thought about and talked through all the options—homeschool, Czech school, international school in English. We all felt different things at different times. We all were all over the map.
When we got here Mark and I were pretty certain we’d homeschool them. We had mostly decided that we needed to protect them from that huge change and keep them home. We felt like, especially for 10-year-old Zoe, the adjustment would be too much for an older child. We had heard about some of the harsher realities of school here, as well as some of the shame-based techniques implemented. We just didn’t want to traumatize our kids.
As we picked up homeschooling again here things just weren’t quite right. Mark and I had a growing sense that the girls would never feel at home here. If they stayed within our walls they would likely not feel like this is their community. Rather they would feel like visitors and outsiders. They began to long for friends and showed increasing interest in giving their wings a try outside our home. Mark and I prayed and lamented and discussed and fretted many a night over even the thought of putting them through this new challenge.
Then I met (over email and the phone) a friend of a friend who is just like us. They are missionaries from a church near our home church in Colorado with four kids and moved here 2 years ago. Their oldest was 9 when they got here (also in December) and they put all their kids in school in January. She and I exchanged emails and a phone conversation that lasted for hours. She gave me a TON of wisdom on how to navigate the system here and how to, by God’s leading, set ourselves up for success.
This new friend encouraged us to put our kids back one grade, to be present in the school as much as possible (this is very counter-cultural, but she said they just did it without really asking and it has been received quite well), attend all the kids’ field trips, stay with them in the classroom a bit during the first few weeks or whenever necessary just because it’s a rough day, and other smaller details. She was honest about the highs and lows but concluded by saying that their kids are thriving and they wouldn’t change a thing.
A major difference here Czech Republic is that the elementary school kids go to school from 8m to noon each day—that’s it. So my friend said that they would get the kids at noon and be able to rest and regroup as a family all afternoon. She said the language learning was exhausting for her kids so they would just lay low. She said they celebrated a lot—new words, new understanding—whatever. They took the kids out for ice cream every Friday night to celebrate another week gone by in Czech school. She gave us a ton of good ideas that we have already implemented too.
After that conversation I felt like maybe we could do this. Meanwhile we met another missionary family who had successfully done the same thing, also with older kids, also having arrived 2 years ago. Additionally, our veteran teammates helped us research schools nearby and actually visit them. We were able to sit down with three principals, tour the schools, see the classrooms, and outline our expectations. All three principals were exceedingly welcoming.
One principal, in particular, began to stand out from the rest. He emailed us constantly and answered our every concern. He was very warm to all of us. He even allowed us to sit in the classrooms and observe for awhile to see if, for sure, we wanted to do this. This school is only a 1/2 mile from our home and only has one class per grade (grades 1-5—so that’s about 125 kids in the school total). It is a small village school and feels safer (emotionally) than the other larger schools we’ve seen. Abigail’s teacher actually does speak decent English and has been very accommodating. Zoe’s teacher is very kind and working hard to learn a little bit of English.
We told our kids, and especially Zoe, that if we ever think for a minute that this is too much for her, we will pull her right out and do homeschool. They all greatly desired to give it a try (bless their hearts!). I was extremely nervous and I still continue to need greater faith for this new season. However, I do think that the circumstances that have lined up are the Lord’s way of leading us down His path for our kids. We know there will be a cost. However, we do not intend to sacrifice our kids and we will absolutely correct our path if that seems to be happening.
Two weeks in we’ve had some significant surprises. Before the first day, Hannah oozed confidence and excitement. Zoe and Abigail displayed interest, anxiety, and commitment. Hannah shocked us with her instant negative reaction to school. Her first week and a half were marked by tears, insecurity, heartache, and begging to not be left at school. She would cry and then I would leave the classroom and cry. Zoe and Abigail, on the other hand, would frolic to and from school as if it was a party. No they didn’t understand a thing but boy were they having fun. Mark and I were stunned every day by their exuberance and eagerness to go back.
At the end of the second week Hannah totally turned a corner. She is much more settled there and no longer crying. She is indeed still apprehensive and we actually keep her home on Wednesdays so that she only has to go two days in a row at a time. Zoe and Abigail are still very upbeat, but slightly less enthusiastic--they are understanding more and the newness has worn off a bit. The teachers and principal have kindly accommodated my hovering--I am in the school everyday in some way. I go on the field trips and make myself at home in the cafeteria. I practice language with the others kids who giggle and howl at my efforts. I walk the dog with the kids to and from school and Piper is like the school mascot, attracting droves of kids in this dog-loving culture. The best part is that the kids only go to school for four hours a day so I get them back to myself in the afternoons!
This decision has also allowed us to become increasingly integrated into the community. Our neighbor’s kids go to the same school. Hannah’s teacher is my neighbor’s daughter and her teenage daughter comes over a couple times a week to practice her English. The teachers seem to enjoy having me around and keep inviting me back. One told me that our family is “so nice.” People literally stop me on the street every day as I’m walking home from the school and want to chat about the dog or the school or the kids--we don’t get too far because I don’t speak much yet! But we try. I’ve got, “Promiňte, mluvim česky jenom trochu” down to a convincing science.
After two weeks the kids got a week off for the annual ski break. We didn’t venture out to the slopes because we’ve barely just traded in our Oki flip-flops for the boots we wear here every day. Maybe next year. The kids will actually remain out of school again this week as we head to a conference in Hungary that happens to be for the purpose of assisting American missionary families who live in Europe to educate their kids well in this environment. We’ll be gleaning wisdom from counselors, third culture kid experts, and teachers all week. My kids will enjoy daily programs with other MKs who go to national school here and they also get (ha!) to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to see if they’re on track.
Please don’t stop praying for God’s protection over and provision for my kids in school here. This is a crazy journey they’re on! Pray that Mark and I would lead them well and be very sensitive to their needs. Pray that we would all be completely Spirit led.