Earlier this week I was told of a local expat from Australia who sends her kids to the local Panamanian school. She was very nice to meet with me yesterday and answer all my questions. She told me of her arrangement with the school that her kids would attend school to learn Spanish, make friends and participate in cultural activities. During class time that was not relevant to them, they would work independently on their homeschool curriculum. They have thrived in this environment for the past 4 years and as a result, all her kids are fluent in Spanish and have integrated fully. The oldest has gone back to Australia to start college and the second oldest (her only daughter) was recently voted queen of the town. Her kids speak Spanish with no accent as if they were natives.
Here in Panama it’s best to be “presented” to someone new, rather than just show up cold. So Karla agreed to “present” us to the Directora of the local school this morning. We showed up around 8 after the hubbub of the start of school was over (school starts at 7:30). The school is K-12 and has three different parts – the preschool/Kinder building, the primary school (grades 1-6) and the “high school” (grades 7-12). We met with the Directora of the primary school and had a very nice conversation and she was happy to enroll the girls with a similar arrangement as Karla’s kids. Karla now has 2 boys in the high school. We met one of them and when walking through the school with him we felt like we were in the presence of royalty. Almost every kid we passed greeted him by name. Since her kids have been the only “gringo” kids in the school, full time, for the past 4 years, they are quite well known, as you can imagine.
There are only about 3 more weeks of school here until it breaks for the year. It will resume in March. Instead of putting the girls in their current grades (3 and 7) and then moving them up a grade in March, we chose to put them both one grade back so when they return in March they will move up with their same aged classmates and be in the correct grades. And given that kids here are generally older than their US counterparts in the same grade, it seemed to be the right thing.
We agreed the girls would start on Monday. They met their teachers, the PE coach, and the English teachers. Everyone seemed extremely kind and more than happy to meet the girls.
School goes from 7:30am – 1:00pm, with a 30 minute early release on Thursdays for a weekly staff meeting. Uniforms are required for all kids (including PE uniforms) but Friday is a “free” day for clothing as long as it’s modest (shoulders, upper arms and legs past the knees must be covered).
After the school meeting we set off for Chitre to get uniforms for the girls (again! shopping all day in Chitre! UGH!) and were moderately successful even though it’s really the wrong season for “back to school”. Haley is horrified by the skirt she has to wear but Zoe is quite excited. I think they both look awesome but it is a very different look for them. Pictures will be posted on Monday, of course.
A few other tidbits about our day: For their uniforms we bought 5 white blouses, 4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of shoes (PE and regular), and 4 skirts for $130. Prices on these required items are extremely reasonable. They aren’t the most comfortable (Haley calls her shirt a “hay shirt” because it’s scratchy) but they work.
We went to Chitre for the uniforms and boogie boards and a wifi router. Seems like a simple list, right? No. Two stores for the uniforms (given that these uniforms are the same for EVERY public school in Panama, it should have been easier), two stores for the router, 3 stores for 2 Spanish/English dictionaries (having them on their phones is not practical for at school) and no boogie boards to be found other than the pricey ones here in Pedasi. And it took us all day.
We were headed back to Pedasi around 5:30 and once again I did not have anything planned for dinner so we had to stop at the dreaded grocery store with the busy meat counter. This time I recruited both girls to help. Zoe’s job was to push the cart and not ask for something with sugar every 2 seconds. Haley’s job was to keep me focused and get me out of the store with food for dinner. They both did a very good job and I managed to get out of there with no meltdown. We ate dinner at 8 (cooking from scratch takes a long time) and it was not chicken and rice but it was well received by the whole family.
And I’m on day 3 of trying to do laundry. That is a very long story and will be a post of it’s own once it comes to some kind of successful conclusion. Which could be weeks. We might have to go shopping for more underwear in Chitre. I’m sure it will take all day.