Author Topic: help me decide on a school  (Read 1113 times)

havregryn

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help me decide on a school
« on: September 14, 2017, 03:00:42 AM »
Hey superwise Mustachians, I'd love to hear your thoughts to help me decide where to send my son to school.

We are in a rather specific context so I will try to explain all the details as well as I can. We moved from Sweden to Luxembourg, we speak English at home as we are of different nationalities and it was the only common language at the time we met (later on I learned Swedish but we never switched), we have two boys, 4 and 1.
Compulsory school for the big boy starts next year (it usually starts at 4, but we're lucky that they're both born at the start of the cut off range so they will both be among the oldest in their class).
Here are the options:

Public school

pros

It is free.
It would tehnically result in our kids being fluent in German and French on top of the fact we speak English at home, setting them up for a spectacular career in pretty much whatever they choose to do.
He has friends in the neighborhood who are going to go there too.
There is a free school bus that can take him there and back.

cons

It is hard to say how the kids will react to the multilingual situation (they speak three languages in that school, the two already mentioned and Luxembourgish which, amazingly enough, yes, is a real language) and there are horror stories. Some kids can't cope and it backfires. Coupled with the fact our older son doesn't seem to be much a language genius (he has zero interest in our native languages that we do often use in different contexts), that is a bit of a concern. Or rather a major concern.

We live in a very fancy affluent area, which is a pro for school quality and the only reason public school is even a contender, but here's the con - having them in this school ties us to this area (they can't continue if we move outside of the limits) which, when the time comes to buy bigger (and that time will come, because we plan on having one more kid and live in a 2 bedroom flat), means shopping in the 1 - 1,5 million euro range. The thought of it makes me dizzy and OK, we could maybe rent something but that is a whole different issue (there aren't that many large places for rent in this kind of a place and most houses are rented short term while the owners are on some sort of a sabbatical or posted abroad, no one builds or buys houses as rentals so it's hard to really opt for this as a long term solution) so being tied to this area is definitely a con for me, even if our income levels are adequate (i.e. we wouldn't be "forced" out financially, but rather by common sense).

European school

European school is a private school that is free for us courtesy of my job. The way it works is that you must choose a language section and if it is a small language you are placed based on where the program in that language is taught, if it is a major language (English. French, German) you are placed according to the catchment area.
That is where the problem lies (otherwise we'd just opt for that). There are two schools and one is located in a way that is simply not doable for us without a car (and we are car averse for many reasons beyond pure Mustachianism). It is in the opposite direction from our jobs and on one of the most infamous routes when it comes to traffic jams.
The Swedish section, which is located in the "good" location, does not want to admit our son as he does not speak Swedish fluently.
He needs to go to the English section and then, sadly, we belong to the "bad" one. So there is literally no way around this except looking for creative solutions to the problem of getting him there and back.
Other than that, the school has mostly pros.

Private school


The only way to get my son into an English speaking school for his first compulsory year is by paying for a private school. My employer would subsidize some (but really only some) of the cost and we'd end up paying between 700 and 1000 a month.

There are two options and both of these schools are well known to be excellent, very centrally located (making it easy to take them there no matter where we choose to live later) and they have no cons other than the fact they cost a fortune compared to our free options. We both come from countries where private schooling is an obscure thing for the richest and shadiest characters so we are slightly resistant to the idea of paying for school.
Another pro is that the government here is starting some English speaking public schools that start at a later age so it may be possible to transfer him into a free school later (on the other hand this possibility probably applies if we put him in the public school to begin with as he speaks English at home so he will always qualify).
Another con is that technically, we could probably spend the 700 (cheaper school) - 1000 (more expensive one) per month on just hiring someone to drive him there and back to the European school in which case it is rather hard to decide what is better.

This year he is starting a non-compulsory introductory year at the public school (mostly because if he misses this, it is even less likely he can go to the public school) but by next fall we need to make a decision and stick with it as I'd hate to move him around schools.
Obviously it will be maybe easier to decide once he actually starts this and we see how it goes but I would still like to be on top of this and make a well informed decision.

