For our family, one of the most important things we wanted to iron out before making the decision to move to Italy was how we would handle the girls going to school. In my research, I found it was very expensive to send them to a private international school in Rome. For two girls, it could be as high as $80,000 a year and as low as $33,000 a year. That was definitely too much for us, especially since our move to Italy was fueled by the need to decrease our expenses while maintaining our standard of living. One thing I did find out in my research is that Italians usually go to school for a half day, 6 days a week. And there it was! Bingo!
I got the idea that I could send my girls to Italian school in the morning and in the afternoon they could supplement their learning by attending American School online…at least until the language gap was bridged.
Shortly after we arrived, we began the registration process. I talked to some neighbors, got the names of the local schools and went by with all of their paperwork to register them. However, I was told there were no spots available for my youngest daughter. Wait. A public school with no availability? Turns out, in Italy, you can send your children to any public school you wish, as long as you can get them there. So schools fill up for the following year shortly after registration is opened. Yikes. The nearest school with availability was 15 minutes away. Now the drive isn’t the issue, the town was. I’d passed through that town on the way to the beach and the girls and I literally joked about the school. We mentioned this to home owner of the house we rent when he came by to remove some furniture he’d left. He told us he’d make a phone call and we’d be able to register the girls, no problem. Now, his English isn’t good and my Italian is even worse, so I wasn’t sure that he understood when I told him that I’d already gone by and they’d informed me there were no available spots. He messaged me shortly after he left the house and told me to go by the school immediately and ask to speak to the president and register them.
So, I went to the school, asked for the president, told him who sent me and they registered them there on the spot. He asked me if the girls wanted to go to school 5 days a week or 6. The difference would be they’d attend school an hour longer. I picked the 5-day schedule so we could sleep in or take a weekend trip if we wanted. They didn’t ask to see any documents, we didn’t even have our Permessos di Soggiorno yet. See in Italy, it’s mandatory to send your kids to school, so whether or not they have proper legal documentation is irrelevant. All children are allowed to attend regardless of the citizenship status. The inverse is that homeschooling your children is illegal. (Fun Fact: The only school in the area with availability ended up closing down right before the winter break and those kids were sent to the schools in my town that originally had no availability.)
Even before school started, I found out there are quite a few differences between Italian school and American school:
- The first being, you have to purchase your children’s text books. You can order them from the bar or the grocery store. Yes, I know it sounds weird. It is weird lol. I probably spent about $350 on books for Dominique who’s in middle school. Elementary school books are somewhat subsidized so I spent about $30 for Aaja who’s entering 1st grade.
- That brings me to the next difference. School starts at 1st grade here, not kindergarten.
- The kids start school a year sooner than America. In Texas, there’s a strict cutoff. The child has to have turned 5 by September 1st. Aaja’s birthday is September 10th and she literally had to wait a whole year to start. Here, most of the kids in Aaja’s 1st grade class are 5 years old and will turn 6 by the end of the year. While Aaja entered first grade at age 7.
- School supplies are not posted in the stores. They wont receive a list at all. You have to wait until each teacher communicates which supplies the child will need for that class. This could take a week or two. But at the same time, you still need to send them with some fundamental things like pencils, crayons, notepads or whatever else you deem as age-appropriate necessities.
- Schools supplies are expensive! You can get a spiral notebook in American for 10 to 30 cents. Don’t expect to pay less than a Euro here (about $1.05). Pencils are a Euro each. Pens are almost 2 € each. A box of Crayons? Get ready to fork over 3-4€.
- The kids don’t attend a full day until school’s been in session for a week or two. Italians seem to think that kids should ease into the school year. They usually go in late, about 9 or 930 and get out early, about 11 or 1130. By the middle of the first week, they maybe start at the normal time and get out by noon. And no, this information isn’t published on the school’s website. It’s announced daily. By the end of the second week they’ll start and release them at their regular times. For Aaja, that’s 830-130p and for Dominique, that’s 815-2 pm. The children who attend school 6 days a week get out at 12:30 for elementary school and 1 pm for middle school.
- The school calendar is not published in advance. My girls were in school for almost an entire month before they sent home a school calendar. And get this…it was only a partial calendar that ended in April. I mean, I know Italians are laid back and all, but they couldn’t manage to work out the schedule for the last two months, May and June? It’s January and I can see Plano ISD’s calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. We’re currently looking at a summer cruise and I have no idea when my kids’ last day is and I definitely don’t know when school starts.
- Kids do not eat lunch at school. Well, not really. Since Aaja doesn’t go to school for the normal 6 days a week, she does have one full day of school from 830-430. She has lunch at school that day and it consists of 4 courses: antipasto, pasta, meat dish with veggies, and a dessert. Price is a bit steep in my opinion. It’s 4.50€ (about $4.82) Dominique, who goes to school from 815-2 doesn’t have lunch. They have two snack breaks where the kids usually munch on a sandwich or have a cold rice dish.
- Kids don’t have lockers. They carry all of their books in their backpacks everyday.
- There no public school bus. Most of the moms do not work here and the ones that do, usually get a grand parent or other family member.There is a (single) bus run by city that services the middle and elementary school. It costs 110€ per child, per school year.
- The kids in middle school and high school don’t rotate classes. The teachers actually rotate.
- The kids have A LOT of homework. I mean A LOT. Aaja, who’s in first grade, has homework everyday. They even have homework over the winter break and the summer!
- For high school, they are required to choose a discipline. There’s science, language, sports, technical, vocational (construction, catering, secretarial, carpentry, etc) and classics (Latin, Greek, Italian literature and philosophy).
- Religion is included on the curriculum. Basically, the course is centered around Catholicism. By law you can opt out of taking it, but don’t be surprised if your child is the only one in his or her class NOT taking it.
- They have quite a few oral exams. The only time I ever had an oral exam was when I took Spanish 2 in high school.
The teaching staff seem to really care about the girls. For Dominique, all of her teachers custom fit her curriculum to accommodate her language gap. They reach out to me to schedule one-on-one parent meetings to discuss her progress. She tells me they are very encouraging, often shouting “Bravissima” even at, what she considers, small milestones.
The children and parents are also very friendly. Dominque and Aaja are like a little celebrites. Every week a new parent is trying to schedule a play date or some pre-teen is texting me if Dominique can hang out.
The question I get asked most often is how their Italian is coming along. I would have to say after 2 months, they’d learned more than I thought they’d learn all year. The area has a lot of free resources for immigrants. Twice a week, the girls have personal tutoring to help them with their homework. Once a week, there’s Italian language class. (They also provide an adult Italian language class 3 times a week.) Once a week, they have a theater class for non-Italian speakers. All of these are free programs provided by the government to help facilitate a smooth transition for immigrants.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the Italian schools and the vast amount of resources available to all of us.