Bratislava, Slovakia Report of what it's like to live there - 09/20/18
Personal Experiences from Bratislava, Slovakia
The British International School of Bratislava
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?
Child currently in Year 4 (U.S. Grade 3); he completed Year 3 last year and will be there through Year 5.
We have another child who will likely attend this school for Year 1/Kindergarten next year (she's in preschool at a different school).
3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
Spouse working at U.S. Embassy
4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes - QSI has a school here which some older U.S. Embassy kids attend (the campus is about an hour from the city center now - it moved halfway through last school year), and there are a couple of other schools as well (Cambridge International School, English International 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 are pretty firm about the birthday cut-off of Sept 1. Our son's birthday is Sept 14, he completed Grade 2 in the U.S., and we insisted on having him start last year in Year 4/Grade 3; however after one week in Year 4, the school administration decided he wasn't ready to be there (maturity issues coupled with being behind where they were in math and writing), and requested that we move him back to Year 3.
We complied and it ended up being a great decision for him, but this is definitely something that each family/child will feel differently about so it's good to keep this in mind when choosing a school (at QSI he would have automatically been placed in Grade 3 - but there are other issues with that school, such as the fact that it moved to a new campus mid-way through last school year far outside the city and children are regularly on the bus for 1.5-2 hours every day).
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
B- They could do much better with this. They have welcome events for new students but as far as helping the new kids integrate into the school/classroom, much of it is up to the individual child to figure out on his/her own. It took several months for our son to settle in here, but now he's doing great. There are a lot of rules and unspoken expectations that children learn naturally if they're in this system from the very beginning, but it's a tougher transition if they come in later.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
A- Much better than the communication we received from his previous school in Virginia. They use an app called "Class Dojo" to communicate/send pictures most of the time. Sometimes when things happen they are slow to inform the parents, and a couple of times they have called me wondering if I had come to pick him up from school when he was supposed to be on the bus (I hadn't). Overall the teachers and administration do try to be very communicative and it's been appreciated.
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?
Uniforms and some (but not all) school trips. Also some (but not most) after-school clubs. There is one end-of-year overnight trip every year that we definitely had to pay extra for, but some other day-field trips are included in tuition. Total cost was $500 or less for us last year. Older kids go on more ambitious trips that involve flights.
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?
They have a learning support team that also provides some counselling.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
No before-care, but the school day begins at 8am so there is little need for it (his bus comes at 7:15am). They have after-school clubs almost every day throughout each term, but they all end by 4pm. They have buses that leave at the end of the regular school day at 3pm, and then another set of buses that leave at 4pm. All students must either be picked up or on one of those two buses, there's no possibility of children staying at school past 4. However some parents who work at the Embassy have gotten around this by asking the bus to drop their child/ren at the Embassy instead of at their home.
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
Yes, they have a rather large library with lots of books available. My son is a bookworm and has been quite pleased with the selection.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
Seems fine. There is a computer lab
5. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
They provide iPads in the classroom. I believe kids in the older grades are allowed to bring them home throughout the year. Also, a lot of the homework is online so having a computer at home that the child can access is really important.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Children have weekly swimming lessons in a pool offsite in Terms 1 and 3, and weekly ice-skating lessons in a rink offsite in Term 2 (they take a bus every week to get to these lessons). They also have a P.E. class at school every week. There's a track, basketball court, and a gym, as well as multiple playgrounds.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
On average it is around 1 teacher to 20 students. Our son has 22 kids in his class this year, and had 19 in his class last year.
8. 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?
I believe IB is available, but I have no experience with it.
9. 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?
Yes, it's a very challenging school and has been a good fit for our child who is both gifted and has special needs (ADHD and high-functioning Autism). The school is strong in math and writing, and they generally try to identify the strengths in each child and help them learn in the best way possible for that child. The school also has a relationship with Julliard and focuses a lot on the Arts and Music (something my son is unfortunately not that interested in).
10. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
It's too early in the school year to tell for this year, but I did feel like sometimes he had too much homework for a 2nd grader last year. However I did make my feelings about that known to his teacher and he seemed to understand.
11. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Tons - they have a relationship with Julliard and offer individual music lessons on many different instruments. Each year a group does a play every year, and there are other clubs available for most interests, artistic or otherwise.
12. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
13. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Our son has an IEP to address his giftedness as well as his special needs (he's far advanced in reading and quick to learn math, but has trouble staying focused on his work - especially writing).
14. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Our son was in need of an IEP and classroom aide because of his ADHD and mild autism. The school made an IEP and identified someone very quickly to work with him, and she has been a dream come true. He is much better behaved and more willing to do his work ever since his IEP was put into place and since he started working with his aide. The school is very accommodating and the administration will do its best to help any children with individual needs to reach their full potential. We've found them far more welcoming and accommodating than his school in Fairfax County, VA.
15. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
They definitely recognize that not all students at the school are fluent in English and seem to provide them with extra English lessons to help with that.
16. 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?
There are about 20 after-school clubs each term. Some are athletic.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
There are kids from all over the world at this school. Many are Slovak, but I don't believe they make up a majority. My son has friends who are American, Israeli, French, Slovak, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Icelandic, etc.
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.
Some of the boys were exhibiting bullying behavior toward my son last year, but the school handled it as soon as it was brought up. It's unclear whether this is a school-wide issue or not.
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?
A - yes, and in fact we would love to stay in the British system for all of our posts going forward.
2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
Be patient with the administration - they can be difficult to handle at first and sometimes over-communicative. But they are committed to doing what is best for your child.
We learned of our son's ADHD and mild autism a week before moving to Bratislava, so it was basically too late to turn back and we had to make it work. The RMO-P that covers our post was concerned they would expel our son if he had any ADHD/Austism-related outbursts and recommended that we either curtail or put him on ADHD meds right away (both of which we refused to do until we knew it was absolutely necessary).
However, the complete opposite happened when he exhibited these behaviors - his teacher and the school admins recognized his need for extra support and were committed to getting that support for him (opposite of our experience in his Virginia school when he had outbursts which we didn't know they were due to any actual disorders. Our biggest difficulty with BISB was getting the money approved by MED for that support, which took time).
Ever since he started receiving the extra support, he's been thriving and his behavior has dramatically improved. They clearly love our son and care about the children at their school.