Unsolicited letter from a parent

Dianne,

I’m so glad you feel comfortable asking.  We LOVE it at TIS!

INSTRUCTIONAL TIME

This year, the WLWV calendar shows primary school aged children will attend school 161 days.  TIS will be in session 173 days.  That's 12 additional days of instruction at TIS.

The primary school day in WLWV is 6 hours 20 minutes long.  The school day at TIS is 7 hours.  That's 40 minutes more per day, or 3 and a half hours more instruction every week.

This one year alone, with 40 additional minutes per day and 12 extra full days, James will get the equivalent of 30 more days in First Grade.

30 DAYS more, or two extra months.  (WLWV has an average of 16 instructional days per calendar month)

Over the course of five years at TIS, first through fifth grades, he'll get an extra YEAR of education.  An extra YEAR of the foundational learning of primary school.

CLASS SIZE

If James had stayed at Sunset this year there would have been 26 kids in his class.  At TIS he is in a class of 16 and enrollment is capped at 19 per classroom.

ACADEMICS

There are separate Art, Music and PE teachers and each child receives an additional hour of instruction in English by a certified English instructor each day.

The parent handbook says the policy for homework for children in first grade is 30 minutes of homework per day and 15 minutes of English reading at home.  James gets a packet of 20 practice worksheets in Math and Language on Mondays that he has to return by Friday.  It’s strenuous and we have trouble getting it finished!

The standards are very high – I was kindly reprimanded for not having James’ homework done one week.  Here’s what I took away from that: 1) the day after his homework was turned in his teacher had already corrected it and knew his was not finished, 2) she knows each child and which parent goes with each child very shortly in to the school year, 3) the homework supplements and reinforces what they are learning in class, it’s not just busy work – it’s relevant, 4) his teacher CARES enough about my sons academic progress to confront a parent paying tuition and encourage her to help him do well, 5) parents are treated as active partners in their child’s education and in the success of the school as a whole.

In the first few weeks of school James was tested for reading ability (in English) and put in a class with equally accomplished peers from every language track.  The books are both interesting and challenging and he maintains a reading journal for each book. I like that English class is a mix of kids from all the language schools and James is getting to know kids from every language track.  The administration at TIS makes lots of opportunities for all the kids to get to know each other and share all four cultures (Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and English).  There are fewer than 450 children total at TIS.  To put that in perspective, Boones Ferry in Wilsonville has more than 780 kids.

There are after school enrichment opportunities every day.  James is in Mad Science Wednesdays for an additional hour and he could be in Spanish Homework Club two days a week and learning a third language or chess or karate another day if we wanted.

LANGUAGE

All of the Immersion teachers are native speakers - I'm sure you remember the benefits in fluency, accent and acculturation.  James watched the Chilean Miners being rescued in class in Spanish on television - his teacher this year happens to be Chilean.

There were other children in James’ class who had minimal Spanish language at the beginning of the year.  James, although he had three years of instruction, rarely used Spanish at home or with peers.  Today, after only two months of full immersion with native speaking teachers and smaller class sizes (more opportunities to speak), he launches in to Spanish with me voluntarily every day and sometimes talks with his carpool cohorts in Spanish in the car.

The website and teachers are clear that parents do not need to have language proficiency to enroll their child in a language school.  It enriches the experience for us that I have some Spanish ability but I’ve met parents with no Chinese or Japanese skills who enrolled their children in those languages and are satisfied with the results.

James is happy at TIS and we’re THRILLED with the amenities and instruction he’s getting. After changing schools three times already we wanted him to settle in somewhere he could grow up with the same group of kids.

I will say that we enrolled James at TIS for the academics, but we found a lot more than that.  The fabulous parent group in the local SI program had been such a wonderful surprise to me that I didn’t even look for it again, I assumed it was a fluke of the group of kids in West Linn-Wilsonville.  I was wrong. The parent group at TIS is wildly involved and reaches out immediately to newcomers. Parents are welcome on campus, in PTA meetings, in board meetings, at weekly parent coffees and in the classrooms.  The campus is friendly and there is a deep sense of community. I’ve been amazed. We love the other kids, the parents and the school. The Speech Pathologist who organizes annual speech, hearing and vision testing at private schools up and down the I5 corridor told me this, “The International School is unique.  It’s like a little United Nations!  Those kids are the most poised and self-confident I’ve ever met.”

If Evelyne is in first grade and you’re serious about considering TIS, I would schedule a tour immediately. The language skill is important after first grade, if she misses this year it will be a real handicap.  If she’s in kindergarten, there are periodic open houses and informational meetings, or you can just call the admissions office for a personal visit.  Definitely check out the website.

Dianne, it was worth paying tuition, the hassle of the commute, and resigning from the school board to give my son this opportunity.  If you haven’t seen “Waiting for Superman” – go see it.  Our public schools are in trouble.

These are the choices we have as parents!  I’m so glad you’re taking it so seriously. Best wishes to you.  Please tell Nate we said hello and we hope to see both of you soon!

Lori, John & James Beight