I spent Tuesday evening sitting on a Smurf-sized plastic chair, listening to the principal of the public junior high (college in France) expound upon the many delights of her school, which my twin daughters will be attending in the fall.
The delights, as it turns out, are few and far between. In fact, the principal's swell version of a pep-talk actually gave me second thoughts about sending the girls.
She was a trim and efficient-looking woman of about 60, well-dressed in that very French way: very accessorized (you MUST have a scarf or ELSE), very expensive-looking and also very uncomfortable-looking. She seemed like a nice person and very smart...but her interest was definitely not in "selling" us the school. Or even making us feel vaguely reassured.
In fact, as she went on, I grew more and more convinced someone was probably paying her cash for every parent that backed out and sent their child to a private school instead.
The first thing she said was something like this: "We are a large establishment in terms of students. For next year, there are 414 children registered. But as the building was constructed to hold a maximum of 300, that means we are very, very crowded. In short, space is tight."
The other talking points were:
There aren't enough restrooms, but there's no room to add any more.
They'd like to have lockers for the children, but there's no room.
The cafeteria is nice, but only seats 150 people. And unfortunately it has to serve over 600 children every lunchtime, as it is also used by the primary school.
The new gymnasium is nice, but it is severely under-insulated. In the winter, the interior is often barely above freezing and cannot be used.
The teachers are well-meaning, but often beat the children with rake handles and lock them in the basement, which, incidentally, contains rats.
Ok. Maybe I made up that last one.
But you get the idea, right?
In short, it was all a huge contrast to the day I had two weeks ago, when I went to go visit the high school (lycée) that Eldest Daughter will be attending next year. The teacher that gave us the tour had nothing but nice things to say and lovely things to show us. No ice-box gyms or overflowing bathrooms.
As a matter of fact, they have a gorgeous gym with three rock-climbing walls, a wonderful new indoor pool and all renovated classrooms. And the study-hall is a converted chapel with lovely stained glass windows.
Of course, it's a private Catholic school and they want students. And I wouldn't mind sending the twins, but that would mean getting them on a bus at 6:45 for a long ride to school, instead of hopping on a bus at 8am and being at school five minutes later. And the same for the trip home. If they go to the village school, they'll be home at 5 pm, rather than 6.
Another plus of the village school is that the girls could start German right away. At the private school, they can't start another language for three more years.
So, it's still not at all clear what we should do....