I’ve been an American school mum for almost as long as an English school mum. 3 years in England and 2 in Florida.
The schools are so different! The kids however, are equally happy in either.
When we were offered a transfer to Jacksonville we didn’t initially say yes. We needed to consider how a move like that would impact the kids, particularly Poppy. Their education was a big factor to consider.
Both girls were very happy at their primary school (the same one I had attended and loved myself) Leo was due to start the year after the offered move and the thought of him not attending made me sad.
Poppy in particular was happy & succeeding. Could we really justify pulling her out and starting afresh across the atlantic??
The first step was to look into potential schools. A quick google brought St. Johns County, North East Florida to our attention. The best performing school district near Robs potential office.
A few emails and phone calls were exchanged with the school board over the next few weeks that gave us the confidence we could move Poppy.
We knew Izzy would be good. She’s always been confident and at age 6 young enough to adjust.
In Florida, the school you attend is decided on your home address. No applying and hoping you get in to your chosen school. You can buy or rent a house for a particular school. This school will continue to let kids in, adding villas (porta cabins!) if neccessary. However if the school zone is amended or you move out of the zone – you leave the school.
When we arrived in Florida we picked our house and started meetings with the school board immediately. They began assessing Poppy for Speech, physical therapy and occupational therapy as well as IQ. Within 2 weeks (Incredibly fast compared to England) they had a good idea of her capabilities and decided she would be in an Exceptional student unit. Joining a regular education class for socialising – lunch, school trips etc.
They also pulled her back a year. Big difference in the school systems. Poppy really needed to go back a year. She needed to be socially closer to her peers but mainly to try and close the gap in her education. It also meant I had both girls in the same grade making it an easier transition for both. Even more reason for people to assume they’re twins!
We arrived 1st May. 3 weeks before school was due to finish so we were asked to wait until the start of the new year – 10th August, before enrolling the girls. The longest school holiday ever!! We knew no one and had no clue where to go.
It was tough but we made it. 12 weeks is a standard summer break here. There are a few days off for Thanksgiving, 2 weeks at christmas and a week for spring break. I enjoy not having to worry about all the small breaks and entertainment but by May the kids are pretty burnt out. Then that #12weeksofsummer
To my surprise before the girls started school we were given a supply list that we had to shop for. Around $50 each child was spent on stationary supplies. I don’t think I ever even sent a pencil into UK school! Over the 2 years we have been in school here I can see why the different counties have different results. If you are in a poorer area there is not going to be as much parental financial support as there will be in a good area code.
Same with the PTO it relies a lot on financial support from school families.
The day before school starts is ‘meet the teacher’. The 1st thing I noticed immediately is how hands on all staff members are. High fives along the corridor and cuddles from new teachers. Izzy had left a pretty old school teacher (also taught me!) She looked shocked when her 1st grade teacher engulfed her in a welcoming cuddle 😂
The county we live in has started building k-8 academies. So you start at the school age 5 and leave at 14. The students are generally in different areas. The middle school students get to volunteer and intern around the school including elementary classes. I love how Poppy had teenage friends that offered to help in her class.
Each year you move through the school your home class will change. So Izzy is on her 3rd set of friends. Now i liked moving through primary as a pack and Izzy noticed this summer how she has to make new friends every year. It’s like changing teams at work you still see colleagues but you work with new people. It does mean you end up knowing the majority of kids in your grade which is nice when out in the community!
Being a popular county, school is big. We left a school of about 250 and moved into a 1300 pupil school.
Currently there are 8 classes per grade. However there are only 18 kids per class in elementary. This has been a definite advantage for Izzy. In the Uk she was good. Not noticed for playing up and not noticed for being amazing. Often lost in a class of 30 😐 I even had to ask for a certificate before we left, as 8 months in year 1 she hadn’t been given a single one.
Both girls settled in to school well. They enjoyed seeing each other for lunch and their resource lesson – art, media, computing, P.E etc.
At the beginning of every school day they pledge their allegiance to the flag. Similar to how their catholic school would start with a prayer. I like how it instills a sense of pride in all the children. Even leo knew it by the time he was 3.
Days here don’t generally start with an assembly. To quote Leo’s bestie “the walls and ceiling talk to you” 😂 Announcements are made through the speaker system.
There is a lot more parental involvement here. You can volunteer to give artsmart or character classes, general helping in class, proctoring for tests, helping pto with fundraising- book fair, fun run, school spirit shop. My favourite- you can join your child any and every day for lunch! I like to show up and surprise mine.
If a parent or family member is going to volunteer they have to go through a county security check and sign in through a locked door. Now the security needed at schools here makes me sad and worried. Leo and Izzys school have an armed security officer and have been showing students videos on how to respond to an active shooter. Obviously I prefer them to know what to do but it breaks my heart my 5 & 8 year olds could potentially fear being at school.
Poppy has moved on from public school. Attending a private special needs school. This may have been the path in England too. She is happy and progressing already but more on that in a month or so.