I appreciate all your thoughts!

Laura33

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Re: help me decide on a school
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2017, 06:39:32 AM »
My general rule is to start with the free option, and change if you need to.  The biggest downside risk is that your kid has to switch schools.  Um, ok.  Millions of kids do this every year.  Why miss out on what sounds like a great public school, where he will make friends in the neighborhood that he can play with nights/weekends,* out of the fear that it *might* not work?

I know this feels really, really important right now.  BTDT -- my DD was, umm, challenging, and so figuring out the "right" school environment for her was difficult; I know how fraught those decisions feel, and I am not in any way trying to belittle your feelings.  What I am trying to say, now that I am on the other side of it all, is that you cannot engineer the perfect childhood for your kids; something is going to go wrong at some point, and likely for some reason you didn't even consider.  So stop putting the pressure on yourself to make the perfect decision, because there is no such thing! 

And the very good news is that your kids will be ok at the end of it all no matter what you choose!!  Despite all of our parental bumbling, and despite all of our best efforts that go horribly wrong, our kids are resilient and strong and good people, and as long as we love them and support them and aren't afraid to question whether things are working and change course if they're not, they will be just fine.  So don't make a decision out of fear; make one out of confidence in your kids and yourself.

Tl;dr:  You don't have to make a perfect decision now.  Make a reasonable one.  Trust your kids to be strong enough to manage those challenges, and trust yourself to make a change later if you need to.

*Do not underestimate this.  Both my kids were at times in preschool/school several miles away, and so getting them together with their friends on the weekends entailed a lot of parental driving.  If you don't want to be stuck with a car, don't send your kids to a school where playing with friends requires a car.

havregryn

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Re: help me decide on a school
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2017, 08:53:32 AM »
Thanks so much for your nice words.

I don't know, I am very bothered by all this.

First, there is a kind of a cultural pressure that well paid expats should be putting their kids in private schools. Most people think we're slightly weird for even doing this pre-school year. To make the matter worse, several of our friends who are also slightly on the hippie side (i.e. often vocal against private schools) ended up chickening out in the last minute and putting their kids in one.
They essentially cite the same reasons I mentioned as cons - the linguistic situation is challenging and you become locked into a relatively small area (this is a tiny country and a tiny capital city).

Second, I really do feel incredibly burdened by the prospect of having to live in this place forever. My kids are small now but once peer pressure kicks in how am I going to justify it to the kids and to myself that we are not upgrading our housing (and at some point we're really gonna have to, I'm not gonna squish 3 kids into one bedroom while building a fortune in the bank, that sounds too "uncle Scrooge" for me).
While we are not really planning to FIRE, not truly early at least (maybe in our fifties), we like the rationality and freedom that comes with living well below our means. On the other hand maybe I am underestimating how affordable this crap actually is, there is no property tax here and mortgage interest is 1,5%, our monthly payment on a mansion would be around 4000, that sounds insane but our monthly disposable income is 11000, financially we can keep up with the neighborhood.. it's just that we don't want to.
We really ended up living here my accident, it was where we got our first temporary airbnb but then started to really enjoy the area and stayed by pure inertia. We would probably never have actively chosen this area for the long term if all things were equal so obviously I have resistance to locking myself into it by settling the boys into the school.
It's good you raise this point about needing to drive to see friends, I should have mentioned that under the cons for the private schools. On the other hand, a significant portion of classmates would be living in our area and adjacent areas anyway, as this is where you live as a wealthy expat anyway. But yeah, we "lost" several friends to them moving out to the more affordable areas which, when you don't have a car, may just as well be on another planet.

Sibley

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Re: help me decide on a school
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2017, 10:21:43 AM »
Well, there's one way to at least partially address the language issue. Stop speaking English at home, now, today. They'll learn the language because they'll have to, especially if you stop responding to the kids if they speak in English (discuss this with the kid first!).

