Kiev, Ukraine Report of what it's like to live there - 07/10/13
Personal Experiences from Kiev, Ukraine
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?
Grade 8, Grade 5
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?
A - The admissions process has tightened up over the last year in order to develop a more international student population. The school holds to a age-based placement process.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
The general climate of both grade levels was similar. The ratio of serious, academically-engaged, polite students to students to the general population is smaller than at other international and US public schools we have worked in or attended. There is a very high percentage of local students, and while many of these families are committed to supporting the education of their children, others feel that their involvement ends after their children's tuition is paid.
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:
I would give it a B or C.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
A - The Moodle requires MS and HS teachers to communicate grades to students and parents quickly. Teachers are always available by email.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
C/D - While, in principle, mastery learning allows students working at a higher level to move up a grade for reading, language arts, and math, it doesn't allow for the rapid learning abilities or out-of-the-box thinking of truly gifted students. KIS does not have a formal SPED program, a child study committee, or any systems in place for dealing with students who show an inability to progress through the curriculum. These deficiencies are being addressed by the administration.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
A - There are many options for students who wish to engage in activities. The facilities at the school are the best in Kyiv. There is a track, artificial field for soccer, and a swimming pool that families can use on the weekends. KIS is a member of CEESA and regularly sends teams to participate in sports events, choir meets, and academic events in other Eastern European cities. For ES students, activities are included in the school day. There are many options ranging from Fun with Art to Badminton.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
B - Despite the claim that mastery learning is beneficial for all students, we found that the teacher interpretation of what level of student performance qualifies as mastery is inconsistent and the curriculum itself is not developmentally appropriate at some age levels. We felt that most KIS teachers are generally good at teaching to the middle, but did not generally differentiate for gifted learners or struggling students.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
B - There was some busywork for my younger child. My older child struggled with math and put pressure on himself to place math above all other courses, to the detriment of other courses. I believe this practice was supported by the math teacher, who forbid parents to help with homework.
8. Administration-parent communication:
C - There is a Friday whole-school newsletter transmitted by email to all stakeholders. In addition, ES, MS, and HS Directors of Instruction (DIs) send out monthly newsletters. DIs make time to see parents. However, embassy parents have not been impressed with the administration's responsiveness to safety and bullying issues; the tendency has been to somehow explore how the victim could be at fault. I believe that the school lacks policies and procedures to discipline students in a fair, transparent, and systematic way. The administration is developing these types of policies, but we felt that a school with a 20-year history would be further along the road to becoming a credible, open educational institution.
9. Teacher-student communication:
B - The mastery learning system allows for students to have open units (topics) for learning objectives they have not yet been able to demonstrate B-level work. While MS and HS students can check the Moodle to see their missing units and speak directly with teachers, some ES teachers have a hard time keeping up with the work to determine what units can be closed or speak with the student about how to demonstrate their B-level understanding of the work. The result for some parents and students was panic at the end of the year!
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 - with the textbook-based reading program, high and low students' needs are not met unless the teacher takes the time to help/differentiate.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
12. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
13. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
14. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
Band and orchestra.
15. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
The MS and HS students go on a Week Without Walls, either within Ukraine or abroad. The embassy paid for the Ukraine trip.
16. What activities do you feel are missing?
17. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
Yes - Math Counts and Knowledge Bowl.
18. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
19. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
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?
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
B - KIS uses a Moodle and encourages all middle and high school students to use it daily. There are interactive whiteboards in nearly all the classrooms, although the comfort level of teachers in working with the technology varies. The school requires that all MS and HS students have a personal laptop. The one problem we had with the IT course in the MS was that it is designed to be a two-year course, which can be a problem with a transient population.
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/C - Uneven at best, due to the teaching styles and training of the various PE teachers. While some teachers were more positive with the students, one local PE teacher segregated activities by gender (boys play soccer, girls play tag) and called less physically-gifted students "babushkas" when they engaged in running or catching activities. There seemed to be very little instruction going on in my younger child's class. At one point, his class day consisted of watching an old Russian aerobics tape.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
A - The student-teacher ratio is 15 to 1 in the elementary school. There are local paraprofessionals who assist classroom teachers in the K-3 grades. In addition, if your child is a native speaker, that ratio becomes more favorable because many teachers who are not trained in or comfortable with differentiation send out their English language learners for English classes during reading and language arts.
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 - The school offers the IB DP and all teachers in that program take their work very seriously.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
B/C - The school offers art, music, and activities during the school day in the elementary school. The music teachers, a married couple, are excellent. There is a choir at the middle school and high school levels. Each year there is a musical which is open to all students. There is no band or orchestra. The quality of the art program varies. I found the art instruction at the elementary level to be heavily focused on teaching technique and on copying a model. My younger child even reported that his teacher only allowed him minimal participation in his printmaking project! I never saw an example of my older child's artwork.
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, which in part led to a very difficult adjustment process for one of my sons who came from an excellent advanced academic program in the US.
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?
Yes. It is a very good school for kids who love sports. Teachers/coaches are upbeat and enthusiastic. For the geeks, there was a Robotics Club, etc.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
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. The school has had a reputation for tolerating bullying. We found this to be more true and extreme that we thought possible. My son suffered greatly every day and was placed in humiliating situations repeatedly. His computer screen was smashed during the last week of school. Because we alerted the administration about his social issues months before we arrived, we were confident that the administration and teachers would work together to prevent or squelch this behavior, but no systems were put in place to help him Apart from his personal problems with his classmates, he also reported to us that some classmates often used anti-semitic and anti-gay epithets in school. The English-only policy is also heavily enforced to extreme ends, including anywhere on school grounds.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
The after-school activities programs and the quality instruction by some teachers.
2. Greatest challenge?
The school needs to hire qualified teachers and ensure that those teachers are willing and able to differentiate for all learners. The administration also needs to prioritize the development of fair and transparent policies with regards to bullying.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
No. As a professional English language teacher, while I loved my students, I felt that the administration was resistant to standard, research-based approaches to English language teaching. The school needs to do a better job of recruiting teachers who are committed to professional development and inclusive of all students, not just the average, compliant ones. The bullying was completely unacceptable. The lack of differentiation and enthusiasm by a significant percentage of teachers made for a depressing year for my family.