WARNING! This is a long post!:)
I have been asked a lot about the schools and when the kids begin. I will break it down child by child because each one will have a different experience. Let me just start off by saying that the Visa paperwork is NOTHING compared to the paperwork I have had to go through to get all 5 kids registered for school. It has been very frustrating and I am beginning to not like the way the French do things. Even the French complain about all the paperwork and nonsense they have to go through, even to receive simple over the counter medicine for example!
Most French households with children have two working parents, thus the government provides schooling for children as young as 2. I have learned that as soon as an infant is 4-6 weeks the mother can go back to work and only pay roughly 100 euros ($131) per month for child care and the government pays around 200 euros ($262). These mothers are usually only getting paid minimum wage and most are only getting 30 hours. The minimum wage is higher but the French are taxed almost 75%. That’s another post for later!
So a few months back when we found out there was a little “Maternelle” (Kindergarten) school in Sanilhac and Sophie would be able to attend, we were excited. Not to send her off, quite the contrary because I do not like preschool and I have never sent my kids to preschool except for AJ who needed services through the county, but because she would be able to have the daily interaction with the French language. I also need to include that Aaron called all the schools before we left the States so we would know exactly what would be needed, i.e. legal documents, etc.
The saga begins… When we arrived in France we did not immediately get to the schools. Two reasons: one, we wanted to have a little vacation family time and two, the French take 6 weeks off in the summer for their vacations and the schools would not be open or available for a phone call until the week of August 25th. Plus, school does not begin until September 2nd. Thursday, August 21st I went to “La Mairie” (the Mayor of our village) to register Jack and Sophie for school. One does not go directly to the school for the smaller children, it has to be done through the Mayor’s office. Aaron was out of town but I felt I needed to start the process for any unexpected bumps in the road. I walked in and talked to the Secretary and the Mayor and started handing them the documents we were told they would need. When I handed the Mayor the copied medical records, he quickly handed them back to me and told me he could not see them, only a Doctor could review and approve them. Remember this is all in French! They told me I would have to go to a Doctor and get a certificate that proves the children are current with their vaccinations and that all medical records were correct. I asked for a Doctor referral since I did not have a clue as to where to go! The Secretary kindly gave me the name, address and directions, and phone number to a Dr. Marc de Saboulin Bollena. I could not even begin the process of registering Jack and Sophie without this certificate. I asked the Mayor if there was anything else I would need. He said to bring a document that has child’s name, birth date, parents names, etc. AKA, a birth certificate. I pulled one out to show him and he said that is exactly what they would need and to bring the birth certificates back. I walked away feeling a little uncomfortable trying to telephone a Doctor, etc., but I was relieved that I understood the conversation and knew I would have everything I needed when I returned.
I get home and l called the Doctor’s office. I was really nervous about this because phone calls are difficult for me to understand in French. I need to see the person I am speaking to. I had asked the Secretary to write down the exact name of the Certificate so I wouldn’t mess anything up. I actually scheduled appointments for all 5 children for the next day at 16h30. Aaron would be home then and he could help me with this experience. We arrived at the Doctor’s office a few minutes early and it was locked. The hours on the door said that the afternoon was for appointments only, but we had an appointment. Aaron quickly reminded me that the French do not work anymore than what is needed so we thought he probably did not have an appointment before us so he locked his office! Sure enough, about a minute before 4:30 the door was unlocked and we began the process.
The Doctor was very serious! It was hard for me to watch as my friendly, humorous husband was trying to break the ice and the Doc would not have anything to do with it. It was interesting. He slowly and methodically looked over each immunization card, proceeded to type with one finger on his computer and told us it would be 46 euros and how were we going to pay for it, cash or check? It threw us off guard and thankfully we were able to rummage up enough euros because we had not yet received our checks. After we paid, he proceeded to take each child’s immunization card, review it, write out a hand written letter with one sentence and gave us the “official” document.
Who does this anymore? An actual hand written note from the Doctor and this was the official document. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had traveled back in time a bit. Anyway, we get to AJ, Austin and Tristan and he tells us they are missing one vaccination each. It was the Pertussis vaccine that my kids are current with in the USA. In France, each child has to have the vaccine every 5 years until they are 18 and then adults get it every 10 years. There is something in the soil that causes this sickness. So, we ask him if he would just give the boys the shot, give us the certificate and be on our way. He then wrote us a prescription for the shot that we had to go purchase and pick up at a pharmacy and then we would have to come back with shot in hand. But, he would not let us come right back. He told us he could not see us and we would need to make another appointment! Aaron then asked if there was any way we could just come back quickly and he said no it was not on his schedule!!! HA!
We go to the pharmacy with a vaccine prescription and they do not have the one the Doctor prescribed. Long story short, they found one that would work, but they were short by one shot. We purchased all three said prescriptions and would wait a few days to go pick them up when the other had time to come in. This was all on a Friday afternoon and I would have to wait until Monday to make a new appointment.
