Moscow, Russia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/28/10
Personal Experiences from Moscow, Russia
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
Parent and teacher.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
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 really don't know.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
A: Like most international schools, an immense amount of support is offered for both leaving kids and kids being left. Everyone understands. Everyone is sympathetic.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
I taught 4th grade last year and will teach 7th grade this year. Teachers get along well, work well together and are committed to providing the best education they can. They work quite hard. I haven't met any bad teachers. Sure, some are better than others, but I would warn anyone off of any of the teachers that I've met or worked with. When I was given a choice which teacher I wanted for my own kids (teachers do get that benefit of choosing), I told them I felt comfortable letting them choose based on what they know about my children. I think the school works hard to match kids well and I have faith in the other teachers. I don't know what a non-teaching parent would feel. I'm sure being inside as a teacher, I have a different view.
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:
B: because embassy kids in US, UK and Canadian embassies have guaranteed enrollment, then second tier goes to expats, and third tier goes to local Russians, I am sure the local Russians aren't pleased. Sometimes they have more than one child on the waiting list, but only one gets in and the other doesn't for another year, and that's awkward for them. But as an embassy family, I have no complaints, of course. In all other ways, once a child is in, they are treated all the same and in that sense I'd give the school an A.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
B: Most parents are happy. As my oldest is entering high school just now, I have to say I'm a bit in the dark about what he has to do and I'd have appreciated a "hello parent of a new high school student" email or something to tell me what he has to do. He hasn't gotten anything either. But at the lower levels, there's good communication, I believe.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
B: There is an almost full time differentiation coach at the school to support teachers in meeting the needs of the "high flyers" and there is a support team for kids with challenges. There is a large ESOL team as well, giving "sheltered instruction" in the classroom rather than pull out support. I'd say the support team is a bit overtaxed. As a teacher, I wish there had been another staff member in that department, or even two more, so my students with needs could have had more one on one time, but they did their best and did a good job. If your child is truly has special needs that require a gifted and talented program, I'm not sure the classroom differentiation that's offered in elementary school will feel like quite enough support to challenge them, but it's good. I'd give the school a B for supporting students with challenges, a C in offering support for Gifted students, and a B in ESOL.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
Pretty good. I'd give that an A- (if only because I really would have liked to see track and field in middle school, but they only have long distance running and I don't think it would have been hard to put together baseball for middle and high school, and they only have softball). But really, pretty good.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
It is a very challenging program. As I say, however, if a child is exceedingly gifted in a particular area, maybe less so.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
Elementary is meant to give about 45 minutes of homework per night. In Middle School it's about an hour a night, with project crunch times that mean four or more hours in a day on a few weekends a year. That didn't happen more than four times, I don't think, for either of my children.
8. Administration-parent communication:
Not sure. It seems good to me.
9. Teacher-student communication:
A: Small class sizes allow for excellent communication between teachers and students.
10. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?
Yes. Elementary doesn't do a lot for the advanced students. Teacher by teacher that's different. But generally, not a lot there for them. For the average or challenged students, the students are definitely appropriately challenged. I'm sure of that at the elementary level, I think that's the case in middle school and I don't know about high school yet. I have heard good things about the level of challenge there too.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
One did. I felt the assistance was excellent.
12. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:
13. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
As mentioned earlier, more or less, but it could be much better.
14. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
Yes. I think so.
15. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
I'm perfectly satisfied.
16. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
Very much so. Starting in 6th grade there's one annual trip for all class groups. If a child is on a "travelling team" for sports, they travel abroad with a team. If the child is in the theater program or mathcounts, or speech and debate, model UN or knowlege bowl, they travel abroad. The costs for these trips are not covered by the school. They are above and beyond tuition.
17. What activities do you feel are missing?
Middle school after school activities for non-athletes are a bit thin. Not awful or anything. I just think it could be better.
18. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
19. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
I think so.
20. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
I can't think of anything.
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?
The school has the usual guidance counselors but also a school psychologist which is a real luxury. This is our 4th international school and we've never had that before. It means psycho-educational testing can be done at school, rather than having to send kids to another country to have them done. That's a massive time and stress saver.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
A: Excellent libraries. Two of them. One for elementary and one for the higher grades. Packed with computers and the usual library stuff. Good selection. Seemingly unlimited budget. If you ask for a book, they will order it for you, almost no matter what. It'll arrive within a few weeks. That's a great service, for me both as a parent and a teacher.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
B-: For a school with this school's resources, I think it could do much, much better, but it's pretty good just the same. There are the usual computer rooms and roving laptop carts for classes to use as needed. There is computer time for all students through the 6th grade as a stand-alone class (IT), and after that a lot of IT support as needed. I have a Smart board in middle school, but didn't in 4th grade. Elementary is a little slow to fit out all classes with the Smart boards. Middle is doing better, but not at 100% yet. Not sure about high school. Teachers use tech in the curriculum through all grade levels.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
A: As mentioned above, there is the full range of sports, excepting very American sports. My kids love the PE program in middle school. As a former elementary school teacher, I can also attest that the elementary school kids also really enjoy PE and the intramural teams and the playground is awesome.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
Usually 18:1. In certain specialists' classes (languages, health, etc.) it can be 10:1. I teach one class that's 9:1. I teach another that is 17:1. I never have more than 17 students in my current middle school schedule.
6. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
The school is an IB school in elementary and in 11th and 12th grades, but not in middle school. It may become IB in middle school one day too, but there are no plans for it to happen, so certainly no time soon. I don't know about AP, to be honest. I have no high school experience.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
Yes. My kids get some homework, but not buckets of it. I'm pleased.
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
A: It's a school of 1,300 kids and it's got lots of revenue to draw from, so all of the usual big international school offerings are available here. My son hoped for American football or baseball and found no football and only softball for boys, but that's a European thing. It's hard to find very American sports like he likes while abroad. He understands that. But there's a huge theater and a small theater, an indoor pool, tennis courts, big fields, astro turf and grass fields, ice rinks in winter, two gyms, etc. It's a good program. I'm not so sure about art. It seems like a good program. Theater is a real draw though, for sure.
9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes. The lead teachers in elementary are all fluent speakers. The teaching assistants are pretty good English speakers and sometimes excellent English speakers, and in middle and high school, all core teachers are native English speakers. Foreign language teachers frequently are not native English speakers, but they are fluent English speakers in every case I've seen.
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
11. 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 elementary it's quite a good range. In middle school it's not that great. In high school it's pretty good again, I think.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Maybe. Depends where the kids live. There is a housing complex next to the school with kids from all over. They definitely socialize with other expat kids in tht complex. If the kids live at the US Embassy compound, not so much.
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 don't think so.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
It's heart. The school really cares about the kids and works to make it the best place it can be. It never is satisfied with what it has at the moment. It always strives for improvement. This year the focus is on improving tech at the school. Next year, it'll be something else.
2. Greatest challenge?
There isn't any glaring challenge. I guess I always fall back on not serving gifted and talented as well as it ought to, though again, there certainly is service in this area; I just think it could be better.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
Absolutely. This is our 4th expat school, and so far it's my favorite, by far. My kids say they love it too and that it's far and away their favorite as well.