Bratislava, Slovakia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/13/10
Personal Experiences from Bratislava, Slovakia
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
primary and secondary
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
I don't have information about this area.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
F: There is little to no support of new students and families. You can certainly meet with administrators upon request, but for a school with such high turnaround of students (as with any international school), BISB does very little to accommodate transfers, acknowledge transitions, or address family needs. In fact, Americans used to schools that have guidance counselors or counselors of some sort will be surprised to find that BISB does not have anyone of this sort. There is a staff member to address learning problems, but no one to deal with transition issues, emotional issues, or other issues. Perhaps this is the British way, but it was surprising to us.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
Although BISB calls itself an international school, and although many of its teachers are lovely, dedicated individuals, this school really has become an English-as-a-second-language school, primarily teaching children whose native language is not English, and with dwindling resources. Native English speakers--especially those who are bright--tend to get less attention and therefore less of a high-quality educational experience here.
2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:
C or D: As stated above, expat families who have native English speakers as students at BISB do not get as much attention as local and non-native-speaking expats. This is because the school is trying to teach English to a growing number of non-English speakers (including a large number of Slovak students whose parents send them here to learn English), and teachers have a hard time differentiating by ability when the abilities are so wide-ranging (from children who speak no English to those who are fluent and bright). In addition, in our experience, quite a few of the local students exhibited behavior that was disruptive to the classroom environment, making it additionally difficult for teachers to do their job--and students who wanted to learn to do theirs. Separately, but related to the fairness issue, one year, some classes of one grade level went on an end-of-year trip, while others did not. This was billed as something that happened every year, but the teachers who did not take their classes said they had decided not to go. This set up an unfair situation between those students who went and those who did not.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Varied: Again, it varied with the teacher. Some teachers were spot-on about communication, responding regularly via email and calls. Others were more difficult to communicate with.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
F for gifted, B for learning difficulties (I have no personal experience with the latter): There are NO services for gifted students who need academic challenge. Students with learning difficulties are helped by the learning counselor, and teachers help those with limited English because they have to do so to keep the class going.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
C or D: The number of offerings has dwindled considerably, and the variety with it.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
C: Some of my child's secondary classes were very good. Others were not.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
C: Homework was assigned rather sporadically and there was not very much of it. There was supposed to be a chart showing which subjects were assigned on which nights (in secondary school), but the assignments rarely matched the chart.
8. Administration-parent communication:
C: Parents who want relationships with administrators may be frustrated at this school. Although most of my requests were met, I found it difficult to have meaningful chats. For one, there was little responsibility taken on the part of the administrator (perhaps a cultural thing?). For another, the school seemed perpetually unable to address my needs (more rigor, more homework, more differentiation in classes, more attention to transition issues, etc.).
9. Teacher-student communication:
B: Depends on teacher, but most were pretty good at this.
10. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?
Yes: As stated above, there is little effort (or what effort there is fails) to differentiate within classes so that children who are bright are challenged appropriately.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
12. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:
13. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
No: There is NO gifted and talented program.
14. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
Yes and No: The school offers these courses, but not a wide variety. There is one art class per year, one music class, and not much drama. Students do not choose any of their classes/courses.
15. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
A gifted program, more field trips (my child took two in two years, despite the plethora of interesting learning opportunities within less than an hour's drive), more community service opportunities (we took part in a few, partly because of a personal relationship with the teacher who organized them), but as the years passed, the school was less and less willing to do these, partly due to cost (transporting students to community service locations was expensive) and partly due to a safety issue raised by one parent.
16. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
Yes. But trips (the two my child took) were not expensive. Other things that cost money were not required. Though an end-of-year camping trip cost money and was not required, which left out those who could not afford it.
17. What activities do you feel are missing?
Lots: Chess, student book club, rock climbing for smaller students (when we were there, it was offered only for students who were larger due to size of equipment available), writing.
18. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
Yes, some, but as the offerings dwindled, participation did, too.
19. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
No. There is little acknowledgment of the large transition occurring.
20. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
Once, my child was the victim of a prank that could have been dangerous. While the administration did deal with the situation, they never contacted me. I called them when I heard about it from my child. Other issues: As may be the case in international schools worldwide, children of certain nationalities group together, to the exclusion of others. And because of the large number of Slovak children at BISB, there is considerable talking in the local language, even in class (especially when there's a Slovak teacher), often to the exclusion of other students.
Academics & Resources:
1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?
F: Non-existent (we didn't deal with college and career issues)
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
D: There is a library, but it is not very well stocked. The librarian, a very nice person, doubted that my child read as many books as she did and only let my child check out more after I had talked to her. An administrator who was asked to address this issue told me to do so.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
B: There are computers, and there are classes (that all students take) in computers.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
B: There is P.E. and it is pretty good, but the P.E. teacher who was there when we were just went on an extended leave. The extracurricular P.E. options were limited due to numbers allowed to enroll.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
B: Because classes are small, the ratio is decent--about 1 to 16. BUT it should be noted that when a teacher is ill (at least in the primary level), rather than hiring a substitute, the school moves the children to other existing classes.
6. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
A: There is an IB program for higher-level students. I do not have experience with it.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
No: As stated above, homework is sporadic.
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
C: Art is taught, though at the time we were there, one of the two art teachers was ill-suited to the job--she told students (loudly and insistently) what they should draw, create, etc., rather than allowing them to create from their inner selves. Music is offered. Drama is sort of offered; it depends on the teacher.
9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
No, though we would have welcomed it with open arms. It was not an option. One teacher encouraged my child in her love of the subject the teacher taught, but otherwise, there was no acknowledgment of the giftedness.
11. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
A narrow range.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Somewhat, though it is entirely up to the individual parents to arrange this. This was complicated by the lack of a register of parents' and students' contact information! There was a parent group and I believe they sponsored one or two social events.
2. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.
Yes. My child was bullied and appeals to the administration to help were met with denials. There was no anti-bullying program in place. The school failed miserably at this. Fortunately, we had a good teacher at the time who helped. But the student's behavior never was acknowledged or addressed.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
Teachers who are committed to their work and care about their students--this includes some teachers who have since left due to issues with administration. For many, it was difficult to do their jobs with declining resources. But there were some very dedicated teachers at BISB when we were there.
2. Greatest challenge?
Lack of clarity of what the school's purpose is--is it international? Then it needs to treat all students as members, not teach to those with limited English more than those who have English. Is it an English-as-a-second-language school? Then it needs to communicate that to expats whose children speak fluent English. Can it differentiate levels within classrooms? We found that it could not, even with good teachers; it's just too hard with 10 different levels (and languages). Other challenges: Very old facility, high fees for parents but lacking in resources in classrooms, not a very good library, few outside-the-school educational opportunities (despite being in the heart of Europe).
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
No, I would not. However, because it appeared to be the best of the three international schools in Bratislava, it would be a difficult decision as to what to do.