School here in Phoenix is very unlike anything I grew up with in the UK. It's very different to anything I witnessed Goth Child or Melchett experience too.
I think I've said before that I was initially astounded by the amount of homework the girls had to do, but it's become a routine now and they actually seem to quite enjoy it (ok...Melchett enjoys it, Goth Child is a bit more nonchalant because Junior High School homework is in a totally different league...and she's a teenager).
But then there's all the incentives and fun they have too.
I never saw children having pyjama or pizza parties in school time if they racked up enough 'compliments' (sort of like house points but for the whole class) or worked well on a project.
I never heard that they played the Black Eyed Peas 'I Gotta Feeling' or similar to make tidying up more fun (to be honest, I don't think messing up the classroom, even if it was due to a learning activity, was something that particularly happened in the girls' schools in the UK).
I never heard of anything like having a weekly 'Star Student', who gets to sit at the front of the class with their own desk, their own pot of pencils and ink stamps (this is apparently a VERY BIG THING to 7/8 year olds) and be the teacher's assistant.
Perhaps it does happen in some British schools, but I certainly never experienced it myself or for my children. They are actually excited to go to school in the mornings here and I think this is a tremendous thing.
As a Mum I just got the feeling that the teachers in British schools were running to keep still with the huge amount of subjects imposed on them by the National Curriculum, that there never seemed to be the time to push the textbooks to one side and have a little fun except perhaps for the final week of the summer term.
But the way of thinking in the classrooms here seems to reflect life outside the school walls - the Americans do have this incredible work ethic we see portrayed in the movies, but they also really, REALLY LOVE to party! Any excuse for a celebration and they're decorating their houses and inviting friends round for a BBQ (it's one of the MANY holidays they have here each year this weekend, Labour Day (ok Americans, Labor Day) so I'll tell you a bit more about 'America: the world's party nation' next week).
Before we came here, Goth Child's Deputy Head asked me if I was worried about the constant testing that happens in schools here. I said I really didn't know what to think about it.
I do now - I think it's great!
In the UK, we reduce our children to stressed out jibbering wrecks at possibly the worst time of the year (hayfever season and just as the sun is beginning to shine, making revision inside a terrible hardship) with our exam system. It's not uncommon to hear of a child getting so stressed that they attempt suicide. That's terrible pressure.
Here, Goth Child and Melchett are taking tests all the time, but because it's a regular occurrence they don't seem to be such a big thing...the children get more used to the conventions and there isn't the pressure to learn a whole year's worth of subject for one make or break exam. At the end of the year both the girls have more slightly bigger tests, but because they've been tested on the stuff so frequently, it sinks in, there's no mass cramming required.
Anyway, it's been Spirit Week this week at Goth Child's Junior High School.
Each day had a different theme - Pyjama Day, Nerd Day, Superhero Day, Reality TV Star Day and finally Spirit Day itself. The kids dressed up according to theme (though why one kid dressed as Dipsy from the Teletubbies on Superhero Day was slightly beyond us) and then in the school colours on Spirit Day. They've been singing the school songs; the cheerleaders have been doing special chants; they've been having fun alongside the learning in the classrooms.
Now, I'm pretty sure that Spirit Weeks precede the slightly more important testing each quarter (because this is Goth Child's 3rd one since we came over in November)...but you know the good thing? I asked Goth Child about it and she shrugged and mumbled "I dunno"....which I take as someone not overly stressed about testing.
And I think that's the way I'd like it to stay.