"Rentrée" in French means "re-entry" in English and is a word that pops up way more often than you'd think. The French love their "rentrées". There is the rentreé politique (when the bigwigs get back to work after the summer holidays), la rentrée of the cinema (when the summer dross is replaced by the "real" films of the year), and then there is the Big Enchilada of all rentrées: the Rentrée Scolaire.
I guess that in English there is the phrase "back-to-school" but trust me, those three words do not even come close to packing the powerful punch of the French Rentrée Scolaire.
For one month, this key concept dominates life here in France. There is not a newscast on the air that does not feature someone being interviewed about some aspect of the French school system. They address questions like: "Our childrens' school bags- Are they too darn heavy?" (Short answer according to Burkinamom: yes!) and "School supplies- Are they too darn expensive?" (again, yes!).
This last is a reference to the baffling Rentrée ritual that is the school-supply list. This is generally distributed the first week of class and usually provides a mind-bendingly specific and lengthy list of supplies and study aides. Some teachers are insanely precise in their requests: a specific brand of coloured pencils or a ruler of a specific length and no other. And no substitutes are accepted. This can be interpreted as a) the teacher's way of establishing authority or b) a symbolic part of a long tradition of academic rigour, or possibly c) a symptom of systemic anal-retentiveness.
Another subject of much debate during the Rentrée 2008 is the new "rythme scolaire aménagé". In English it means: "arranged school rhythm".
Umm- well that didn't help much, did it?
What the phrase means is that there is a new and improved school schedule that is supposed to be better for children. It hasn't yet been started in all schools, as it's been left up the individual towns to decide. But our village has decided to try it.
So, the twins start their school day down in the village at 8:30am and get out at 11:30 for lunch. Then they go back from 1:30 until 4:15. They do this four days a week. only. Wednesday there is no school, and of course, they have the weekends off.
It seems a little odd, but we're willing to give it a try. It's only for one year, anyway. Next year the twins will be at the private Catholic school with our older children. This school has opted not to go with the newfangled system and has many more hours of class per week.
Valentine, for example, has classes four days a week from 8 untill 11:30 and then 1:30 until 5pm. On Wednesdays she has classes all morning. And sometimes she will even have to go on Saturday mornings as well, because she will be getting ready to face the Brevet, an important school exam she'll have to take at the end of this school year. It's a big deal and the kids prepare for it all year long. The better schools even offer some "brevets blancs", which are practise tests. Luckily, the Juvé is one of the "better schools" and Valentine will have this extra help.
But it won't all be hard work for Valentine. There is some fun in store- her class already has a trip scheduled for next month. They will be going to Germany for one week!