The 1 year old should pick up the language just fine. The 4 year old might need some more support while he catches up, but he'll get there.

That'll open your options up a bit, and maybe give you a clue how the kid will react in a multi-language environment (which he's already in, you're just allowing him to do otherwise).

There's also a difference between being good at something and being interested in it.

Laura33

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Re: help me decide on a school
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2017, 11:19:42 AM »
Thanks so much for your nice words.

I don't know, I am very bothered by all this.

First, there is a kind of a cultural pressure that well paid expats should be putting their kids in private schools. Most people think we're slightly weird for even doing this pre-school year. To make the matter worse, several of our friends who are also slightly on the hippie side (i.e. often vocal against private schools) ended up chickening out in the last minute and putting their kids in one.
They essentially cite the same reasons I mentioned as cons - the linguistic situation is challenging and you become locked into a relatively small area (this is a tiny country and a tiny capital city).

Second, I really do feel incredibly burdened by the prospect of having to live in this place forever. My kids are small now but once peer pressure kicks in how am I going to justify it to the kids and to myself that we are not upgrading our housing (and at some point we're really gonna have to, I'm not gonna squish 3 kids into one bedroom while building a fortune in the bank, that sounds too "uncle Scrooge" for me).
While we are not really planning to FIRE, not truly early at least (maybe in our fifties), we like the rationality and freedom that comes with living well below our means. On the other hand maybe I am underestimating how affordable this crap actually is, there is no property tax here and mortgage interest is 1,5%, our monthly payment on a mansion would be around 4000, that sounds insane but our monthly disposable income is 11000, financially we can keep up with the neighborhood.. it's just that we don't want to.
We really ended up living here my accident, it was where we got our first temporary airbnb but then started to really enjoy the area and stayed by pure inertia. We would probably never have actively chosen this area for the long term if all things were equal so obviously I have resistance to locking myself into it by settling the boys into the school.

Bolded #1:  Yep, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses sucks, don't it?  This is a very real emotional issue for you to deal with, but it is not an actual reason to choose private school.

The remaining bolded:  I think you are construing my advice too narrowly:  I recommend that you make the decision that you think will work for you now, and leave all of tomorrow's "what ifs" to tomorrow.  One of those "what ifs" is whether the school works for your kid -- but another one is whether you have another kid and ultimately need to move out of the neighborhood.

You are basically doing what I do:  looking at a future possibility and converting it into the worst possible outcome -- "awfulizing" it.  That makes everything binary -- either we make the perfect decision now, OR we'll be stuck here and I'll be claustrophobic and even thinking about that makes me miserable here today!  But if you think about it rationally, look at all of the off-ramps on the road to "awful":

1.  We want another kid.  OK, cool.  But maybe you end up not having one. 
2.  When we have another kid, we will want to buy a house.  OK, again cool.  But maybe you won't.  Or maybe, poof, you'll find the magical long-term rental.  Or maybe you will have some financial issue and can't actually afford the house you want.
3.  There are very few houses in this neighborhood.  OK, that sucks.  But maybe you'll find one!
4.  If we can only find a house outside of this district, our kid will need to change schools.  Again:  OK.  Most people would prefer to have their kids in one school for the whole time.  But a ton of kids change schools and do just fine.  The odds are almost overwhelming that your kid will be one of them.
5.  What if we change schools and it's horrible and my kids are wrecked?  You change again.  Even in this absolute worst-case scenario, you have the resources to choose another school, to get your kid therapy, and do whatever else you need to for the good of your kid.

IOW, this decision feels so fraught because you are tunnel-visioning the worst possible outcomes -- I must do this right, or all these horribles will happen and I/we/they will be miserable!  But to go back to my original point, the biggest favor you can do yourself is to pull apart your own thinking and recognize that your family's future happiness does not rest on your making the perfect decision now.  You, and your kids, are stronger and more flexible than you think.