Reykjavik, Iceland Report of what it's like to live there - 05/22/14

Personal Experiences from Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland 05/22/14

Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?


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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

3rd and 4th grade levels.

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3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?

2013 and 2014.

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4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

Corporate job rotation.

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5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

Academics taught in English.

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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?

I believe the school has an open enrollment policy. We filled out a one-page application.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

Generally, the school is supportive. However, I am a person who asks a lot of questions and is not shy about it. I have never felt I was an imposition on the school. Everyone is always very friendly and helpful.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:

ISI is a small school. My children's homeroom classes consist of 5-6 students each. However, during subject matter learning (e.g. English, Math), children are grouped together across different grades. Part of the grouping is based on format, skills and abilities.

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2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:

Based on my impression, yes. Specifically for my family, I do believe we are treated fairly. During the year, I had questions about the academics, social interactions, activities, etc. Any comments and concerns were always respectfully received by the administrative staff and teachers, and more importantly, promptly followed up in a satisfactory manner.

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3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

Excellent. I only have positive experience with this. All emails are responded to promptly and meeting requests scheduled timely. All the teachers I've communicated with have been very helpful and listened to my feedback. It was respectful and professional. In the beginning, there were some confusion about homework; but after speaking to each of the teachers, I got a good sense of the rhythm and routine as to what was expected. The teachers also informed me if something was missing from my children's homework folders.

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4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:

ISI did a wonderful job challenging my kids. I believe my children would be classified as gifted having recently been tested in the top 10 percentile in an IQ test professionally administered in the U.S. One of my concerns initially was if the school was flexible in tailoring advanced assignments for them to keep them academically motivated and progressing. I requested meetings at the beginning of the school year with the Math and English teachers to discuss our family expectations and the kids' abilities. We had very productive meetings and I sincerely believe my kids were challenged appropriately throughout the year.

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5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:

Given the small student population, after-school offerings was a bit of a challenge. Considering drop/off pick up time and carpooling logistics, we were not able to sign-up for many school offerings. The kids were signed up for study hall on Tues and Thurs from 2:00-3:00pm. It would have been nicer if study hall was offered every day. This way, the homework will ideally be completely by the time kids get home. In addition, as I understand, the teacher monitoring study hall has a list of all the homework assignments and is aware of what the kids are working on.

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6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:

I can't speak about other students but I can say that I have very high expectations for my children. I have a solid idea about what I want them to learn and where they need to be. To this end, ISI met my expectations as I worked hand-in-hand with the teachers to achieve this. The process does require more dedicated time on my part but it was well worth the effort. All meeting requests have always been responded to promptly and were productive. One measurement of this success is that both my children were accepted into 3 of the 4 top U.S. private schools we applied to in non-expansion years where the schools get anywhere from 20 to 40 applications per available spots.

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7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):

Good amount, I think. It's hard to tell because sometimes my children finished their "homework" during class time. However, regular homework consists of weekly spellings, math and IPC assignments. Reading chapters for English class is another common assignment. Ideally, I would have liked to see more homework assignments in conjunction with daily study-hall so that the children gets into a good routine and discipline habit of having work to do every day.

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8. Administration-parent communication:

Excellent. I do not have any issues here either. All incidents that I am made aware of either from my children, from the teachers, or from other parents were respectfully discussed and addressed. There were "bullying" incidents that my child personally experienced and the administrative staff/teachers all worked as a team to make things better. I felt we were taken care of in a caring and earnest manner. As much as we try as adults to not have our children bullied, these incidents crop up from time-to-time anywhere in the world. To this end, I am grateful that the staff pulled together quickly and supported my child during this very difficult part of growing-up.

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9. Teacher-student communication:

Good, as far as I can tell.

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10. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?

School ski trips and various field trips are paid for by the school. After-school programs are paid in addition to school tuition.

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Academics & Resources:

1. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?

Very good selections of fiction/non-fiction books. Children are encouraged to have quiet reading and check books out. Many times, we got books from the library to read at home. Buying English books in Iceland is very difficult. It was a nice relief to have a good selection of English books in the school library to choose from.

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2. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

iXL to supplement Singapore Math Primary Curriculum books. iPads are available at school.

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3. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

I would have love to see more frequent PE classes. However, knowing the set-up at ISI, the kids are signed up in other local sports programs after school - basketball, swimming and horseback riding. The youth programs in Gardabaer/Reyjavik is fantastic. They have a variety of offerings for all age groups and multiple practices each week. The challenge is shuttling the children from places to places as there are no public or school shuttle services. This being said, everything is pretty close together.

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4. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

Low. 5:1 in 3rd/4th grade. 6:1 in 5th/7th grade. However this changes from year to year depending on the expat population.

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5. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

This varies from between semesters. The kids are exposed to a variety. I have been impressed by the art program. The children brought home a glazed clay turtle made from scratch which took weeks. I was personally amazed that they had the patience to wait for the "baking" period since most everything today is based on instant gratification. They have also took part in cooking classes and sewing. In addition, I am impressed that they have built little structures in their woodworking class and still have all their fingers attached :-). To my great surprise, both kids enjoyed woodworking immensely. I am delighted that they were exposed to a variety of activities to try things out in a safe setting.

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6. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

One of my children is taking Math classes two grades above his current age. The Math teacher embraced his ability and passion, and assigned him a steady stream of progressive topics to keep him challenged. My other child is a fairly advanced reader, and his English teacher challenges him based on his ability level. Though neither of these cases are based on the structure of a gifted program, I am happy that the curriculum has flexibility to allow for this type of individualization.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

Yes, during recess and lunch time. However, since my children are signed up in the local youth programs (Briedablik and Stjarnan), they also have interactions with Icelandic kids in the neighborhood.

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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.

I believe this happens in most schools whether in Iceland, or somewhere else. However, this being said, I have noticed that Icelandic children tend to "cuss" more and have a more "hard-core" vocabulary. Though we are not used to this coming from the U.S., I too, saw this as an opportunity to teach my kids to deal with it. Basically, just because someone else does something inappropriate does not mean they should follow suit (as tempting as it may be). This was a good lesson in self-control.

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Overall Impressions:

1. What is the greatest strength of this school?

Curriculum flexibility and teacher openness on parent feedback/recommendation.

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2. Greatest challenge?

Small student population.

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3. Would you choose this school again? Why?

Yes. For the 1.5 years that we are here, ISI was a very good fit for us.

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