Monday comes and I take the documents to the Mayor to register Jack and Sophie. The same Secretary helps me and she accepts the “Doctor’s Certificate” and then I give her the birth certificates. She then asks if I have the French Document for this. WHAT???? I asked her how I would get a French document for a US document. She then starts getting heated with me and asks if she moved to the USA wouldn’t she need an official USA document? I kindly said no, because her document was an official French document stating her birth and nationality. I told her I did not know what she wanted me to do and that the Mayor had looked at the birth certificates and said to just bring them back. She then left and went to talk to the Mayor. I could hear them arguing for about 5 minutes and then she comes back and tells me that they will make an exception but in the future all documents needed to be Official French Documents. I am still a little perplexed by all that!
So, after all that hassle, she prints out this “Official” word document that states they can start school and we bring that to the school on September 1st when we go meet the Director. (It was one sentence too!)
Sophie will be in the 3 year old class and she goes to school from 9-12. The children then have lunch for 1.5 hours, which they will eat at home. Sophie could return after lunch but her age group takes a long 2 hour nap and then doesn’t do too much else for the rest of the day. I am opting for her to only go from 9-12.
Jack will be with the 5 year olds and he goes from 9-12. He will come home for lunch and then return at 1:30 to have spelling, reading, etc. in the afternoons. Jack has a half day of school on Wednesdays and Fridays. Thankfully the school is a short walk from our house so I can walk them to and from each day.
Now on to the older boys! Aaron called the Doctor’s office Monday and she said to just come in after 9am on thursday and the Doctor could give the vaccine and certificates. Meanwhile, I knew we could not register the boys without this Official Certificate. So, we waited until thursday. Well, Aaron happened to be out of town again yesterday and today so I had to register again by myself. It would be ok!? Right? Right! We all loaded up and went to go to pick up the vaccines at the Pharmacy and went right to the Doctor. No one was in the waiting room and we were next in line. So lucky! (Side note: every task takes twice as long in France for some reason!) The Doctor proceeded to look over immunization cards, administered the vaccine to each boy, typed with one finger on his computer, wrote out a one sentence “Official Document” and had me pay 69 euros. We were in and out in 30 minutes! Thank goodness! By this time it was around 11am and I wanted to go right to the school which was around the corner. I knew we had until 12 because almost all businesses/offices close at 12 for a one hour lunch. We get to the school and what seems like the “front office” is closed. No one is there. We look around for a few minutes and the boys remark about how different it looks, etc. I could not see any other offices so we left. I thought we always have tomorrow, Friday.
Last night I received a phone call from our friends, the Darguences. Aline had received a phone call from the school inquiring if the boys were still going to be attending. I told her I was at the school earlier in the day and no one was there. She said to call first thing in the morning! I had Aaron call from Paris this morning to make sure everything was on track. We went this morning and the same looking “front office” was locked and closed. We were there at 10:30am. I thought this could’t be right. Sure enough, all the offices were further back in the courtyard with no sign or any indication of offices. We found the secretary and started with the registration process. All three boys will be in the same school! YEAH! I had to fill out 3 forms, all in French, with interesting questions. For example, does my child need a wheel chair? Does my child have permission to leave school if the teacher for the last class of the day does not show up?
The Principal wanted to meet with us and introduce himself so we had to schedule an appointment for 11:30am. I thought that was funny because we were right next to his office and it was 10:50 at this point, but he had to have a scheduled appointment to meet with us! So I filled out forms to pass the time while the kids ran around the huge courtyard. The Principal was nice and tried to explain things in English. This meeting lasted about 45 minutes. We finished up with the Secretary by 12:30 with her telling me to fill more info out at home because of the time. She handed me a school supply list that is going to cost a small fortune! Plus, it will be comical trying to figure out what everything is.
All three boys are registered at Collège Lou Redounet in Uzès. They will take the public bus to and from school. The government gives students bus passes. That took me another 2.5 hours of paperwork today. Hopefully they will receive their bus cards in the mail in the next few weeks. We will drive them until they have their card. AJ is in the 3ème grade. All French students begin to learn a second language in elementary school so the Principal was surprised to find out my boys had not studied another language. He is going to let AJ just take extra English instead of a second language, apart from the French. This will be great for him as he needs Special Education in America. Basically, this school offers bilingual instruction. Austin is in the 4ème grade. He has chosen to study English and Italian. This means that two or three days a week he receives 3 hours of instruction in English and 3 hours of instruction in Italian. The other days it is all French. We have lucked out! How cool is that? French and Italian! Tristan is in the 6ème grade and he has chosen to do English and German! We walked away feeling so blessed that this opportunity is before them and all of us! America is so behind in the foreign language department!
Tristan starts school on Tuesday at 9am and he goes until 4:30pm. Austin goes on Wednesday from 9-12 and then AJ starts on Wednesday at 10-12. Thursday is the day they will all start together. I am probably forgetting some info but I am so tired of this post that I am signing off!