Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 04/18/17
Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
Pre-K 4 through 2nd grade from January 2013 through July 2016, and another child 1st through 2nd grade January 2013 through July 2014.
3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes. There are numerous options. We wanted our kids in a German speaking school.
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
Yes. And they had no issue accepting us mid-year with only 2 weeks' notice.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
The school provides no official support/ integration help to new families. But the families were welcoming and it was easy to become part of their community (I speak German, so that is a huge help too).
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Communication between parents and teachers was good and frequent via email. There was minimal communication between the administration and parents, mostly via email and the school's website, and sometimes just from signs posted to the front doors.
2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?
Field trip fees were sometimes required, but they were minimal, 5-20 Euros per year.
Academics & Resources:
1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?
In the Elementary school the is no counseling. There is a school psychologist who can help decide whether your child could benefit from outside evaluations. But all extra support would need to be provided by the parents.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
Before school, children can be dropped off early for supervised reading time. I believe it starts at 7:30am.
After school, children can stay till 3:30pm for afternoon activities. Or they can be signed up for after-care until 5:15pm for a fee. I don't know what theses fees are.
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
The elementary school has a small library with well maintained books. All students take home 1 or 2 books per week starting in the 1st grade.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
There is none in the elementary school.
5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
There is a gym in the elementary school and an outdoor paved sport area.
6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
In Pre-K 4 and Kindergarten there were between 14-20 children with 2 teachers. In 1st and 2nd grade there were 15-28 children with 1 teacher. Class sizes varied a lot year to year. Halfway through 2nd grade the school decided that 28 was too many and divided the 2 classes into 3 groups of 16-20 each.
7. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?
Starting in the 1st grade: The school follows the German norm of having all students work at the same pace. If students finish their daily work, they may be given things that are more challenging afterwards while they wait for others to finish. But they will not have the opportunity to accelerate the pace of their curriculum. And the same is true for struggling students. They may be given extra help or more time each day, but they are expected to keep up the rest of the class. There is no differentiated learning.
8. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
No. Officially the school says students will get 10 minutes per year of grade starting with 20 minutes in 1st grade. But often my child would spend 40 minutes or more on written homework in the 1st grade.
9. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Starting in 1st grade: No electives are available. But each class has music, art, and sports once per week. And they had either French or English (as a foreign language) 2-3 times per week. The elementary school teachers are generalists and teach all specials too. Only Sports had a dedicated teacher.
10. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Generally the teachers are expected to speak German as a first language. We saw one non-native speaker teacher not have his contract renewed. They try to have native speakers teach French and English, but are not always able to make it happen.
11. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
In Pre-school and Kindergarten the school is more inclusive and willing to work with all students. But Pre-school and Kindergarten are a very play oriented environment with minimal academic work.
Starting in 1st grade: None. The school has great difficulty dealing with any child who is not in the middle of the road. The school might not accept students if they require special support. Or they might accept the student on the condition that the parents pay for a one-on-one assistant to accompany the student to all classes. This even includes students with merely a strong case of ADHD.
12. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
None at the moment. The current school building has steps everywhere and no ramps nor elevator. The school is in the process of planning a new building that should solve this.
13. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
If your child is not speaking German at a native level, the school provides a language support class for a fee. This class used to be included for all students as part of the normal tuition. I did not feel like this class was well thought out nor effective. Now that it is required and with a hefty fee, I do hope that they have improved the class dramatically.
14. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
In Pre-school and Kindergarten there are fun activities offered for the kids to explore the arts, movement, and get extra language help.
Starting in 1st grade: After school there are once a week optional activities. Each student can select 2 activities, and for a fee sign up for a 3rd. The activities include Soccer, "Multi-sport", GerÃ¤teturnen (gymnastics using rings, and other equipment), dancing, zumba, pottery, theater, singing, recorder, Outdoor (going into the park next door and playing in the creek/ dirt), and a handful of others. Some are offered in English or French. Some are limited to only 8-12 kids and are very difficult to get into. There is no good system to make sure all children get to rotate through the popular activities. Most of these activities feel like a fun form of babysitting. They are not generally very engaging. The kids have fun, but don't seem to be learning much.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Students come from all over the world, but generally all speak some German. In the younger grades (pre-school and kindergarten) it is more common to find some students sho might speak no German and are learning it at school. There is a large contingency of students who speak English as a second home language. We found all the children to be equally welcomed and noticed no cliques.
2. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.
Nothing more than at other schools. Any issues we had were very minor and generally solved easily with the teacher.
1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?
It really depends on the student.
For our daughter the school was an A-. She had phenomenal pre-school and Kindergarten teachers. Her first and second grade teacher was really lovely and effective too. Our daughter was happy and learned a lot. But our daughter was the ideal student: eager to learn and a hard worker who was happy to do her work and didn't get bored. Our daughter stayed there for our full tour of 3.5 years.
For our son the school was an F and he only stayed for 1.5 years at this school because of it. Beginning in the second grade, his learning style conflicted with how the school operates (slow processor and gifted). The school has no flexibility in dealing with different students. After attempts to gain help through the school psychologist, principal, and teacher we considered pulling him out of school mid-year. The principal convinced us to give the school another chance after they split up the oversized classes mid-year. Regrettably we stayed and finished the year. The following school year we had him switch to a Montessori school which was the perfect fit for him.
2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
School starts at 8am (typical German start time) and class ends at 12:20 with pick-up times possible at 12:20, 1:15, 3:30 or 5:15. If possible, make sure you live nearby. We lived about a 25 minute drive away, but because so many students live near the school, organizing playdates at our house was not as frequent. Eventually I started to offer to pick up and deliver kids home, and then it was much more frequent. Stockel, Wezembeek, and Sterrebeek are very popular places for families from this school.
The school offers a "bus" to transport your kids for a fee to and from school. It is actually a contract with a minivan-taxi company. They try to keep the same driver all year, but this is not always possible. There is also no communication between the school and the bus service. If your child forgets to get onto the bus (as first graders sometimes do), the school won't notice (the kids are all playing outside), the bus driver won't notice (he'll just assume your child was absent that day), and you won't find out until your child is super late getting home. But calls to the school go unanswered after 1:20pm, and the driver won't answer his phone because he is driving. Then the two choices are to drive to school and look for my child, or wait till the driver stops driving and is able to call back. I attempted to convince the school that if there is any student remaining on campus, then there should be an adult who can answer the phone no matter what. They recognized the problem and attempted to inform parents of how and when phones would get answered. But I found this solution still didn't actually solve the problem, things did improve a little though.