Finding the perfect school for our kids in Barcelona has been a process of discovery.
Every day for almost two weeks, we have devoted ourselves to the dogged pursuit of more information. We've easily walked several miles each day, criss-crossing the city, taking many trains and buses, and stopping frequently to learn the character of neighborhoods block by block. We've talked to locals and taxistas, timed trains to figure out exactly how long it would take to get from a particular neighborhood to a particular school, and worked with a local realtor to find out what apartments are available in certain areas.
We tracked down several American families with real local school experience (via email and through admissions officers) to get the inside scoop on the five private schools where we'd applied.
Together we also attended five official school visit/interviews around 90 minutes each... took tours and talked at length with faculty members... and then deeply contemplated the benefits and drawbacks of each school. This meant getting up very early, taking public transportation for up to 80 minutes across town to arrive on time, and dressing up! The kids developed a lot of important interview skills this week.
We have made pro and con lists together while cooking dinner or filling up on tapas at local cafes.
Most importantly we talked in person for hours with two different families who currently have children in the final schools we were seriously considering. These conversations were so helpful, and also really eye-opening. It turns out there are a lot of expensive private schools in Barcelona that offer a pretty crap education. (Makes me so proud of the incredible free education that High Tech High is providing to our students at home!)
From them we learned that the actual academics in a few of the private schools we'd applied to apparently leave a lot to be desired. There is virtually no Castilian Spanish instruction, as the main language here now is Catalan. Math and science are weak and the schools lack engineering. There are only a few electives offered. Most of the areas these schools will cover at each grade level in the coming year reflect content and skills that our Scientist, Soccer Dude and Little Angel have already mastered.
Some of the schools apparently are also attended by the wealthiest and most privileged Catalans and Spaniards in Barcelona... which is not a problem in and of itself; but as explained by one American mom during a long chat today:
"The private schools face a really tough problem. They have to negotiate a balance between meeting the expectations of their wealthy Spanish clients who will stay for the full K12 education, and meeting the needs/hopes of transient foreign families (including Americans) who will stay only a year or two." The way this plays out is that foreign students sometimes experience bullying by natives and the school's hands are somewhat tied in dealing with it.
She spoke from personal experience, and we heard that same story again and again from other expat parents. Family after family told the same tale. A division between foreign students and Catalans. Tough adjustments. Lots of tears at home.
Clearly it didn't feel great to think of spending money for private school only to have our children getting a sub-par education, possibly with some bullying too.
Thanks to all this info, Señor Aventura and I decided to keep our appointments with some of the "What if?" schools we'd pushed down our list... including that lovely Agora International Sant Cugat I'd written about before. Its distance from Barcelona had originally seemed a bit far, yet there was also something very special about the campus.
So we kept that appointment... plus a few others, and in my next post, I'll talk about how that visit to Agora International Sant Cugat changed our plans and gave our process of discovery the truly happy ending we'd been hoping to find. More on that soon!