A few months ago, we decided to put our kids in Peruvian Christian school.
That isn’t a sentence I thought I’d be typing, we were homeschooling our kids while on the mission field, and things were going well.
But over the last few months we started realizing that despite Jeremiah being in soccer a few days a week, and having a few little friends at church, he was just not picking up Spanish the way we had hoped he would have by now. In fact, he wasn’
t really leaving the house that often (when your mom is a homebody, you end up being a homebody). One of the things I was really worried about was that Jeremiah, and the other two, were going to grow up and look back on their childhood and not feel like Arequipa was ever their home. I worried that our kids were going to feel like we tried to keep them as American as possible with out letting them truly experience Peruvian culture or even give them a chance to learn Spanish well.
So, with some nervous hesitation, we decided to look into a broadly Christian school less than a mile from our house. We didn’t know what to expect, but we liked what we saw, and we liked how close it was to our home, and we liked the values they say they instill in their students. We felt comfortable with the level of education they teach the children (Peru has been ranked low in education, which concerned us). But what we really loved was that they seemed very open and willing to work with the little American boy who really couldn’t speak Spanish.
*Side story: When my grandpa was a young boy growing up in the Italian community of the Bronx,NY, he too started school, but only knew Italian. His teacher decided to set up a parent/teacher conference with his parents, and carefully wrote a well translated note in Italian and pinned it to my grandpa’s jacket. When they showed up for the meeting, the teacher had a special translator present, but to her shock, my great grandparents spoke perfect English, they just hadn’t taught their children yet. The teacher was furious and sent my grandpa home and said in two weeks he’d better come back speaking English. Which he did.
Another amazing thing, was that we decided to start pursuing putting Jeremiah in school right as the school year was about to begin (school goes from March-December here), and the first grade class had space for our little guy. So we signed him up, paid the many many fees, and then were handed a list of school supplies and books and uniforms we needed to find and buy.
I hadn’t understood when the other moms at church here would say “ugh, I’ve got to get my kid’s school supplies still.” In my American mind, I just pictured one browsing through the school supply section of Target (after having treated yourself to a cute new shirt), check off the maybe 15 things the teacher asked for, and then called it a day.
The list was….long. And very detailed. And every single book was only found in a specific location on the other side of Arequipa from the last location. And some of the school supplies were crazy obscure and hard to find. And expensive. I hired a taxi driver in our church to take me around for the day and knock out that list, and I’m so thankful he did because there is no way I would have been able to find it all on my own. Next year I’m thinking about doing a school supply co-op- I’m sure the other moms will totally be in.
One thing I was really worried about was the amount of homework they were going to expect of Jeremiah every night. I had heard that Peru has a reputation for sending home a lot of work and I was nervous about what they were going to require. But this year the school declared that this is the “Year with out precedence; The year of no homework.” There is no better sentence for a parent to hear than that.
Really from day one Jeremiah has loved going to school and has made friends quickly. The other day I saw him greet one of his classmates and they had one of those cute little guy handshake fist bump things going, which made me think they’ve had that little code for a while now. Nothing makes a parent’s heart happy like watching your kid make friends easily.
He does come home pretty tired, but that’s to be expected. I know 7 hours a day of straight Spanish would make me want to just come home and veg. I’ve also been pleased to watch him grow in certain areas of school work, things I think he is learning how to do well in school like penmanship, and of course he is picking up a ton of Spanish.
But I’m also learning a lot about Peruvian culture from our experiences with the school too. I think sending your kid to school allows for some great insight into what the culture values.
For example, and most recently, Mother’s Day. Now, that’s a nice holiday in the US, generally we used to make our moms a card at school and maybe a handprint or something, but the celebration was saved for Sunday when we take our moms out to brunch after church. But here, we had been preparing for this day for weeks. It started with a mandatory parent’s meeting where the parents had to decide and vote on what they wanted to pay for and receive as a “gift” for Mother’s Day. Some suggested jewelry, while others wanted a mug with our picture on it. An hour later, the mug won and we all agreed to send $5 each. But then, they also wanted to do a raffle (Peruvians LOVE raffles, I mean, who doesn’t, really) and each mom had to send a specific item of food (mine was a kilo of noodles) so they could put together these big baskets of food to raffle off at the big Mother’s Day program. We also sent money (about $15) to cover the cost of food for our little party and a t-shirt for our kids with the same picture on it that was on our mug. It was at that moment that I was really thankful I wasn’t head of the PTA this year, when so much in my life (kids, home, church ministries) is my responsibility, it is really nice to sit back and enjoy.
The Mother’s Day program was an even bigger deal than I had expected. There were speeches given by the director of the school and teachers about how important mothers are. Each class did a sweet little song and dance about how much they love their moms, Jeremiah’s of course was the best one, and then the raffle.
But what I had zero context for was the competition that we all participated in at the beginning. All the moms divided up into their kid’s classroom (there are three first grades for example) and at each table was a marker, some tape and some trash (okay, recyclable trash, to be clear) And the goal was to make something out of that trash that symbolized motherhood. There are many moments in my Spanish existence here where I don’t exactly know what’s going on, but I can gather enough pieces together to get a context, but this one left me feeling incredibly confused. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one there, and the other Peruvian moms took over and one in particular decided we should make a tree.
And so, with all of the furry and creativity that we could muster, we cut leaves out of old newspaper and hearts and used tissue paper and old boxes, and our tree came to life. And we won the competition, each receiving a tiny manicure set.
After, we all gathered in our kid’s classrooms where we had refreshments and some of the moms shared about what it was like to find out they were pregnant with their child. It was sweet, and just as I was about to volunteer, we so sadly ran out of time. There’s always next year.
That evening, Gabriella’s pre-school had a mother’s day program as well. She has been taking ballet from the school so they did a ballet recital (how cute are chubby 4 year old legs in tights and a tutu??) and then an all school production of The Wizard of Oz. Gabriella was Dorothy, and she sat there wagging her finger when it was her turn to “talk.” Really, they had put a recording of the entire play on speaker, like an audio book that the kids wagged their fingers to or hopped around when it was their turn to participate. It was crazy cute.
But honestly, I don’t think I would have realized how important Mother’s Day is to Peruvian culture had we not experienced this through the kid’s school. I could go on and on (as I already have) about other things we are learning, but I’ll save that for another time. I’m glad we are doing this, I’m glad our kids can participate in the Peruvian culture at this time and that they are able to make some national friends and learn the language well.