Elementary School Enrollment

We’ve been working on school plans for the fall, especially for the twins. Sam is happy at Lih-Jen and will continue into fourth grade there. This semester we took him out of CSL. He has made a fair number of friends through CSL but in the end we decided he would do better just attending the regular Chinese class. He can’t keep up with the reading and writing and we don’t have the time to have him do the homework that would be necessary to do this (probably an extra hour a night + tutoring). At the same time, he seems to follow along in class and be fine with this arrangement. He’s doing well in English and science.

The public school next door for the twins?

With the twins, we had considered trying enrollment at the local public school. We had several reasons for this: (1) they’re a little older for their grade and seem farther along than Sam was at this point (they know their ABCs, are doing some sight words and know Bopomofo), (2) there’s a good public school right next door to us, (3) it would be nice to “front load” more Chinese since we’re more confident about how they’ll do on English (with Sam we weren’t sure how reading would go heading into elementary school but then after six months of first grade he was fine), and (4) public school is cheaper.

That said, enrollment at the public school across the street seems nearly impossible. Emily went and checked in with the enrollment officer at Ren’ai and that teacher told it was an “overfilled school” 額滿學校and asked her to pick from two other schools for our zone (Guangfu or Sanxing). I was kind of distraught by this. I went and checked in with the enrollment officer again—she’s very nice—and she gave me the elementary enrollment people for the education department. On Friday I went and met with them. They talked to me somewhat reluctantly for about a half hour and here’s what I gathered from that.

Things to Know about Public School Enrollment

As background, here’s what I would say:

+ I had heard that foreigners can essentially just enroll at the closest local school, at least for the early grades. This is not true.

+ While the English guidelines suggest that schools will have an enrollment plan for foreigners (guidelines 17 and 20 here), this rule supposedly applies only to schools that are seeking out exchange opportunities.

+ The guideline here says that you can enroll your child if there are 35 or fewer per class is outdated. The number is now 29.

+ If there is competition for slots, to get into the “drawing” for the school (where an individual school will go through its priority lists and enroll students), foreigners need to go to immigration to get their full record of visas and entries/departures.

+It may also be necessary to go to the local household registry place and confirm your status for the draw and get on the school’s drawing list.

+Apparently there are different priorities for schools, which include: low income students, owned/rented housing in the district, when one moved into the current zone, number of children, possibly being a foreigner, etc. I don’t understand the priority lists yet, but will try to post a current list when I do.

+Things work differently for public kindergartens—where often a small number of applicants can draw into the school—and for junior high and high school where there’s a whole other series of tests and so on.

Takeaways

I’ve talked to some parents in our local park, and they helped provide additional info new parents should know:

+If you don’t draw into the preferred school, you will be able to have your kids attend any other school in the zone with openings.

+If you want kids to do homework and keep up, they almost always have to go to an afternoon school program and/or do tutoring.

+For elementary school, classes start with four half-days and one full day a week.

+Local schools (and even the bilingual schools) assume that parents will work to keep their children up to speed and the onus is on the student to stay up to speed.

+Local school offices are often not used to working with foreigners and will not necessarily know how to help you with enrollment (at Ren’ai, they were friendly but at first told us the twins couldn’t sign up for the waiting list until the start of first grade).

+Even for private schools there’s still a lot of variation on how enrollment works. Some definitely require foreigners to draw and at other you can just enroll.

We’re leaning towards just having the twins go to Lih-Jen, the bilingual school, with their siblings. This has a number of pros: easy enrollment, all-in-one 8-4 education, rather than having to shop a separate program for the half-days, a Chinese curriculum + an English curriculum, multiple teachers (so they aren’t out of luck if their one teacher is a bad match), and some extracurriculars as part of the school day. It’s still hard to do English and Chinese well and it will probably be hard to keep them at grade level in Chinese, but for us it’s a reasonable compromise. A friend in the park also said they like the diversity of the public schools, whereas the private schools are all wealthier. Eva has a friend in a public school (she also could not go to the closest school and was slotted into the one with the most openings) who seems to have done fairly well (parents don’t speak Chinese but they have a good tutor). For us the challenge is that with three I just can’t see us realistically walking the twins somewhere a half hour away and getting Sam to school and dealing with after school programs that are farther from us.

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